Why is Mumbai so strange?

Mumbai is known to be city of contradictions and surprises. Having lived here for about five years now, I have experienced my fair share of the surprises. Here’s a brief description of one such incident.I live in Vashi and travel to my office in Andheri( East). I fortunately have the “luxury” of a company bus that ferries me to and from work everyday. I use the word “luxury” because though the bus is supposed to make our lives easier, many a times it does just the opposite! Anyone who has every visited Andheri will tell you just how terrible the traffic conditions there are- the roads are unbelievably narrow, the traffic heavy and movement is almost always at snail’s speed. Added to that is the fact that our driver is a mild fellow who is simply not cut out to drive aggressively.( He has been told numerous times to hurry up and over take other vehicles by the staff members but he lives by his self imposed rule of letting every human being and vehicle go before him). Resultantly, we spend a lot of time of time just sitting in the bus and watching stationery traffic and praying that the admin guys don’t throw a fit when we arrive late, yet again.  This past Wednesday, we had already spent about 40 minutes and had only reached the crossing after Asalpha. Staff members were losing either their patience or their temper or both. I was surprisingly calm. May be I have accepted this maddening traffic as a part of my life or may be I was listening to the radio on my mobile and so hadn’t really noticed the passage of time. While slowly driving down the slope (Aaslpha is on a small hill) and waiting for the pandu to signal our side of the traffic to move, the driver announces that the brakes have failed and that he will not be able to drive further. What followed his announcement was total chaos. A few staff members got off the bus and began walking. The ladies panicked as if a live bomb had been discovered in the bus. No one realized that all this time while we are panicking and behaving like the world had come to an end, we had kept traffic waiting and thanks to us there was a HUGE line up of vehicles. The pandu on duty come up to our bus and gave the driver an earful in shuddha Marathi. I know relatively little Marathi but I could gauged that the poor helpless driver was being served the choicest gaalis. When he told the pandu that the breaks had failed, the pandu really lost it. He couldn’t believe that had to deal with this big bus that was obstructing the road and causing a massive jam in peak traffic hours. Now I have lived 26 long years, but I have to admit, I have never seen someone so mad. He was so mad that I was a bit shaken up. His face was red, his voice booming above the noise of honking cars. In his rage he told the driver “if you can’t drive the bus, get me a bottle of kerosene and matchstick. I will set it on fire. At least that way it won’t be coming in the way.” I heard what he said and was shocked. How could he say something like this? It wasn’t anyone’s fault that the bus developed a snag. As for the held-up traffic, when was the traffic ever smooth anyway? i couldn’t understand why a policeman would say something like this. These guys are supposed to help you out, make live easier. Not offer to burn you alive! I know that the police force in my city is stressed and over worked but that didn’t justify his reaction to the situation. I have seen the same policeman on the same road crossing day after day, going about his job efficiently. I used to look at him and appreciate him for his regularity and efficiency. Suddenly, all those days that he directed traffic and helped me reach home on time, didn’t matter. I thought he was the rudest and most inhuman policeman I had met.

Anyway, the driver somehow managed to fidget with the bus and made the brakes work. We reached home, much later than our usual time but in one piece. I was thankful for that.

Yesterday on our way back from office, while crossing Asalpha we met the same pandu again. To my utter surprise, while we waited for our turn at the signal, he gave the driver a broad, sunny smile and enquired if the bus had been repaired.  The driver to replied cheerfully “ab sab theek karva liya hai, sahib”. I was just zapped!!! Was this the same policeman who just two days back wanted to set our bus on fire? Why was he smiling and talking so nicely? And why was our driver talking to him as if nothing had happened!?! His friendliness totally surprised and confused me.I didn’t know what to make of the situation. May be Wednesday was an awful day for the policeman. May be he is more stressed than I could imagine. May be he really isn’t that bad a man. Honestly, I don’t know! All I know is that this city and its people never cease to surprise me!


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