Excerpt from Chapter 1
Coming back to Bombay felt like an assault on the senses. Thud. Thud. Thud. The coolies started jumping into the train even before it had come to a halt. They squeezed their way through the crowded door which was packed with passengers waiting to get off. I glared at a coolie who brushed past my breasts but he had no time to even look at me. I cursed myself. I should’ve sat quietly on my seat till everybody else had got off. Victoria Terminus was the last station, the train wasn’t going to be running off anywhere. But no, I had to crowd into the passage with everybody pressing into each other like it were a local train.
I turned to avoid the strong smell of chameli that wafted from the hair of the woman standing in front of me. As it is, my head had started aching because of the pollution by the time our train crossed Dombivali.
‘Don’t push,’ I snapped at the man behind me who was digging his suitcase into the back of my legs.
‘Then move quickly, no!’
Everybody was in a hurry, but in typical Bombay fashion, nobody was getting anywhere. The roads were flooded and a bus had stalled in front of the station, blocking the traffic. It was March, it wasn’t supposed to be raining. It wasn’t supposed to be so hot so soon, either. But it was.
I looked at my watch once again. It was one and a half hours since I had reached V.T. One hour of being squashed in the rush-hour crush of the local train from V.T. to Andheri. Plus half an hour of waiting for the bus. The only thing to feel grateful about was that I was protected from the rain by the bus shelter, unlike the men who were out on the street in knee-deep water, pushing the stalled bus. It seemed like an impossible task, but finally, they managed to move it enough to let the auto-rickshaws and two-wheelers pass. I decided that for once, I could allow myself the luxury of an auto, so I hiked my salwar above my knees, picked up my suitcases and stepped out into the rain.
I hadn’t realised that the queue for the autos was so long. Seventeen people in the line and not one available auto. There wasn’t even any shelter here, so I just stood in the pouring rain, shifting my weight from one foot to the other. I desperately needed to go to the loo. There was a McDonald’s right in front of me, and I was damned hungry as well, but I didn’t want to lose my place in the auto line. All I wanted was to get back to my place. Just my ‘place’, not my home, I wouldn’t call it home, in fact I didn’t really have… Oh, shut up, Paro! I watched in utter frustration as the bus I’d been waiting for passed by peacefully, splashing mud on all the idiots standing in the rain, waiting for autos, the biggest idiot in the world being, obviously, me.