A Tale of Two Cities II: Going Places

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If you’ve ever sung along drunkenly to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (guitars, piano, choruses…the works), you’ll know the man who spawned this iconic pose. Hell, even if you’ve heard the song that begins “Boom Boom Clap, Boom Boom Clap” (“We will, we will rock you”, for the uninitiated), you know I’m talking about the fabulous Farrokh Bulsara. Freddie Mercury of Queen, as he’s better known.

What’s less known is, the guy spent most of his formative years in India. And one day, young Farrokh came home from piano practice, and emphatically struck this very pose. His parents thought he was having a fit; his friends thought he was a rockstar. The truth however was much, much simpler…

He’d been traveling in the Mumbai Local. True story.

Yes, I did come to my point after a fair bit of irrelevant meandering, but I dare any Mumbaikar to disagree with me. This is the very pose you must hold if you are to travel in the fabled lifeline of Mumbai: hand up, desperately clutching the rails so as to not get swept away by the surging sea of humanity at Dadar; face turned down so as to avoid armpit aromatherapy from the dude who gets down at Sion; brow frowned, trying to remember whether Mumbra station falls to the left or right. Prior experience as a contortionist or circus performer seems to be a prerequisite in order to travel in the damn things. In normal trains, you board and alight. In the Local, you get assimilated into its innards, disassembled at a molecular level, and then ejected at the other end of the line, minus your dignity and possibly a few body parts.

I can see the Mumbaikars in my meager audience shaking their heads even now. Don’t act like you guys were all freaking fine and dandy when you had to board a local at Virar in rush hour for the first time. You just grew used to it. Well, the rest of us from the more refined parts of the world (read: Pune) aren’t all that fond of being groped while we get to work (trust me, you don’t want to know). Now, traveling in Pune…ah, a different story altogether.

First of all, forget Google Maps. Mumbai may have conveniently named streets and crossroads that are traceable on a smartphone. Big whoop. In Pune most streets, alley and colony have 3 different names. So your only choice is to ask for directions from a passer-by who, if you’re really having a bad day, will be a true-blue Punekar. You must now proceed to forget your self-respect, as he judges you for not knowing Marathi, your family for having produced spawn like you, Google for not mapping his great city properly, and you again for wasting 7 seconds of his time that could have been spent judging someone else. After such a nasty look, you at least expect to be given proper directions, but of course then you’ll reach your intended destination on time, and where’s the fun in that?

I’m not saying that you’ll be led astray intentionally or maliciously. Oh no. It’s just that Punekars will expect you to know your Sadashiv Peth from your Shankarsheth Road if you’ve set foot in their hallowed city, just because you’ve set foot in it. At least Pune is small enough that you don’t have to be lost for long.

That pretty much sums it up, then. In Mumbai, you’ll reach where you want to go. You’ll even reach there on time. In Pune, you’ll get there too…eventually; but in the process you’ll probably have learnt a fair bit about the city, and its helpfully unhelpful denizens. And if it’s the journey that counts and not the destination, you already know where you’d want to be.

P.S. – That last pseudo-philosophical line means nothing. I have to take the local to work tomorrow, and I’ll get docked half-day’s pay if I don’t get there on time. So screw all the schtick about the journey being more important. Mumbai wins this round.

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