Friday, October 30, 2009

In praise of Mumbai's finest, again .....

Edited to add : (featured on Blogbharti, Nov 2, 2009)

She is a doctor and was enjoying the last few days of her leave. She decided to do some errands in Thane ( a city on the outskirts of Mumbai, almost like a suburb), that she had been putting off for sometime. Shops and offices would be nicely operational by 11 am, after the festival vacations, and she put off her departure from home, by 15 minutes, thinking she could catch a later suburban train to Thane. Thane was a big terminus, and there was a choice of trains from there to other terminii, in the city, where she wished to go , once her work was done.

That was probably the best decision she could have taken.

It was about 4 stations away to Thane , from the suburban station closest to her. The morning rush hour was kind of settling down, and she didn't really worry , as the train came to a stop, in between stations. Just a station away from Thane. Trains routinely do this waiting for the track to clear, so no one was worried. And they waited for the typical jerk that signaled a slow start again.

But it never came. Instead, there was a sudden power outage. The fans whirring in the compartment, (the only solace on a hot October sunny morning, devoid of running-train-breezes that are typical of our open door trains), also rattled to a stop.

Ten minutes later , there was still no change. She was travelling in the ladies' compartment , and a few ladies started peering out of the door to find out what the problem was. She too, moved around and tried to check out what was happening.

What they saw , were lines and lines of stalled suburban and mainline trains. A sea of people, all walking down between tracks, and some on the tracks, all trying to make it to their destination on foot. Some had exams, some would lose a days wage if they reached late, some were desperate to reach home after a night shift, and some were even carrying tiffins, for supplying lunch somewhere. There were families with children, folks out to attend a marriage, all dressed up, kids returning from sports practice with cricket kits , and several hawkers who are a permanent fixture on these trains.

It turned out , that the train previous to hers, had just been in a horrendous accident. Just before Thane, there was a bridge being reinforced, and a huge slab of it just collapsed, on a water pipe below, which also crashed and collapsed. On the front few compartments of the train.

Electric cables above were yanked out and exposed suddenly and the water gushing out from the pipes with the live cables made it a nightmare. The guard traveling in the rear of the train, rushed out to see the reason for the sudden jerk and deafening noise, realised the danger of electrocution, and immediately ran out along the opposite track , his red flag altering the approaching other trains, and relayed the message of cutting of power to the closest station.

That was the moment the power went off in her train, and it probably saved thousands of lives in the train that faced the crash.

The water from the pipes, found a preferred path on the lower levels of the track area, and there was a growing river of water developing amidst the railway tracks. The people walking along the tracks, kept shouting out and telling snippets of stuff. Her train was on a banking, the compartment was at a slightly more elevated level compared to the ground, and there was an uneven incline , when they looked down. Several ladies started talking about getting off and walking, and some of the younger teenager types jumped out.

Suddenly a few people appeared at their compartment door below. They were people from their own train, and had noticed their plight. Ladies in a panic started crowding the door. She was pushed to one side, as she looked down at a seven-to-eight feet drop on a pebbled stony incline. Old ladies, middle aged matrons, ladies with small babies, pregnant ladies, every category was represented.

"Ma'am, the train isn't going to start soon. There is a huge problem ahead and lots of debris. Its better if you get off and try and reach home in daylight. " . That was an office-going type, who probably saw his wife and mother somewhere in his mind.

An elderly Gujarati lady in a white saree, shook her head.

"Son, its been ages since I did such big jumps. I'll probably break my knee. I'll wait. " And she kind of looked him, resigned to her fate.

Another lady, with a small child, passed the baby down to one of the men, who handed it to another, to hold. Then she poised herself at the crowded door. A bunch of fellows grouped together, to buffer her jump, and held out hands.

"Ma'am, jump. You wont fall. We're here. We'll catch you. Just let yourself go. Sit and slide off..." Some more fellows had landed up. One of them climbed on another to guide the ladies at the side of the door, through the drop, so to speak.

The lady with the child made the jump. She had to. Her child was crying for her , and the stranger holding it didn't have a clue.

The jump would never be classed a winner, say, as a graceful-jump-in-a-saree-holding-bags-and-a-purse went. But it would win a gold medal for guts. Soon the other ladies felt encouraged. Some more young fellows from other compartments of the train joined in to help.

The elderly Gujarati lady decided to take the risk. It must be God's wish that she reach her destination safely and in daylight. The fellows sounded helpful, many ladies had jumped, and were urging her to come down.

She stood at the door, then slid down to sit, hands clutching the central rod very tight. She looked up, took a deep breath, muttered something (God's name, 100%), and looked down at the fellows .

"Aji(=grandma) , just let go of your hands. We'll catch you. Not to worry. Jai Bajrang Bali !"

And hearing that invocation to God, Aji jumped. Straight into network of helpful hands. She took a while to get her bearings. Sat on to one side on the banking. Took off her glasses. Wiped her sweaty face with the edge of her saree pallu, covered her head with it, looked up at the Almighty, and took several deep breaths with eyes closed. Thanks over, she slowly got up, to come by, pat some of the fellows on their backs, and stood there encouraging assorted people to jump down.

The doctor did. Just before the pregnant lady . She got up as soon as they helped her, and stood by to give courage to the pregnant lady, advising her how to safely manoeuvre the jump. Word had gone around that she was a doc, and the lady presumably felt a bit safer about having her supervise the jump. But she needn't have worried.

More fellows were joining in. Some were guiding the ladies out of the compartment. Some were instructing them on the track to follow on foot to the nearest exit on to the city road outside. There was a biggish gap at one place , with a fast flowing stream way below. The fellows could leap across. The women and elderly could not do so easily, and without fear. Some young fellows soon acquired a iron/concrete broken slab from somewhere,and placed it across the gap. Two guys stood on either side, hands outstretched and helped the ladies across.

It was a long walk home. The demand and supply for three wheelers had gotten skewed. Vehicles were running full. Buses were overflowing. The train accident had blocked one of the major routes on the suburban rail network. The minute word got around, commuters from several stations poured out on to the road and crowded the buses and 3 wheelers.

She spied a milk booth nearby, and wondering how long the walking would be, decided to have a cooling spiced milk drink before continuing. The Gujarati grandma agreed. Various folks from their compartment were slowly dispersing in various directions. She walked for half an hour before a three wheeler agreed to take her home in a round about route.

Why am I posting this ?

Because it was Mumbai's finest at work. I am tempted to use the word "spirit", but ever since politicians used it to justify their own non performance, it raises hackles.

Because at the end of the day, no one who went through all this even knew the names of who helped them. People simply volunteered on their own, and arrived, uncalled. Performed to their best, and then dissolved away amidst the stranded trains and tracks.

I think Mumbai has a fine tradition of helping. It's ordinary citizens, shine through trying episodes. Help pours forth from everyone. There is a sense of trust that pervades at such times. You don't know anyone, but you are all in it together.

All the unknown people who stood at the ladies compartment exit, helping the women and saving them from a rough hurtful jump, were aware that they were helping a human being in need and it was incidental that they were ladies. There was nor a single complaint from anyone about someone taking advantage of the occasion to make inappropriate contact. When they found that a lady was ok and could manage on her own , they immediately got busy helping someone else, urging them to jump, be careful walking the tracks, and cross makeshift bridging planks and so on.

There cannot be a finer example, of how folks of Mumbai, put their hand up and get counted in the most trying circumstances, and then disappear to get back to their difficult jobs, where they probably lose a days wage because they came late.

A friend recently posted about the apathy of society, and the concept of bystanders. The sociological observations , and so on. Some of the episodes he describes are shocking.

Notwithstanding the conclusions of sociological experts, this is the second time one has seen the "Mumbai's finest" in in action.

Earlier, my personal experience about Mumbai's finest, was posted here.......

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  1. " there was not a ... contact".

    i have seen it many times UK.

    many times i would have to get into a men's compartment if i don't want to miss the train and couldn't reach till the women's compartment. the men would put a hand behind your back and safely lift you into a running train and another hand will hold one hand of yours. and i would make way in where the seats are. jai ho ! i would many times.

    a couple of years ago my brother spent 2 days on the road because of the rains - he said - thre was so much help around - except that he was exhausted with no sleep for 48 hours.

    bombay has both its sides - the finest and the worst. but i also think that human beings help others in time of need - doesn't matter where the city is - it is being human.

    so many memories such as these flood my mind as i write this.

  2. Years ago when I drove I had help from strangers. Once my car got stuck in deep sand and a young couple stopped and helped me get it out. Twice strangers changed a tire for me. It may not have been as dramatic as the doctor's experience, but it meant a lot to me. None of the people would take money. There really is a goodness in people that trouble brings out.

  3. Great post- yes, this quality is evident in Mumbai.

    In times of crisis, as well as in daily life, too.

    On the day of the '26th July floods' in 2005, my daughter was stuck for hours inside a bus on the highway.

    When it became evident that they would have to go by foot- local residents formed a human chain and guided the passengers- out of the bus, over the tops of several vehicles- to comparitive safety.

    She walked for a few hours that night on her way home and later told me that there were such human chains- to show the way- at regular intervals on the way.

  4. Mumbai's finest ! yes I truly agree and believe in this ! I have lived in Mumbai and have seen people hubly help each other even with those addresses or bus numbers / stops and local train schedules..So it's not only the biggest crisis when this help flows in.

    Also the "no contact in anyway" Sure. Mumbai is the safest place for a female where she can live and roam alone...I have done that for entire 2 years of my life and I'm thankful I never came across such an incident !

  5. I knew you'd blog about this and how right you are.I've also been helped by complete strangers and they've left even before i thanked them after doing their bit to help me or any other person.But it is heartening to know that in a metro like mumbai the human touch prevails.

  6. That is humanity at work. Not only in Mumbai, in other places too during difficult times strangers do come forward to help other strangers. Makes you feel so wonderful and full of hope.

  7. I can completely relate to all that you mentioned here..Been there in one of the train blasts near Mulund years back and during rains so many times. Everyone is scared but still comes forward to help and put up an expression of being brave.. In any other part of the country I can only imagine huge chaos..

    Its amazing. you reported i so well. brings back memories.

  8. I do agree 'horrendous accident'. Bombay rolled as usual the next day. But the railways did not rise to the occasion and lost its valiant soldier - the motor man.

  9. I have found proof of this spirit in my everyday life also. It's amazing - and this is what keeps the city going, when it has has so much going against it... now there is a warning of another threat from sea... (I saw on twitter yesterday) :(

    I just hope and pray we see peace now all over the country and even in the neighbourhod ...

  10. Thanks for this heart warming account.

    It feels good to come across such stories of the triumph of human spirit over adversity. Good to know that humanity is well and alive in these times.

  11. anrosh I too have had the type of experiences while getting on to a running train, and that too, ages ago, when the overall openness and social mixing was less. So the spirit has always been there.

    Darlene Makes you feel good doesnt it, to see all the goodness around you ? Something that says, dont give up, there are good folks around to help .....

    Manju Thank you. I wouldnt have wanted to be in your shoes the night of 26-11-2005. And yes, I too heard later the wonderful stories of complete strangers helped out those in need...

    Nu I agree. Mumbai is the safest for ladies.

    Hip Grandma Thank you. I am so glad that Mumbai retains this unique attitude amidst big cities going all impersonal on you...

    Shail, Tara Makes you feel so proud of your city....with all its shortcomings and cribs....

    nsiyer Yes. That was a heartrending story. We talk a lot about disaster management. But there is no trauma training for paramedical types. Disaster management is all about forming committees and minuting the meetings. God help us.

    IHMIsnt it wonderful, how little things help us keep the faith in our city in these troubled times...

    amreekandesi Thank you and welcome to the blog.

  12. that was such a heartwarming account...i've heard so much about the mumbai 'spirit' and these things help us to keeop our faith a little longer.

    been here after such a long time..i've been saving your posts to read later...and never realised that it had accumulated to so many :)