While I struggled to keep up with the pace of Mumbai, running for the trains and fighting with autowallas, the famed spirit-of-Mumbai was slowly growing on an ‘outsider’ like me. Reaching my workplace at Mahalakshmi took me on streets lined with shaky two-storey huts where people would cook, bathe, play with children, fight, live (and die) on the extended footpath. The words ‘local’, ‘fast’, ‘slow’, ‘east’ and ‘west’ brought new meanings in my life. And without my knowing, I began a self-discovery of becoming a Mumbaikar like thousands become every day.
The discovery happened on that fateful day, when the bombs ripped through Mumbai’s overcrowded local trains. I was stuck at work in Mahalakshmi when the news of the seven blasts came in. I walked down the deserted E Moses Road looking for a cab. With the networks jammed and not a single taxi willing to take me, my frustration knew no bounds. Thankfully, some guys bullied a cabbie and I got in with a couple of other panic-stricken women. We sat there crammed in shock, sweaty and scared waiting for the horrendous jam to clear.
And that’s when Mumbai came alive to me. I saw in awe as the shopkeepers handed food and water to strangers stuck on the streets. People who perhaps have difficulty in seeing the month through with their meager earning, generously emptied their stores into people’s bags. In that hour, when I was cursing those cowardly souls for putting all of us through this, I saw the other side of mankind. The side which spurs us to fight. And overcome.
Once home, I watched the wreckage of the lifeline of Mumbai. The clippings played again and again, never to leave our memories. I still remember the words ‘First Class’ painted on a mangled compartment, the railings that I clutched each morning. No one, certainly not me, will forget the images of the day when terror’s hands gripped our city.
The next day, as I set out to work and walked in to the Matunga Road station, my uncertain legs nearly gave in. I wondered if someone in front of me was carrying my death with them. I hesitated at the entrance, only for a minute, and scanned all the bags people were carrying. And then I saw many pale faces walking with a determination and resolve not to bow to terror. And I took my first and most important step as a real Mumbaikar on the never-say-die lifeline of Mumbai.
This is to you, the silent Mumbaikar who watches, faces and rises like a phoenix from the ashes. To you, who witnessed the breach of trust that evening, yet took the train next day.