I realised that opting to travel on a local train was not a good idea as I stood in an overcrowded compartment, clutching the handle bar as if my life depended on it. The train was carrying, according to my humble estimates, atleast twice the number of passengers that it was supposed to carry.
I was getting squeezed from all directions and could not move an inch, but still people had the nerve to ask me to adjust a bit and make some space for them to stand.
At one point I blurted out in my crude Hindi;
“Chup chap khada reh jahan khada hai. Jagah nahi hai aagey!”
(Thanks Shamli. You have taught me well!”)
The poor guy stared at me and then knocked on someone else’s door, who also probably said the same thing, in Marathi.
I had to think five times before I turned my head, because on my left stood a guy in his mid thirties, sporting a thin black moustache, who would not hesitate to let out his warm, misty breath on my face, and on my right, was an armpit. I do not know who that armpit belonged to but it really needed some deodorant. So, looking straight was the only viable option that I had.
I do not know who was standing behind me, but ahead of me stood a couple of guys who were talking, very animatedly, in a language that I did not understand. Since these trains are also considered to be hunting grounds of pickpockets, I was constantly moving my legs to feel my wallet in my jeans. My hands were busy, holding handlebars, in the endeavour of keeping me standing steadily.
The train would stop at stations, and a few people would get off. But just when I would think about getting some breathing room, atleast three times more people would board again.
Then suddenly at a station named Kurla, atleast half the people in the train got off. There was a small stampede, when I almost got lifted off my feet and thrown in the station, as people started getting off. Luckily I was able to get back on the train, before it started moving again.
I finally got a seat next to an old lady who was busy chewing betel leaves and then spitting it out of the window. All was fine, for the next few minutes until another station came and a couple of eunuchs boarded the train.
They went around, asking the passengers for money. One of them decided to show me some extra love when she clutched my left arm and started shaking it for a few minutes, asking for money, while I sat there, holding onto my backpack, and cursing myself for not getting off at Kurla.
“God wanted me to get off at Kurla!”
Finally, I disembarked at Victoria Terminus and started asking people for directions to the Crawford Market. It was located a couple of kilometres away from the station, which I did not mind walking. After all, this gave me an opportunity to marvel at the beautiful colonial buildings all around.
Crawford Market is Mumbai’s answer to Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. You can find dozens of vegetable, fruits, dry fruits and various stalls in this market, and most locals living nearby come here atleast once a week to stock up on their food supplies.
My favourite section of the market is the pet section. There are hundreds of birds of different species, including hawks, turkeys and love birds, on sale. There are shops selling puppies, kittens, rabbits, fishes and rats as well. It was almost like visiting a petting zoo.
I heard a little girl begging her dad to buy her a puppy. I loved the way her dad dealt with that situation.
He pointed at a fruit vendor, standing a little further away and said;
“Oh look, Watermelons!”
“But dad.. the puppy is so cute. I really want one.”
“Yes.. but look at those Watermelons. They look so red, and tasty!”
“Oh look, they have Oranges too!”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
(So, the next time you want your dad to buy you an Orange or a Watermelon, ask him to buy you a puppy.)
Crawford Market has a dark side too. It’s the Meat section. It is the most unhygienic, dirty, disgusting, stinky place I have ever been to. The meat section is basically this big room built in the corner of the market. If you want to pay it a visit, just go to the market and follow the stink.
The floors were covered with blood. Carcasses of cows, goats, chickens were hung on iron hooks in front of every stand. There were butchers, cutting off limbs from these dead bodies and selling it to the customers. There were crows nibbling out of the meat that was being sold to the buyers.
I remember this stall where a butcher and a customer, who was a man in his fifties, were having an argument over the freshness of a piece of chicken that was placed on the counter. The butcher was insisting that the chicken was fresh, but the customer was adamant that it was not.
The butcher got frustrated.
“Fresh mangta hai na?”
He went to a small cage near his stall, which had a few live chicken, picked one up and before I could turn my head the other way, he chopped off its head. Blood gushed out of the headless body, and I quickly got out of the room. I could feel my stomach turning.
“How could I eat these?” I thought as I left the market quickly. I promised myself that from that point on, I’ll never eat a chicken again.
Never.. Ever.. Ever..
I told myself that eating non vegetarian food is wrong and disgusting. I decided to be vegetarian from that point on.
I started feeling sick after seeing that chicken lose its life during the course of an argument. The desperation of the chicken to get out of the butcher’s grip and all the blood made me want to vomit.
But after thoroughly washing my face and arms with water, I started feeling okay again. I walked back to Victoria Terminus station and boarded a train to Dadar.
Siddhi Vinayak Temple was about a 20 minute walk from the station. Outside the temple, you are required to put your cameras in a locker and head off to the temple. There was a huge queue on the gates and I reluctantly stood in line. My turn came after two long hours, and I was allowed to stand in front of the God for less than two seconds.
The temples here in Mumbai, atleast the famous ones, have goons standing in the threshold of the God with the Pujaris, and they would push people out of the way even before they are done praying.
Unlike Mahalaxmi Temple, here I kept my cool and just gave the goon a long hateful stare before walking off.
Just outside the temple, was a field in which people were playing cricket. Like, serious hardcore cricket. I stood there, sipping on a cold glass of lemon soda and watched them play. Looking at them, it didn’t seem surprising that Mumbai did so well in the Ranji Trophy championships.
Having heard a lot about its vibrant markets, I decided to hail a taxi to Bandra. I am not a very fashionable guy, so I felt totally out of place roaming around a street selling clothes, shoes and bags. It was aptly called Fashion Street.
Since it was mid afternoon and it was getting really hot, I decided to head next to the air conditioned confines of, what is called the largest mall in Mumbai, the In-Orbit Mall.
That evening, I went to have dinner at one of my favourite joints in Vashi and saw a family of four sitting on the next table happily gorging on Shahi Paneer, and Mixed Vegetable.
I looked at the part of the menu card that I had never seen before in any of my previous visits. The Vegetarian Food Section.
The list went on..
“What would you like to have, Sir?” The waiter asked.
“Butter Chicken and Roti” I replied, guiltily.
I convinced myself that God intended us to be non-vegetarians, otherwise why would He create such delicious creatures. I remembered the picture that I had seen in a science textbook while I was in school.
Chicken eats worms, Man eats Chicken, Lion eats Man.
(Yes, back when I was growing up, lions must have been on a rampage)
I had forgotten all about how mercilessly that chicken was killed and how bad I felt when I witnessed it. Who is to say that the delicious chicken that I was served, was not that very chicken.
I had forgotten it all, because I was thinking about more important things. I realised how tough life was for the vegetarians. I wondered how they celebrated their accomplishments.
“Mom, I got an A+ in my test today!”
“Really! Let’s order Bhindi Masala and celebrate!”
“No mom, let’s order a pizza”
“Okay son.. Let’s order a mushroom pizza, because that’s the best we can do with the lifestyle choices that we have made.”