Saturday, April 24, 2010
Escape From Bombay (written circa 1993)
Bombay hit us the instant we stepped off the train. Millions of people ran around in disorderly chaos. The air was thick with breath. Our main aim was to get to Bombay Dadar and depart. To get there we had to risk the local services which are a cross between Network South East and the Tube. The train doors never close and crowds rarely wait for the train to stop before they jump on and off.
Bombay is India’s biggest city with an ever increasing population of ten million, 3000 a day arrive in search of hope. It is the city of fortune. A metropolis of corporate enterprises, businesses, the media and India’s film industry. As a direct result of all the hope it offers it is probably the city with the worst poverty my little eyes have seen. Miles and miles of ghettos and slums line the outer and inner city. Some are run-down and some are enterprisingly green, with yards full of lush green herbs; but they are all poor.
We made it to dastardly Dadar to discover that the waiting list for the waiting list for a reservation was fully booked. Onwards and upwards. Trains, crowds and crowds; lost looks and a million faces, colours suspended within a dusty, musky, stale smell. More waiting, asking questions to puzzled eyes. Eventually Bombay Victoria Central Reservations. First train to Bangalore at 10.10pm; six hours to kill. What do we do? Jeremy deposited me in the refreshment room while he went to phone Aeroflot to try and change the flight.
“I speak English.” I looked up. A British born Indian named Clayton chatted to me, tried very hard to buy me a coffee and spilt dahl on the guide book. The conversation was somewhat limited; essentially to do with the geography of the U.K and where I lived in relation to London. Eventually he left to further his geographical knowledge with another unsuspecting tourist.
Where is Bombay Kurla? At 7.00pm we walked straight into “Rush Hour”. Within seconds of standing on a deserted station we were surrounded by mad, foaming at the mouth, commuters, all of them desperate to be on the first train to Bombay Kurla even though a second was due a minute later. As the train was arriving the crowd surged forward; Jerry and I, with the help of an Indian business man, held back against the torrent of bodies, barely able to remain standing on the platform. Sedately we boarded the next train.
The forty minute journey allowed us to watch the city tick along. A snapshot look into the lives of thousands. Bombay life at the close of play seemed very soothing after our hectic day. We arrived in Kurla two hours before the train was due to leave. We sat on the platform, drank chai, ate plumcake and teased the chai boys. The warm, sweet tea refreshed and energised us. The station was like a huge aircraft hanger in the middle of suburban Bombay. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than the centre of town. The hours passed quickly and pleasantly.
The Bombay Kurla - Bangalore Express arrived. It was to be it’s virgin journey. There was great celebration as the guard handed out coconut and sugar crystals. We had a four berth carriage to ourselves. Bliss. With our ten rupee (25p) bed rolls we settled down in crisp, clean, sheets and slept.