“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences. There’s no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon..”
~Into the wild.
She stepped down on the railway platform, a silly smile on her face. Finally, she thought. Finally, here she was, in Mumbai, alone. She had come to the big city few times now and was quite familiar with the local trains, few roads and all. Yet, this trip, this time, it was different.
Unlike everytime, she wasnt going to stay at her bestie’s place. She was goin to stay alone, roam about alone, all alone, on her own! The one thing that she had longed to do for a few months now. And this time it was a perfect opportunity. She had other friends from college whose place she could’ve stayed, but she’d rather not. Not this time, she smiled, her smile not containing the excitement that she felt. Her parents didn’t know, only her sister and her two best friends knew what craziness she was goin to do. And they knew her enough to not stop her, coz she wouldn’t have listened anyways.
She looked around, people all around. Mostly she disliked being around people, but in Mumbai, she always liked it. So many different kinds of people, of all cultures, languages, faces and appearance. From rich to poor, from kind to ruthless. Everyone so different, a uniqueness in each one of them. She didn’t know why she wasn’t able to see the same things anywhere else. Just in Mumbai.
Exam, don’t forget the exam tomorrow, she reminded herself as she made her way to the ticket window and purchased a ticket to Andheri. In the local train. She was lovin every moment of this. Random smiles, watching the people and the work. Everyone was special. Their work too. Even that cobbler! Even that man scurrying hurriedly! Even that lean old lady standing and waiting for the train!
She hadn’t even booked a hotel room. She had tried doing it online, but something had gone wrong and she gave it up, thinking she’ll see what happens. She just knew the name of the hotel and the area. As the cab reached the place, she heaved a sigh of relief. It did seem like a nice hotel and it was.
She checked in and leaned against the door after closing it. Seriously! Really! she still couldn’t believe her eyes. She was really doing it. Staying alone. And not even her friends knew where she was. Her parents had no idea at all. Not a soul, not one person knew where she was in this big big city of dreams!
She laughed at the craziness of it all. She didn’t care if anything would or wouldn’t happen to her. No need to worry about anything. Somehow she had let go of worrying about these stupid things that were never in control. Laughing, she jumped on the bed. It was a single bed and the room didnt have much space, but it was pretty nice and clean.
She stared at the ceiling and remembered how last year she had come to Mumbai to give the same exam, her internship still goin on. And look at her now! So many things had changed, she couldn’t even begin to count them. She herself had changed so much. Her whole perspective on life had changed. Would she have dared to do something like this last year, she wondered. Maybe, but that feeling unsafe, feeling fearful would still have been there. And at that moment, lying on the bed somewhere in the city, she felt no fear. In fact, since the time she entered Mumbai, she had been feeling so much more safer than she ever felt.
She checked out the next morning, took an auto to the exam-center. The exam was soon over, the three hours just went by. She didn’t know how many she marked correct and how many of her answers were wrong. But she felt good and knew that she did better in this exam compared to the one she had given a few weeks back. Her bestie, even though she was sick, had come to give the exam and asked her about where she had stayed and where was she going to go after the exam. She shrugged, “I don’t know where i’ll go, just roam about. Have only this small back-pack with me so not a problem.” Her friend smiled and asked if she could drop her somewhere on the way. She refused saying she wanted to walk around. Her friend and two other friends who had the same exam center, left..and she started walking..towards nowhere…
She kept walking on the sidewalk, to nowhere in particular. And just in some time, she realized how difficult it was to walk like this…with nowhere to reach..coz the mind kept thinking about all the destinations and places to see, where she can go by either the local train, the metro or even an auto. But she didnt want to go to any place in particular. Why then the mind kept thinking of places to go to, she didn’t know and so had to struggle a bit to ignore the mind. Instead, she put on the headphones, listening to music, shutting out the voice of the mind and also that of the traffic.
So much traffic was there even in the afternoon! And the heat! Seemed like it was the beginning of summer, even in the middle of winter. Back at her home, the weather had been so dry and cold. And here she was sweating while walking in the streets.
Again so many different people. Everyone doing their jobs. Few policemen waiting by the police-van. Few workers digging in a ditch. People passing to and fro in the cars, in buses, on cycles. Everyone with somehwere to reach. And here she was…wandering aimlessly. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to stay. No home either. No work. Nothing. Was she wrong? To not have a destination to reach? Coz people all around had somewhere or the other to go or reach. Some were at work, some at home, but everyone knew what they were doing or what they wanted to do.
Her stomach growled and called her back to the present, telling her how hungry she was. Now, where to eat, and what?, she wondered, feeling a bit of tiredness in the shoulders due to the weight of the backpack. She needed some energy. Maybe after eating, i’ll resume walking, till then i’d take an auto. Pleeease. Utna toh chalta hai na. There are no rules like walk everywhere on these feet. She smiled as she stopped an auto and asked the driver to drop her at Andheri station, since there’d be some good restaurants near the station and metro.
The auto dropped her just in front of a McD, and she almost laughed as she got down. Obviously, why would she choose to eat something healthy! Obviously had enough of all the weight-loss tamasha at home since few months now. A good cheesy meal was in order.
After eating, she wondered where she should go. Again, she reminded herself…aimless wandering..not deciding and going, but spontaneously..
“When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there..”
She smiled, remembering the quote. How apt! And she started walking again. She saw a crossover bridge, and getting curious as to where it led, she climbed those steps.
The green color of the side railings, somewhere rusty. Just seeing it, she could feel it…the rustiness, how it would have felt if she would have touched it. She saw a family walk by, and even though she didnt know them, she felt their struggles…the father’s struggle to earn a living in this big city, the mother’s struggle to manage everything at home, the child’s struggle to not disappoint his parents. She knew she was imagining all that, coz she didnt know anything about them. But who doesn’t struggle, we all do..
The bridge brought her to the west side of Andheri. And again, she started walking…on a random road. One more thing she liked about Mumbai, was that even though there was a lot of traffic and some were inconsiderate about their driving…there were sidewalks, proper sidewalks on almost every road she went. Also, there’d be lots of people walking around too. Again, all kinds of people walking around..she smiled thinking, how much she liked being around these ‘all kinds of people’. Why wasn’t it like that back at home? Maybe coz she was more or less prejudiced towards the people of Gujarat. She disliked and disagreed with lots of their cultural traditions, beliefs or even their way of living. She realized for the first time, how much prejudiced she was. Well, can’t do anything about it right now, she thought, as she looked at the sky, the sun still bright and warm, shining through the leaves.
And she kept walking..realizing that she knew where she was going. Till now she had no idea and wanted to wander aimlessly, but now she knew where she’d reach even if she kept walking…to the sea, the vast ocean…the one thing, she had always loved about Mumbai. The ocean. The waves. The horizon. And no matter how much she walked aimlessly, she knew she’d end up there.. The vast sea.
She received a message from her friend asking where she was and where she was going. She replied sayin she didn’t know where she was, still walking, and she was goin to Juhu, to the sea. Her friend texted back saying it was very far from Andheri, and would take quite long to reach there by walking. She replied back saying she knew it was far, but that she’d take an auto if she got very tired.
And she kept walking..although she felt a bit tired. It had been almost an hour now. And she had asked for directions twice. It was nice talking to strangers, something she’d avoid most of the times. Walking, she was aware of the weight of the backpack on her shoulders, also of the tightness in the shoes, it stung a bit in the toes while walking..but she was fine with it. Physical pain somehow never had bothered her and she’d endure it too. It was the emotional pain and hurt that was the most difficult to let go of…atleast for her. She still didn’t understand lots of things, lots of questions. And she hoped the sea would whisper a lesson and teach her something. Maybe, maybe not, after all its the mind. Everything goes on in the mind, especially the way we perceive things.
She kept walking towards the west, knowing fully that the land was bound to end in a few miles. Crossing the road, turning right, and left, straight, just walking…looking at people around, and she’d smile gently…wanting to shout out and tell everyone how amazing it was! How we all are different and unique, yet somehow we’re so similar, in some way, we’re all one…yet we can’t see that, only seeing the differences. She couldnt define that quality, it was indescribable, yet she felt it. What was it that made each of us different, yet similar in certain way? And not just the people, she felt that with everything…the dog sleeping in the shade of the car, the trees in the compound of a house, the huge tree on the road, the leaves and the sun shining through the leaves, the small plants growing on an old wall of a deserted house.. Everything was so beautiful, in its own place. Even the high buildings, or the houses, even the roads and vehicles, people, hoardings of advertisements, streetlights that were off, the humid air… Everything. Everything was soooo beautiful.. And she fell. Fell in love with the city. Mumbai. Bombay. Its the essence of this place, something really indescribable. Or maybe coz its my first trip alone, first adventure like this, she wondered, if she’d have been affected this much if she had gone on such a trip alone to some other place. Then maybe she’d have loved that place. Maybe not. Maybe every trip alone was like this. She didn’t know. And she didn’t want to decipher anything or conclude anything.
Still walking, she looked at the time. She had been walking in the streets and roads of Bombay for more than 2 hours now. And just then, she felt a wave of breeze and then another and the breeze was quite stronger, and a bit salty. Seems like the sea is nearby somewhere, calling me with this breeze, she smiled, eager to get to the sea now. Eager to let the waves and the sand wash away her tiredness.
As she reached nearer, she remembered the roads, from few years back when she had been to Juhu beach with her family, before going on the family trip to Mahabaleshwar. And there she was, alone, at Juhu again. The roads and buildings seemed familiar, though hazy memories. How was she able to remember a road anywhere, she didn’t know. It still amazed her.
She turned right and a huge grin broke on her face. There it was! The sea and the sand! Although, too many people were there. Lots and lots of people. Crowds. For a moment, she hesitated. She wanted to sit peacefully, not be around so many people. But she was sure she’d find a secluded corner somewhere.
Walking on the sand, she was excited again, forgetting all about the tiredness. She saw that most of the people were in a particular area only. Far away, there were people but very very less.
Once at the far end, she removed her shoes, and kept the backpack and shoes on the sand, not caring if someone would take it away. She wished to plunge into the sea, but controlling herself, she went ahead.. The first wave of water, and the coldness! She took a deep breath, as another wave rushed towards her. Finally! Finally again!, she thought, still not believing it. She had stayed alone, roamed alone, without even once feeling afraid, without even once feeling unsafe.. And there she was, at the shores…of the vast vast sea…that stretched til the horizon, mingling with the even more vast sky. The sun. Birds flying. Waves, endless. Foam. Sand. People around. With their families and friends, laughing and enjoying. Some people selling some things, doing their work, trying to earn a living.
The sea. The ocean. So vast. With its waters so deep. Just look at the life around its shores. Who knows how much more life the ocean harbors within those deep waters! Fishes and crabs, of different kinds, big and small. Different sea-creatures. Tiny organisms. Protozoa and who knows what phylums. She tried remembering some names from biology, but it was beyond her. So vast, so deep, this ocean, so full of life. A completely different kind of world. But maybe it was similar to ours, she wondered. It was all beyond her understanding, and she felt amazed and in awe…of the vast vast ocean.. Amazed. In awe. And humbled.