~~In a public place, if a stranger excuses himself and walks away leaving behind a packet, it always arouses suspicion. Rohan was stuck in one such situation at Mumbai Central railway station. The
stranger, a Sardarjee, had just walked away and left behind a packet on his seat. For a moment, Rohan felt like he was sitting next to a live bomb. He felt like moving away. He strained his neck to
locate the stranger on a busy platform. Sardarjee was nowhere to be seen. Rohan bent closer to the packet to take a peep inside. He noticed a box of alphanso mangoes.
Who knows what is inside the box, thought Rohan.
Rohan got up from his seat and walked a few steps away to look for Sardarjee. He thought of reporting the packet to the security if he did not find him. It was then that he heard someone from behind, “Did that packet make you nervous”. Rohan turned around to find Sardarjee with a cup of coffee in his hand. Rohan tried sounding indifferent;” Actually I was checking the train timing on the display.” He went on to add, “It must be your first time in Mumbai….people don’t leave their packets like that here”. Sardarjee nodded.
“Where are you travelling to?”, asked Sardarjee.
“To Delhi and how about you?” Rohan returned to his seat and sat next to Sardarjee.
“Back to Punjab where I belong” said Sardarjee with a forced smile. Sardarjee continued with a sigh,”I don’t know how people manage to live in Mumbai. To me nothing seems right here. So crowded…my God!”
Rohan agreed to that,”Yes it is crowded but apparently people who live here can’t live anywhere else. They need that pace of life that you can’t adjust to”
“Horrible pace!” said Sardarjee. “Actually the city is so overpowering, a person either accepts its pace or gets rejected. Here you can’t live at your own pace the way you can in Punjab. It is almost like seconds are longer in Punjab and much shorter here. But it is not just the pace, look at the houses, half of Mumbai is just a slum…they call it J&J colony. There are so many things not right about life in this city. People here travel in local trains like sheep and goats, roads are perpetually jammed and I am told that the city comes to a halt due to water logging in monsoon. How can anybody live here?”
Rohan was a Mumbaikar. He was listening patiently to all the negative observations of Sardarjee. He thought, even if I try telling him the positives of this place and why we love it so much he wouldn’t appreciate. He wondered why a person should develop so much distaste for a place in his first visit.
Rohan tried to change the topic. He said,” I noticed you are carrying alphanso mangoes with you”.
“Yes” said Sardarjee, “my grandmother gave it to me for children. She is very sweet. It is only because of her that I continued my stay here or else I would have returned the very next day of my arrival”
Rohan couldn’t help frowning.
Sardarjee explained, “You see, relatives when they visit us in Punjab we treat them like Kings. That is our culture. That gives us happiness. When they return they return with gifts and good memories. My Mumbai cousin had visited us some time back. He had insisted that I stay with him when I come to Mumbai. He had said so many good things about Mumbai life and had promised me that he would take me around and show me the place.”
“So your stay at your cousin’s place did not go as expected” remarked Rohan
“Actually, I think, I made a mistake going to his house. I should have stayed in a Hotel.” said Sardarjee. “I would like to carry good memories of my relatives. They are relaxed and fun to be with when they visit us in Punjab. Over here, they are a completely different person. Mechanical like robots. They don’t have time for feelings”
Rohan sat back listening and it slowly dawned on him the reason for Sardarjee’s distaste for Mumbai.
There was announcement being made for Rajdhani express. Rohan got up to leave and said, “Looks like train has come. It was nice meeting you and before I leave I would like to say, not because I am a Mumbaikar, but because I have understood your predicament – your feeling for Mumbai is a reflection of your experience at your cousin’s place. Maybe Mumbai isn’t that bad a place!”
Sardarjee sat there thinking and long after Rohan had left, he murmured, “probably yes!”
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