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No problem – Mumbai strikes back

Made it. Through the mad rush this city of mine (Mumbai) is capable of, I had travelled by foot, auto, cab, train – walked, ran, jumped, pushed , climbed and how! Finally I was in the train travelling from Mumbai to Mangalore just in time. No problem! My mind raced back to where it all began…..

“I’m screwed! And you are to blame!”

James’s story is of a Catholic Mumbai boy falling for a Hindu Mangalorean girl and planning a marriage. Good plan, except – he agreed to get married in Mangalore.

We were at Sandip, our old joint, way past mid-night. Dumbfounded, I stared at my childhood buddy James. His receding hair line, increasing waist line, dark circles similar to sleepless techies or suicide bombers, convinced me that things weren’t right. 

Wedding planning is a call to battle (old jungle saying, still true) and James was waging the battle of Troy. Tickets, church, hall, vehicles, caterers – the list kept piling up. James fought pitched battles – he drew first blood with the caterer, won a 15-rupee discount per plate, got bloodied with transport and floundered badly with the hall-booking that became a take it or leave it. He had been relentless, day in and day out, for the past three months.

Now, fuelled with whisky the grief of the world, he blasted me, “I’m screwed! And you are to blame!” I flushed in guilt as this was partly true.

Two-ish months ago, I met him in this exact same joint and 3 glasses of Teachers’ later, I promised to stand shoulder to shoulder, clear each boulder between man and would-be wife. After all, what are best men for? Then I left. “Raat gayee, Baat gayee,” as they say. Now here we were, a week before his D-day. 

Like any shameless friend, I took it on the chin, poured more alcohol down our throats and waited till it worked its magic. It washed away all defences and ego as I confessed, “It’s all my fault”. To express how sorry I really was, I cancelled my confirmed, non-refundable – (that’s such fine print!) flight tickets for the day before the wedding and made a new promise – that I would join James in Mangalore within the next three days, come heaven or high water.

“No problem, let’s do it,” I said to myself just before my head hit my bed. 

Next day, as the hangover lessened, the situation dawned on me. This was May, travel season – and I had cancelled confirmed tickets! Tickets were available but I would never be able to sell my kidneys that quickly! I called a good friend – ‘Jhol – the fixer’ – and explained the situation. He promised to get back to me. Jhol promising was not a good sign. I got cracking. 

I made lists for people who could help – uncles, friends, aunts, ex-colleagues, ex girl-friends’ best friends – the list kept getting weirder. When I got done, one thing was clear – people did not want me to visit Mangalore, or call them, or they wanted me to sell my kidneys.

Ready to give up, I was about to message James when my phone rang. It was Jhol, “This agent can do it. Should I confirm?” “Of course,” I yelled. He called back in 10 – “Done. Your train tickets are for the day after tomorrow at 2.10pm from Kurla Terminus. No problem.”

The next day I messaged, emailed and called people to declutter the week ahead only to realise it wasn’t cluttered till I reminded them. Damn! To celebrate the decluttering, I called, met, hung out and partied hard for all that I would miss the next week. Around 11.30pm, my brain clanked – TICKET! Taking leave of the old party people and messaging apologies to the new party people, I reached Jhol’s place where he was partying by himself. I joined him. Both of us in high spirits and aiming higher, partied harder till Smash! The bottle broke. The last I remember is him putting a white envelope into my pocket and slurring “Mira Road” to the taxi driver. Lights out. 

Next morning, fighting white light and white noise, I found the envelope in my pocket and checked the time. 11.10am. After bathing, packing, solving, shutting and locking the home, I saw the time – 12.07. That’s when the watchman turned up with my laundry in his hand, which was very nice of him. In a moment I understood why.  He wanted a month’s salary in advance for washing my bike. Grumbling I asked him to wait, turned to my room, opened my bag, extracted money from the money bag (my Jockey’s!) – repacked, closed my room, went outside and had him lug my extra bag to the curb, after which I paid him and he disappeared. The following week, he ran off with the advance from almost all vehicle owners along with the gardener’s wife.

Time 12.20pm at the auto stand – tight but manageable. 

As I waited, I did the math – reach Dahisar naka in 20, another 10 to change rickshaws, then an hour and 10 minutes buffer time to reach Kurla Terminus 29 kms away.

No auto at the stand. Goodbye buffer time. I began walking with my luggage. I cursed each autowallah and his extended family as they passed me by, Finally one stopped. “Dahisar Nakathoda jaldi,” I pleaded. He nodded – the meter pinged and we were off. Time – 12.28pm.

The autowallah turned to be a Bakchod – a real talker. He started off about the roads, township, state, government, his state, kids, education, and then settled on me. I kept agreeing with him, kept looking at the time and he kept at it till Dahisar Naka. When I got down he said  “Bas. Now get married.” . WTF – How did we reach here?

Time – 1pm. An hour and 10 minutes to departure. 

“Kurla terminus?” 

Haan sir.”

Ek ghante mein train hai.”

“No problem sir.” 

Heard that one before.

But this time there really was no problem. The first sign was Dahisar Octroi Naka. The traffic here would give tough competition to the Kumbh Mela, but today, we whistled through. Even the otherwise clogged flyovers of Borivali and Malad were hop, skip and jump. My confidence really grew when Oberoi mall and Aarey zipped by. I checked the time – 1.25pm. Half the journey done, time for a cigarette. Yeah, I should quit. Like a lot of things, after this wedding. A new life – yadi-yadi-yaa.

I enjoyed the puff – thought of food. That happens when you haven’t eaten breakfast by afternoon. Biryani or fried rice. Will figure. Shucks, no book either. Should I bu-

Tuk, tuk, tuk….tuk….tuk.

A series of jolts later, the rickshaw came to an abrupt halt. After his inspection, the driver looked sympathetically at me and added, “Saab, gaddi ka piston jam”. We were about to get onto Andheri flyover – 25 minutes away from the destination. Time 1.28pm.

Oh no!

Standing at the base of one of the busiest flyovers in the city, with countless vehicles zooming, i stretched my hand out at a passing auto without much hope. It stopped. Hope? 

Kurla?

He nodded. 

Thoda fast karna bhaiya.

Koi baat nahi babuji.” He smiled. I didnt know then how devious his smile could be. 

Everything and everyone were passing us by. Cars. Trucks. BEST buses. Retired uncles in their 30-year-old Padminis. “Fast bhagaoo yaar!” I shouted. 

He shot me a look.

He’s a middle aged, clean shaven, even skinned, not a hair out of place kind of man. And that look he shot me – he had combined it with a don’t-fuck-with-your-father smile, He just reminded me of Dad. I simmered down and looked hopelessly outside as the world passed us by.

Every signal we were to get through, we stopped. Every obstacle that could obstruct us, did. Every vehicle we could overtake, we did not. After what seemed a lifetime, at 1.45pm we crawled into Santacruz. 20 minutes to Kurla and 20 more to Terminus – not working. Time to try something else. 

“Left maro – Kurla Station.”

Lekin aap –”

He saw the look on my face and promptly took the left. I reckoned that if I took a detour to Kurla station, take the local to Vidyavihar one station away and then another rickshaw ride to Terminus I would still be late by 5. But then what choice did I have? 

1.58pm, Kurla station. I flung the money at the driver, didn’t bother with the change, rushed onto the platform and jammed myself into the train. Ticketless in a first class, I took a moment to steady myself. My eyes steer to the adjoining ladies’ First Class compartment – some cute faces, Mangalore, anyone?

Vidyavihar Station.  Time – 2.05pm. 

At the station, I ducked, weaved and dodged to get out – moves so fluid they’d make a ballet dancer proud – and jumped into an auto.

The rickshaw driver, a shorter version of Amitabh Bachchan, didn’t budge. 

Chalo!” I pleaded. 

“Share auto hai,” Bachchan said, not bothered one bit.

“Will pay full fare.” As soon as I uttered these magic words, he was off.

Kaunsa train?” he asked, eyeing the panic in my eyes. 

“Mangalore Matsyagandha.”

Mil jayega bhai,” Bachchan assured. I wasn’t convinced. 

My cell rang – our office assistant Suhas. Totally forgot that I had asked him to meet me at Kurla Terminus. I answered.

Train gaya Sir.”

“Kya?” 

He said it again. The Mangalore Matsyaganda had been leaving late the last couple of days but today it had left at its exact time. Doom. Done for. Bye-bye Mangalore. Bye-bye James.

Kya hua?” Bachchan stared at me through the rear-view mirror.  

Train gaya.

He continued staring at me.      

“What?” I asked, irritated. 

Gadi pakadna hai kya bhai?”

There was a look in his eye as he said this – eyes smouldering, hair disheveled and arse still half up, the angry, short Bachchan riding his auto – the real deal. 

I nodded 

“100 rupees extra. Okay?”

Let’s see. Three days of calling every dog and cat I knew, money and time wasted, curses hurled, abuses heard to all the walking, running, yeda auto-drivers, even a ticketless train ride – versus Rs. 100. Hmnn. 

“200 le!I yelled, energy bursting through my veins again. 

No lane was left uncut, no vehicle was un-honked at, man and beast all took cover as Bachchan rode with his ‘half-ass on seat half in air’ style, swerved, swayed  and broke every traffic rule known to mankind. Then all of a sudden, Bachchan braked. 

My body lurched hard; kissed him on the cheek, almost. He calmly slowed down. Besides the road was a clearing where a train was chugging away. Matsyagandha. Yes! 

“200 yaad hai na?”

This time my nod was bigger, surer.  

The auto tyres screamed, leaving behind dust and destruction. Too yellow to notice what remained, I heard the faint sounds of a bell. Ahh, railway crossing – that’s it! The train will slow down there. As it came into view, the guard was tying down the barricades. Bachchan lowered his speed fractionally to shout the magic words – Matsayganga!! Matsyagandha!! The guard nodded and the barricade rose by a fraction, just enough for the auto to pass through. And at a distance, the Matsyagandha chugged by at a teasing pace. FFuu……

Ek bag pakdo!” Bachchan had my other bag and started running towards the train. I ran behind him with the other. My pulse racing, heart pumping, saliva foaming, one tiny part of my brain still ticked. How will he? Pull chain, driver/TC setting – what if his partner attacks me – split with my stuff – James reads for breakfast – body found on tracks!

“Stop!” I shouted. 

He threw my bag onto the train. 

“What the Fuck!”

Chad jaa bhai” he screamed. 

It took a second for me to get what he was saying. He wanted me to catch a 30-foot tall, 24-bogey train where the first step is 3 feet above the ground and picking up speed. Plus, there was the 25kg backpack and 90kg of pure me, with a frozen shoulder and a semi-permanent spine disorder. Seriously?!

The bag on the train had the money and ID’s. Buckle up. Getting uo to pace, i jumped and was propped up. Damn! Not my arse! UP! UP!! UP n away! Made it. 

I opened my eyes. I was on the train – all limbs and bags intact. From a distance I could hear a voice shouting – “Bhai! Bhai!” I looked out. Bachchan was running besides the train signaling for money. Of course. I felt like a king, grabbed a note from my wallet. Rs 500  – not so kingly anymore. But then if it wasn’t for his mad plan, I wouldn’t be here. I made a ball out of the 500 and threw it out. The look on his face when he saw the note – he smiled and saluted, I saluted right back. See you at the races Schumi! 

All the adrenaline was making my knees shake. Better settle down I realised and looked around. A calamity seemed to have befallen the bogey. Each seat, window, the luggage rack – even the pathways were crammed with humans and their offspring.

“General dabba,” I groaned. 

Not for long. Thane was 15 minutes away. I found the envelope with the ticket that I hadn’t checked at all. Coach S… Was the coach ahead or behind?  

I collected my thoughts as the breeze cooled down my sweaty body. The train got honked and slowed at Thane Station. 

Platform no 4 ki gaadi Matsyagandha Express –” I jumped out as the announcement played and hit the ground running. On the electronic boards, I saw every alphabet except S. Shit!

Calm down! I asked a guy at a tea stall, “S Dabba?”

He didn’t even look up, “TC ko pucho.”.  Another dedh Shaana. 

I ran behind, just on instinct. ‘Should better stamina’ – note to self. S dabba in sight, S5–S7 –S9– and there between S11 and S12 stood the TC, swarmed by people and busy answering queries. I stopped near him and with my sweaty palms handed him the ticket. 

“Please tell me where this seat is Sir.“ I requested.

“No problem sir,” the TC, a middle-aged man answered in his best South Indian accent. I just stood there panting, my vision blurred, my T sweaty, but feeling gooood. After all I had made it – my compartment – my seat – my lady – James’s marriage. 

“Slight problem, sir,” said the TC “This ticket is waitlisted at no 2.”

“So?”

“Means someone had to cancel before you get the seat. Always there are 2-3 cancellations, no problem, but not this time.”

He put forth his best sympathetic smile. It’s the same smile he had at the door as the train moved away while I stood and watched it go by.

I called Jhol. 

“No problem. There is this…” he began. I hung up and looked at the empty tracks. 

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Published by appamprawns

soni writes about children and people in controlled spaces, in his quest for appam stew. homi writes in the hope of being able to buy prawns to make patiyo.

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