Saturday, September 24, 2016

Of Mumbai Rickshaws and a Few Good Men

My rather rocky relationship with Mumbai rickshaws goes back six years, ever since I stepped into Andheri West and realized that while Mumbai ricks are so much more economical than their Delhi counterparts, they are also that much harder to catch.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to the disgusted looks they give when you mention your destination (Like…eewww…who goes to Oshiwara?!), the way they don’t even bother stopping while you try to flag them down, or how they’re suddenly more precious and rarer than diamonds when it rains. And it rains a lot in this city!

In fact, I’ve faced more rejection by Mumbai rickshaw-wallas than men and employers put together in my life.

And they taught me how to abuse in Hindi. Like, not actually taught me, but that’s what comes out when they refuse to take you where you want to go after an hour of being stuck on the road looking for them.

So last night, I was standing on the highway at a spot where usually it’s not that difficult to spot an empty rick, but thanks to the torrential rain they were nowhere to be seen. And slowly more and more people started crowding up looking for that knight in yellow-and-green armour, who when he would slowly roll by without stopping, would get his pick of destinations to go to.

And then, miraculously, I managed to flag one down, but the idiot in Schumacher mode, only managed to stop in front of another guy standing much further down the road. And the guy was about to get in, but then probably saw a desperate me huffing puffing down the wet road towards him, and offered the rick to me instead.

Now this might be the way it should have been, and this might be the city with amazing people, but I’ve barely ever witnessed either in my years here.

And so, I was shocked, not even just pleasantly surprised.

And so I decided to shock myself, and share the rick with him.

This might not sound like a big deal, but for any girl born and brought up in Delhi, offering to share your cab / rick with an unknown stranger at night is like going against the first rule of how to stay safe in this world.

But for once, I decided to repay his niceness with gratitude.

I did however barely talk to him throughout, or share my name or any details about me. Old habits die hard.

But I did turn the rick and take it into a galli out of my way to drop him at his friend’s house.

I did smile when he parted with an apple for a little beggar girl (the same one who loves fleecing people at Juhu circle every day) from the packet of apples he got from Kashmir for his friend.

And I did feel better after the ride, even if it meant I reached home a little late.

It’s sad that we live in a world where we have to think twice before doing something that should come as basic human nature to us. It’s sad that we’re all so hardened and cynical that any niceness offered is met with skepticism.

And it’s sad, that all that cynicism, is necessary.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Of Vacations and the Revenge of the Chicken

After months of what seemed like the biggest planning project I had ever taken on in my life, August finally happened, and with it our much anticipated Europe trip. Well our two-countries-in-Europe trip, but neither of us had been that direction before, so we were super excited.

Firstly, if you know nothing about Europe, it takes a LOT of time to get your itinerary and bookings right. Specially if you’re not doing the usual Thomas Cook type tours with the typical cities and touristy places to see. We did do those as well, because as Indians apparently a vacation isn’t really justified till you’ve taken a pic in front of a monument, but managed to throw in a lot of unconventional stuff, which we obviously ended up loving way more!

I don’t intend to bore anyone with the details, but if I think back about the trip now, some points do pop up in my head:

  • The best of the airlines can have the worst of service when you’re in a foreign country. One of our suitcases was misplaced en-route to Rome, and we went through all sorts of translation and unhelpful hell to manage to get it back before we moved onto the next city. I think both A and I almost cried with joy at the first view of our boring grey Samsonite. Never underestimate the happiness of seeing your own shampoo!
  • Rome is amazingly grand with its history. The Colosseum itself is enough to make you go Whoaaa when you first enter it. That said, it’s so much like India in terms of the people (both the warm and the crook types), the disregard for how difficult it is to get from one place to the next, and somewhere the resistance to a foreign language, it was uncannily comfortable.
  • I finally wore a bikini and swam in the clear blue sea, spending a day at the beach doing absolutely nothing at all. And that, I think, is my most cherished memory from this trip. Not the bikini bit, but just the fact that it’s okay to just stare at the sea and do nothing else. Not have places to be at, photos to take.
  • I think India is more prone to body shaming than a lot of the western world. Sure, there’s New York and California (and I’m sure a lot of other places which I have never been to) where everyone’s expected to look like a model or feel horrible about themselves… But it was so refreshing to see people of all ages and body shapes roaming around Europe wearing whatever they wanted, and no one cared! It was liberating, and inspiring, to say the least.
  • Switzerland is beyond beautiful. But more than that, it’s also full of extremely happy and helpful people. And they seem to have thought of every trouble a human being might face reaching their tourist sites, and have come up with a solution to that. Their trains, buses, as well as their highest peaks are disabled friendly. I can’t even think of getting onto a local train with a leg injury in Mumbai!
  • Indians are everywhere. And more often than not, their touristy behaviour is rude and embarrassing.
  • We met more than our share of extremely helpful people, especially in Switzerland. People who randomly stopped on the road simply because we were looking lost and gave us directions without being asked. People who spent half an hour helping us plan our day. And I will never ever get used to people stopping their cars in peak traffic hours just to let you cross the road. And in which other country could you forget your jacket in a train, have an attendant call up every station that train must’ve stopped at until it was identified, and have a ticket collector load it onto the next train back towards you?

The trip was amazing. Travel may be the in-thing and privilege of the newly stuck up bourgeoisie, but there is a reason travel is beautiful. It makes you realize how tiny your world really is. And makes you never want to go back.

Oh wait. That kind of means travel sucks.

Because I absolutely hate my life now.

Oh, and I somehow managed to catch chicken pox at the end of the trip, which I only realized two days later in Mumbai.

I’m that case study of the 29 year old who catches European chicken pox. I can almost hear the evil laugh of all the chicken ghosts haunting me.

Yup, now I sound more like me.

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