A memorable visit to the city of dreams
N J Ravi Chander
My train voyage back in 1982 to the “city of dreams”, Mumbai, will count as something unique. Besides being my first tryst with India’s financial capital, it was also my maiden tour outside my hometown, Bengaluru. I was part of a motley crew of veterans and greenhorns picked as part of the “workers’ education programme” conducted by my employer, the State Bank of India.
The itinerary included a visit to the plush Central Office building in the posh Nariman Point area where we could meet the bank’s top executives. But, getting away from the ‘Pensioners Paradise’ of Bengaluru and plunging into the frantic pace of Mumbai, albeit briefly, unfurled a whole new world – the ubiquitous pigeons, teeming crowds and speeding local trains.
As a rookie in the bank, the prospect of visiting India’s bustling metropolis, famed for its enterprising populace and larger-than-life movie stars, thrilled me. We checked into a hotel in Matunga close to the railway station. Unfortunately, on our first evening in the ‘city of dreams,’ my close colleague and I nearly lost our way. We wandered out to explore the surroundings but strayed too far away.
When we turned back, we were caught in a maze of similar looking roads and left groping. Unable to connect with our colleagues (it was an era sans the mobile phone) and with only the hotel’s name in our memory, we were at our wit’s end.
Luckily, we bumped into a good samaritan who escorted us back to the hotel, only to see the tour in charge give us a piece of his mind for venturing out into a strange land. Phew! Travelling by the Mumbai locals was an unforgettable experience.
A sea of commuters boards these speedy trains every day. But the sight of young and middle-aged passengers running in and out with the ease of circus show people held us in awe. Unfortunately, our first ride on the Mumbai local ended in a mishap when one of our colleagues, who was a ‘slow coach’ and took his own sweet time to detrain, was pushed down onto the platform by the onrushing commuters, resulting in minor injuries.
On the Mumbai locals, we witnessed passengers busy at the crossword puzzle or engrossed in playing cards or chess, oblivious of the people around. A colleague had the mortification of having his pocket picked, but he lost little. Pickpocketeers are a dime a dozen in Mumbai and carry out their chore with stealth and finesse! Though disappointed at not meeting the bank’s chairman – he was busy in a meeting – our maiden experience of travelling in the lift dizzied us.
As we sped up the elevator and emerged on the topmost floor, housing the chairman’s cabin, it was akin to floating on the highest cloud. A bank official who accompanied us narrated some amusing anecdotes.
Pointing to a church steeple in the foreground, he ruefully disclosed that in the old days, students who failed to clear their final exams met a terrible end by leaping from the top of the church. Interestingly, many high-rise structures have since mushroomed around the cathedral, dwarfing its steeple, which once towered over the city. Golden memories!
(The author is a former banker and has taken to writing as a pastime. He is a regular contributor to ‘Kashmir Vision’ besides other national and regional publications.