Bombay: A Train to Nowhere
This is a true story that happened more than 30 years ago.
It was a rainy day in Mumbai, the kind that lured students out of their classes and incited them to bunk college and I was no exception. I was born and brought up in this wonderful city and I love Bombay rains. My city’s new name, Mumbai, is yet to stick in my mind, and at times when I am excited or emotional I still refer to it as Bombay. I didn’t need to think twice before stepping out of my college in Vile Parle, and hailing an auto rickshaw to go to Bandra. My two friends in crime were equally game.
Since this was my first digression from upright behavior, I had to be penalized. The movie was good but what we saw when we came out of the theater wasn’t. There were people milling about, the buses were overcrowded, the cabs were frantically being hailed, it was chaos all around. We found out that the local trains had stopped running due to a massive power outage, and people were trying to get home any which way they could. I waved goodbye to my two friends who managed to get into a bus plying towards South Mumbai, in the opposite direction to my place as I lived in the suburban Malad.
After standing at the bus stop for 15- 20 minutes, I started panicking and decided to walk back home. I didn’t have the courage to get into the crowded buses, cabs were out as I didn’t have enough money on me; I also thought it was a waste of good money to spend hundreds of rupees on a cab ride. As I started walking away from the bus stop, an elderly, tall, thin Parsi lady called out to me, “Where are you going?”
A Walk in the Dark
I replied, “I am going to walk to Malad, it is hardly five stations away from Bandra.” What I hadn’t calculated was that the train travels at a much faster speed than a human being, walking briskly. “Wait, it is not safe to walk alone, it is going to become dark soon. I will walk with you,” she said.
When I looked at her questioningly, she smiled, “I can walk faster than you even though I am seventy odd years old”, and I believed her. She was tall and slim, carrying an umbrella, like a walking stick. She told me she lived at Jogeshwari which was two stations before Malad. “We will walk up to Jogeshwari and then take it from there,” she had told me with so much conviction and authority that I had agreed to let her accompany me on the long trek home. I had been grateful for her company because it had started becoming dark already and I didn’t relish the idea of walking all by myself.
Maybe it was destiny, I had to meet this kind lady and spend about 3 hours in her company. I don’t know the reason she called out to me that day. As we were passing Link Road, I recognized another college friend’s house. I went in and met her mother, when she heard I was walking home to Malad, she asked me to spend the night at her place but I refused. Mainly because my new friend, the old lady was waiting for me outside and my friend wasn’t home. I didn’t feel like abandoning the kind old lady, she was my traveling companion. I rang up my parents and told them of my plan to reach home walking; I also informed them that I had company. They tried convincing me to spend the night at my friend’s place but I refused.
So we started our long walk. The lady told me her name, Mrs. Mehta, I think, but my memory is not so good . Her house was in Jogeshwari, near the railway station, where she lived with her husband. It’s been so long now that some of the details are hazy in my mind, but I think we spoke about her kids, two sons, maybe. What I do remember clearly is her kind smile, courage, stamina and protectiveness.
When we were passing Santa Cruz, we went into a side lane, away from the S.V road and here we came across a few boys in their teens. One of them asked her, “Aunty, is this your daughter? Where are you going with her in this dark night?” They laughed. I was taken aback but she wasn’t. She pointed her umbrella at them and shouted, “Keep quiet, I will hit you with this if you say another word. She is my daughter.” The anger in her voice shut them up and we walked away briskly. I am sure the boys were just being silly and teasing an old lady to get a reaction from her but I was grateful to God for sending me this brave heart who wasn’t afraid of anyone.
When we had walked for a good 10 minutes at that fast pace, I asked her if she wanted to rest. “I am not tired, let us keep walking; you never know what kind of people we might encounter on the way. It has become very dark and the power is still not restored.” She was right but luckily we were back on the main road and there were many people like us, walking and lamenting the power cut and the fact that the local trains were still not running. Life had come to a standstill for so many ‘Mumbaikars’. Office workers were tired and hungry, trudging back home, longing to rest and have a cup of tea.
Strangers in the Night
We take so many things for granted but when those very things are taken away from us do we realize their importance. I used to travel by local train every day, and had never really thought about how convenient my life was because of them. Today, when the trains were stuck at the stations and platforms due to the power outage, I understood how crucial they were to me and thousands like me.
It took us nearly three hours to walk from Bandra to Jogeshwari Station – by then the power had been restored and the trains had started functioning. I said goodbye to my new friend when we reached her colony, which was a short distance short of the station – but she refused to go home.
“I will walk you to the station, only then will I go home”, she said in her no-arguments will be entertained voice. She refused to listen to me and walked with me to Jogeshwari Station, bid me goodbye and left only after I had gotten into the ladies compartment of the train going to Malad.
I must have thanked her a million times in my mind. When I reached Malad Station and started walking home, I kept thinking about her and my good fortune of meeting her. My brother was waiting for me on the way home; he was worried for my safety, as was my entire family. I had spoken to them at 6/6.30 P M and now it was 9.30, The entire city had been in darkness for these 3 hours, anything could have happened to me.
My parents hugged me when I reached home, I called up my friend’s mother in Bandra and informed her that I had reached home safely; she was equally relieved. “Didn’t you get scared walking alone in the dark?” asked my parents.”No, I wasn’t scared because I wasn’t alone. I had told you about the old, friendly lady I had met at Bandra; she was with me till Jogeshwari station. She was so brave; she even threatened some boys who were indulging in eve teasing.”
The Gift of Caring
“God bless that lady, she was an angel sent from heaven to protect you”, my mother said, with a grateful prayer for her and blessing her entire family. She believed that all the Gods she prayed to for nearly 2 hours every day had heard her prayers and come to my rescue on her behalf. My dad, who was a staunch believer of Shirdi Sai Babaji, believed it was the saint himsef in disguise, come to bring me home, safe and sound. I agreed with them wholeheartedly; she had indeed been my guardian angel, helping me reach home unharmed.
My parents wanted me to go to my savior’s house the next day to thank her and inquire about her health. I meant to but life took over. Now that I look back I feel so small and unlucky. I didn’t get a chance to see my wonderful friend and visit her family. I missed out on finding out if she was real or an apparition sent to bring me home on that cold, wet and dark night. I wish I had visited her home, clicked her picture, and shared it with the world. We didn’t have smart phones then, just sturdy black land-line telephones with a circular dial.
If it were to happen today, I would have taken a selfie with her and uploaded it on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter even before the train left Jogeshwari Station. Technology has made life so open, privacy is a thing of the past. I wish her beautiful and kind gesture could have been acknowledged and appreciated by one and all. I want to make amends, I want a second chance to say thank you to her and her family. I have never forgotten her act of kindness and will pay it forward someday…I promise.
Sulekha Rawat, along with Kriti Mukherjee, brings east and west insights into Chatty Divas, their blog on ‘Lassi with Lavina’
Check out Sulekha and Kriti’s site: www.socialpotpourri.com