Hamish Joy’s Travel Guide: Episode 1
The best minds in the world wouldn’t describe Hamish Joy as a travel consultant. And that’s not entirely because they’ve never heard of me, though that’s probably a big factor. The more compelling reason is that I have never travelled much. With the exception of one family trip to the country’s capital, I have always maintained as minimal a tourist instinct as possible. I had set most of my life within Cochin, stayed within Kerala for 22 years, moved to Bangalore only to pursue an MBA degree and a research job.
But when the company sent me away for a two week training, I thought I might as well write about it. The place in question, is Mumbai. Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘mum‘ meaning ‘Mother’, and the Urdu word ‘bai‘, meaning ‘brother’, the city had a family atmosphere to it. I was nervous, though, because knowledgeable and experienced friends, as well as my family had given roughly two and a half hours of lecture on how difficult it would be in Mumbai. The contents of the two-and-a-half-hours talk can be summarized as –
a. The trains are fast, silent, and dangerous
b. Pickpockets are a dime a dozen
c. The trains are silent, fast, and dangerous
d. The cost of living is very high
e. The trains are dangerous, fast, and silent
f. Criminal activities and violence are perpetually high
g. The trains are fast, dangerous, and silent
It was one bright hot sunny afternoon when I reached Mumbai, and I was paranoid about theft. Time to time, I’d ‘sense‘ some unknown hand in my pocket, get startled, and clear my head only to realize that the hand in question was not unknown at all, but my own.
I got to stay with an old friend of mine, Dr. Visakh Varma, at IIT Powai, a beautiful place. It was the next bright hot sunny morning when he graciously accompanied me all the way to my office, on my first day of training. He, like so many others before him, had long since come to the conclusion that Hamish Joy is to be spoon fed; that leaving me to get to office by myself would result in my starring in the ‘missing persons’ report the following day. He also introduced me to the dreaded Mumbai metro, where, according to sources wide and numerous, danger lurks in every corner.
The Mumbai train experience was quite a pleasant one. Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean that the ideal fun time would be to pack a bag of chips, take your family to the nearest station, climb aboard, and go ‘whee’ aboard the speeding train. I meant it was much better than what I had thought it would be. Of course, I have to factor in the facts that I used only the first class compartments, and with the aid of my friend’s useful tip, had developed the habit of not hanging around the entrance.
These precautions robbed the train ordeal of its danger and excitement. While safety is a key priority, I had a small sense of disappointment. I had heard so much about the perils of the Mumbai train journey, where the tidal wave of people rushing in and out of the trains in short periods of time had dictated the fates of the other people caught in the middle. And most of what I saw was tame. With one exeption.
My last day on the Mumbai train. It was a bright hot sunny Friday. By now you must have realized from whatever I have written that everything about Mumbai is bright, hot, and sunny. I was usually too tired to go out at night and check, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I found ‘bright’, ‘hot’ and ‘sunny’, to be capable adjectives to describe the Mumbai night as well.
Anyway, I’m straying from the point. Like I was saying, it was a bright hot sunny Friday. There was an unusually large number of people on board. Maybe I boarded the second class compartment by mistake. Whatever the cause, the rush was so intense that I was unable to go far enough into the compartment. I was directly in the path of the exit. After about 15 minutes of effort, which, by the way, is my limit, I figured “What the hell. I’m in the centre of the train anyway. So what if its in the exit path. I can’t possibly be affected this far into the crowd.” Famous last words.
The next major station that came my way, the legendary rush commenced. There was a steady rush of people out of the train, and I was swept away. When ordinary people say “I was swept away”, you probably think, “Oh! That must have been some force”, and leave it at that. But in my case, you have to consider that I weigh 87 kgs. Moving cars have sometimes been unable to shove me. I was lifted off the ground. For a moment, I felt like superman discovering he could fly. I held on to the overhead bar, and my hand felt like it’d be ripped off any moment then. The swarming passengers, meanwhile, thought I was doing all this for fun; that my intentions were solely to slow them down by standing in their way. They made very vocal signs of protest. The protests were made in advanced hindi, marathi, martian, or Swahili. In short, I had no idea what they were saying.
But I can understand that they were all thinking I was crazy. For the span of five minutes, when the most conservative of people would have willingly taken on a 50:1 bet that Hamish Joy would be unceremoniously launched out of the train, there was a misplaced, but faint smile on my face. For all the tension built up in the train; for all the angry people shouting what I think were obscenities at me; for all the pain my wrists had to endure while the rest of me was being tossed, all I could do was smile, thinking, “Aha! So THIS is the rush they were talking about!”