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Humour: The BEST way to barter biscuits for kheema parathas

Negotiating Mumbai via public transport is often a rewarding experience

brunch Updated: Apr 14, 2019, 10:58 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Most Mumbaikars spent a significant part of their lives weaving in and out of traffic in diesel-powered lifesavers
Most Mumbaikars spent a significant part of their lives weaving in and out of traffic in diesel-powered lifesavers(Shutterstock)

“I once tried to write a poem in a Bangalore auto but it refused to follow the meter.” I invented this flippant line during a short-lived move to the southern city. I had to return to Mumbai quite quickly to attend to a crisis, but I was very relieved that I didn’t have to deal with the auto guys in Bengaluru any more. By and large, my experiences with Mumbai’s public transport have been rewarding. Quite literally, too. I once left a laptop in an auto and the driver returned it, after figuring out my address. In fact, when I think about it, I’ve spent a significant part of my life weaving in and out of traffic in these diesel-powered lifesavers. (Car owners, scoff all you like.)

Three-wheeling conversations

Some of these auto experiences have been unnerving. Hailing one at the Pali market in Bandra a few years ago, I was taken aback when the driver asked, head focused on the road: “Are you Rehana or Mariam?” Turns out my sister and I used to ride the auto frequently back from our Hill Road school, and had taken to teaching the driver English phrases. What gave me an initial fright was actually a non-threatening reunion. Only in Bandra.

“Call me romantic, but seeing a dimly-lit bus on an empty road makes me want to hop on. sadly, I’m not cool enough to do it”

Then there was a more confusing ride. The auto driver was making all sorts of bigoted comments about Muslims, and I was about to reveal my own identity to him when a strange thing happened. He received a phone call. It was from his village. He had had twins! He stopped at the corner ecstatically, ran to the kirana shop and offered me a Dairy Milk chocolate. Here was this life-changing news and I was sharing it with him. Bewildering are the ways of the road.


Call me romantic, but seeing a dimly-lit bus on an empty road in the night makes me want to hop on. I don’t, sadly. I’m not cool enough to pull off aimless bus rides like a character in an Edward Hopper painting. Also, Hopper paintings tend to be far safer than even Mumbai’s roads in the night. Back when double-decker buses still plied, I’d run up the stairs to catch the “frontest” seat – the first one on the upper level. These were usually afternoon rides back from Kalina University. Punishing heat, soporific lectures and the ennui of pre-employment life were a heady combination. The picture window was a highlight of the day.

Then there was the time that I ran into my father on the 222 bus starting at Yari Road. A veteran of city travel from CST to Mira Road, he kept me entertained with wickedly funny observations about travel, including a hilarious strategy to employ on long distance train journeys: “Offer somebody a banana or biscuits early in the journey. That will ensure you a portion of the keema-parathas that are sure to emerge from their dabbas later.” It’s a treat to run into family you actually like in unexpected places.

On track

So much has been said about Mumbai’s trains that anything I add will sound like a cliché. Well, almost anything. There was this one time when the train was departing Vile Parle station, heading towards Andheri, when all of a sudden there was a commotion. A boy had entered the compartment, hawking hair clips. Dozens of enraged women in rush-hour impatience began to push the boy away. Somehow, I got caught in the mess and was hurled out of the compartment and onto the tracks that ran parallel to my train. I managed to clamber on to the platform, bruised but breathing.

But that, of course, is an exception. I’ve spent college afternoons riding back home lightheaded with romance.

Returned late from cricket matches in noisy compartments. Had friendly conversations, angry interactions, leisurely joyrides. The world keeps changing at such a dizzying pace, I don’t know what I can hold on to any more. It’s good to know that there still exists a train that will deposit me from one end of the city to the other in the same amount of time as it always has.

From HT Brunch, April 14, 2019

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