True story

Mumbai Locals- An emergency in oblivion

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The fragility of our existence stared at my face earlier this morning as I was hanging on the footboard of the viciously crowded Mumbai local. I almost slipped, but thanks to my luck and that angelic aunt that I’m here typing this and not, waiting to be another nugget in tomorrow’s newspaper. Posing as the protagonist of the sorry article on which everyone feels the pity, and then it is nothing but an archive to be forgotten.

The mental investment on the issue of over-crowded trains is so little, that there is no necessity to understand the problem or to care. This is because everything keeps going on non-stop until, it hits close to home. There are thousands of people travelling in the rush peak hour from north Mumbai to south, struggling in the compartment. It is an everyday gamble of life and death, the probability of the latter increasing as the population keeps increasing. It is nothing but a sheer competition of spaces. Those who win survive, while the others hang and hope not to die.

Is this the spirit of Mumbai, as they call it? The city is an infrastructural mess, but yet the financial crest. Is it a boon or a gain, I wonder. Due to the capability to generate and earn, it has successfully invited many people but it doesn’t have the capability to take in so many, and what is at risk? After every contingency, there is a quiet uproar till the problem is shoved into oblivion. Nothing is done, no efforts are made, even for mere closed-door compartments or increments in the number of trains.

We all are here to end, that is a said fact, but if the end is in such a way it is a kind of murder happening due to mere negligence. It is something that can be prevented just by a little action, a little attention.

After that moment, all I could think was, I may have been irrational considering my priorities where I chose hanging on the train rather than missing many of them for an hour or two, but it certainly shouldn’t ought to the end. I thought of my mother’s hug that I got this morning and I felt that maybe it could be the last, or the conversation that I had with my best friend would be the last. It was scary, so scary. I can’t do anything of the problem as of now, except practising caution and writing to our sorry government, but I can certainly now cherish and appreciate my life much more.

This article was published in the newspaper too :p yay!


A Surveyor’s Dilemma

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Just like any other research students, we were also asked to survey slums, the most visible expression of poverty in urban areas. At that point of time, the idea seemed very exciting. Little did we know that the experience would be so heartbreaking and overwhelming, both at the same time.

The moment we entered into the slum clusters, on and between the gutters, it was like being transferred into another portal where it seemed impossible to live. The spaces were so little, that even a bit increase in my waist size would make walking through them an unachievable task. Everything was dark and dirty. There was water clogging in one space, fungus forming in another. Heaps of garbage were lying around, welcoming us with their distinct variety and gracious aroma.  There were huge cliques of mosquitoes and flies, having a gala time. In short, the condition was pathetic and terrific.

Eventually, after a while, we just got over it. We moved on from house to house (if I can call them so, with their sheer size) interrogating people about their lives. Some were really welcoming, while others were uncooperative. It was as if they already knew that we were just another bunch of kids who will ask few questions in the pretext of helping them and in the end do nothing. They kept on asking us, if we will give them money or the government promised housings, on that our answers would unfortunately just be a forced sorry smile. While deep inside, we would just feel helpless and tad bit annoyed.

The saddest part was that there were many people who just stood there simply accepting their miserable fate. Many of them didn’t even bother to ask why we were asking them questions as such, and went on answering with honesty dripping off their face.

I couldn’t help but wonder if we are in a way insulting them?

Many of us go there and assure them, that our collected data will be sent forward to the government and the policy makers for improving their lives, but who are we kidding? We dexterously shower them with false hopes and expectation of a new beginning and a new life, and then in the end, we shamelessly go and sleep in our well furnished house. Yeah, there is no denying that they already know about the futility of our exercise but they still answer us.

Why? I wonder!

Is it because of the trivial human behaviour case? We humans gladly come forward to perform a task where we think there is nothing to lose but in rare cases, there might be a slight possibility of gain (lottery maybe?). The slum dwellers know that we might do nothing but if, just if we are successful enough in highlighting their predicament they might be slightly better off.

I don’t know what the real answer is; all I know is that I would hate being the victim of somebody’s study where I will have to shed my time and information just to be fed lies.

Palace in our mind

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My dad once said, “Life always gives you something, but only if you are receptive enough to take it”

And few days ago, in my third slum visit, I was for once receptive enough to take something from probably nothing.

It was the fourth crammed house in the row; I knocked the door with a smile. The dangling door opened with a creak showcasing a withered woman probably in her 40’s. She was wearing an old ragged sari and a brilliant smile. Her welcoming nature and her twinkling eyes suddenly made me feel at ease. With a lot comfort, I asked her questions, some were borderline uncomfortable as we were surveying their cost of living. She kept on answering them animatedly.

The situation to me looked very grim, with their monthly income just being Rs.10-15k in a family of six. It was even worsened with the loan that they had to repay. I was waiting for her to crib just like other households before, but nothing came. Her answers were surprisingly very genuine and crisp.

When I asked her about the expenditure on food, she laughed and said, “It just happens, who counts.” I requested for an estimate, and she confidently said, “Just how much a middle class household spends.”

I looked up at her in an instant, the look on her face confirmed that she thought herself to be in the middleclass category. My curiosity took hold of me, so I asked, “What about the poor households?”

“They live right across the street on the pavements, they don’t even have shelter can you imagine?”

“Hmm” I replied, guiltily peeping inside her house. There were few kids lying around, with hardly any furniture or appliances on display. There wasn’t even a gas stove, rather a kerosene chullah, responsible for painting the walls pitch black.

Inwardly I smiled; this woman was surely an inspiration to me. She was the real life example of somebody who looks at the better side of life rather than cribbing about the harsh reality. The outlook might not do anything to improve their situation but it would at least make life much more tolerable.

I couldn’t help but feel overly grateful. That day when I stepped in my home, I felt like I stepped into a palace.




My Inner Light

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Just like any other day, I walked into my yoga class; with little or no knowledge that I won’t walk out of the class as the same person, that I would be redefined in that period of one hour or so and that I would experience something beyond everything, something so surreal but yet so real.

Everything was same except the yoga teacher; she was new and really petite. As soon as I entered the hall, she held her tranquil gaze on me for more than what is considered average. I gave her a tight-lipped smile. She smiled back; her eyes were still firm on me, making me self-conscious.

She then asked me to relax and what a voice it was! So melodious! I was enthralled for a while but then I forced myself to concentrate. She started the Asana’s and we followed, her diction was a treat to my hearing senses. I was lost in the symphony of her words. She then asked us to proceed to Shavasana, one of the most popular yoga posture as we have to just lie down in it, but definitely one of the most effective. I lied down on my back, assuming myself to be completely relaxed.

But then her soothing voice asked us to consciously relax from our toes to our head, so relax that you stop feeling its presence and my body became the slave of her talks. It just got enveloped in an unusual but powerful energy full of relaxation and comfort, that I stopped feeling myself. It was pure consciousness of being without any feel of my body. It was so wonderful, I was in awe and I was thoughtless for once. Her voice was working as a musical therapy and I was just there listening. She then guided us to sit down in Sukhaasan(normal sitting posture) without opening our eyes, and my body obediently followed her instructions, still thoughtless.

As soon as I sat down, I felt something strike and it was all white, shining crystal white, like a diamond kept in sunlight. The brightness was intriguing, astonishing and captivating. It held me right there, away from the world, it made me realize that the vast ocean that needs to be explored is nowhere but inside. There were subsequent hypnotizing patterns, there were ripples, waves, circles and so much more. My eyes were closed but still it could feel the delightful burn from the blinding dazzle. I don’t know for how long I sat there without the feel of my body with just the bright light igniting me until there was an evident vibrating tap on my head and that is when the bright light faded and my body was awakened.

That was the moment of realization and ultimate bliss.  Slowly, I opened my eyes, and I could feel the fresh tears uncontrollably rolling down my eyes. I sat there transfixed, mesmerized and tongue-tied.

My teacher looked at me and smiled, “You felt it right?”

I nodded my  head with a subtle smile forming on my tear-stained  face, still confused about what I felt.

She came to me and wiped my tears and then, she surprisingly hugged me tight. I cried even more with bliss. It was so overwhelming, I had probably experienced my inner light which I never thought I had and it was so bright, It made me feel the immense potential that I have and the immense energy which is waiting to be tapped.

In my dazed blissful state,  the world around me felt beautiful, from the blowing breeze to the dancing trees. Everything was swaying with joy celebrating my inner tour; the birds around me were enthusiastically congratulating me by their harmonious chirping.

At that moment, I was totally in awe with the pleasure of existence.


Paranoid or Just cautious?

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I have always believed in the random acts of kindness. They are something far stronger and can do more for the human race than religion and politics combined but then sadly, it was me, who couldn’t appreciate an act of kindness today. It was really shallow on my part. My reaction to the action was based on popular prejudices and assumptions. I wouldn’t call it my mistake though but I would like to apologize to the person whose kindness was blatantly ignored by me.

It was an hour before dawn, when I left for college, like any other day, I was walking to the bus stop through a deserted ground enjoying the morning stillness and the cool breeze. When I reached the end of the ground, a man was walking towards me adjusting his Lungi and then he murmured something incoherent. I didn’t even bother listening to him and ran past him, as fast as I could towards the main road and then I looked behind. The man was still standing there looking at me, this alarmed me even more and I ran further ahead in an area well lit with few people here and there. This time again I looked back and saw him walking towards me, Though he was at a distance I ran towards the bus stop but then one car stopped besides me and said, that you have dropped your card behind and some man is coming to give it to you. I was confused. I checked my bag, all chains were closed, there was no possibility for any card to fall, but then I checked my pocket and my smart card was missing. So I took two steps towards that man, but too scared to move any forward, I turned my back and started walking towards the bus stop. The car driver then came and handed me my card, I murmured thank you to him and he pointed towards the man who was not visible as he stood behind the car, but I couldn’t thank him as my bus had arrived and also, maybe because I was somehow scared and ashamed. I got in my bus and left.

The whole bus ride, I couldn’t stop thinking about the incident. I couldn’t stop thinking about my unusual behavior. Why did I run by just finding myself with a random man in a deserted route? The female inside me finds the answer to be obvious but the human inside me is criticizing me for judging someone on the basis of societal assumptions and notions. I could have just listened to what he had to say which was possibly along the lines, “Your card has fallen down.” But my paranoia forced me to assume that he was commenting something nasty or singing some substandard song or that he would just grope me there in the dark. There were so many thoughts erupting which I cannot comprehend here.

I was terrified, that moment lasted only for few seconds, but it was the most scared I have ever been in my life and amusingly it was nothing, he was just a kind man trying to help a random stranger. En-route my journey to college, I was trying to empathize with the man, imagining how humiliated he must have felt seeing me run so badly and I couldn’t help but sympathize with all those men who are accused because of some. Also, I was trying to understand the immeasurable amount of torture a girl goes through when something really happens with her. Nothing happened with me, but it felt so many things, what will one feel when something actually happens with them. The mere thought is more than enough to make me shiver due to immense fear.

I don’t even know if I can do justice to the thoughts in my mind through this post because they are so deep and so raw. They are disturbing in fact. They are still debating between my paranoia and cautiousness.
In the end, I would just like to thank that man and wish that someday this world will be a better place to live where such incidences would bring appreciations rather than humiliations.

Soaking up the Nature

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Getting up at the crack of the dawn didn’t sound so pleasing but my excitement for the trek was way more to resist it. Packing my bags, I was all set to leave. I could feel the sadness of being a girl at that moment as I was forced to wake up my dad to drop me to the station. Early hours and empty roads didn’t give me the freedom to travel alone.

When I reached the trek site, the destination which was around 2136ft seemed impossible to climb, it looked so far away. Being a first timer, it surely did tickle some adrenaline rush in me. The feeling was kind off a mixture of exhilaration and trepidation but it was surely worth an experience. Being my very enthusiastic self, I ran ahead. I wanted to reach the top as soon as I could. I don’t know how, but I coped up with the fellow experienced trekkers in the lot, our bonding started to grow strong. They taught me a lot about the nature and the treks.

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My movements were swift but the wet mud at times made my leg slip; it made me feel the thrill. I was busy looking around; the nature was so pleasant and so sound. The chirping of birds, the noise of insects and the moving of trees, they together formed such a melody. Also, the raw smell of wet mud felt heavenly ‘to my accustomed to polluted air’ nostrils. The vivid shades of green seemed like magic to my eyes and on top of that the variety wild flowers added some colour to the sight. All of these features somehow kept the forest alive. The charm of the place was doubled by the cascading waterfalls around, the way they flew leaving all their obstructions behind filled me with inspirations for my life.

As I moved upwards, the scenery eventually got breath taking. The twin peaks of Gorakhgad and Machhindragad stood tall over the trail, providing a surreal setting to the trek. The view seemed so unreal and so perfect. My vision was clouded with my imagination of settling there forever and ever, it gave me a strong reason to leave my concrete jungle. The surplus oxygen which went inside felt so rich and so fresh. .

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Then, finally, after all this, in around 3-4hours, I reached the top. The 360 degree view from Gorakhgad top was hauntingly beautiful. The feeling of accomplishment was superfluously amazing. My lips were stretched all this while; the smile was not ready to leave my face. The people around laughed at my excitement but I couldn’t control feeling this way. I left my hair open for it to fly by the winds. The nature and the success, both made me feel exhilarating. I felt freedom at that moment, I cannot point from what, but that is what I felt, so free, like never before. I wanted to have wings at that point of time, just to fly everywhere, to different peaks and to country sides.

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The Gorakhgad top

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Only if everything would be her way!

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So, what is your religion? I asked, she smiled faintly and said, ‘I am a Human’ I chuckled at her reply and repeated my question, ‘I know my dear that you’re a human, but what religion do you belong to? Hindu, Muslim, Sikh?  She responded, ‘Umm, Humanity?’ I smiled at her and said, ‘You’re not getting my question’ She dropped her eyes and said, ‘just like others even you are not getting me.’ I narrowed my eyes at her and then gave her a big smile.

I certainly did understand what she was implying; I was just digging in more to see how fascinating and how much more heart warming her replies can get, but she did leave me pensive for quite a while, it was not her implications though which did this task rather it was she, the innocent 32year old woman, who the world considers to be ‘mentally disabled.’

I met her in a Ngo named Advitya, It is a creative learning school for the grown mentally disabled kids. See the oxymoron there? Grown and kids in the same statement? Well, that is how it literally was. She was a grown up, I found her pretty smart too, but the question here arises that why was she considered as mentally disabled, it was not as if she couldn’t work her way out, she was perfectly able to do her own chores, then why? The real reason here was that she was way too naive to understand the evils of this world; her innocence was way too good for this cruel environment. She was different; she was unable to understand the complex structure that we humans have created. She firmly believed in simple living. Humanity was her way, but that wasn’t accepted by the majority in our so called ‘normal’ society. So, she was separated and tagged as a disabled.

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See the pictures, I have attached with this write up. It is written by her! Just read it once, ponder upon it and for once, try to feel what would world be like, if things would be simpler, if everything would be her way!

-Preeti Asthana