The thought of getting to any appointment on time, via a taxi or a bus, kills me. For someone who loves using the bus, and was accustomed to taking the bus virtually anywhere in San Francisco, I have had to make some adjustments to my mode of transportation in Mumbai, thanks to the amount of traffic that hampers the fantasy of arriving anywhere on time. And yes, it is a “fantasy” because the reality of traveling by road and reaching your destination on time seldom occurs. That explains and redefines the whole notion of “time”, its value in India, and how it makes no sense in this country, but that’s a story for another day.
Check out the traffic at Haji Ali on a Thursday evening at around 6:30 pm. It was bumper to bumper for a huge portion of the ride:
Traffic in Mumbai is a killer, with each family owning between 1-2 cars on average. And I am talking about the middle class families, which occupy and compose a significant proportion of Mumbai’s population. I have tried, time and time again, to leave early enough to get to my destination in a timely fashion, but in vain. And it used to really bother me that I would be late for an appointment, until I slowly came to the realization that people expect you to not be on time, even if it is an appointment that is scheduled in advance. I used to fret and get frustrated that I would not be punctual, worrying myself to death about what the other person would think. But 9 out of 10 times, the fretting and worrying was just a waste of time. Now, I still leave on time, and when I find myself in a pickle, not making it on time for my appointment, I just say to myself, “Yeah, the appointment’s for 11 am, but I am sure if I turn up at 11:20 am, it’s no big deal.” And rightly so, it isn’t.
I guess one of the good things that have surfaced from my displeasure with traveling by road in Mumbai, are my appreciation and value of the local train system. I may have mentioned this before, and if so, then the trains in Mumbai deserve a second mention! The local trains are so well-connected to every nook and corner of this metropolis, that you could get to and from most parts of the city without much difficulty. I really value traveling by train, and although it is not the most comfortable mode of transportation (only because the trains that are now functioning have been going strong for at least the last 15 years that I know of, and are in need of a serious makeover), they are the most reliable mode of transportation. I know that if I need to get to point B, 99% of the time, I will get there in a timely manner. Punctuality is the hallmark of trains in Mumbai.
People often ask me how I, someone who is not used to traveling in crowded trains, manage and even enjoy using them. I simply tell them, matter of fact, that I’d rather be squashed among hundreds of bodies and get to my destination on time, than spend an hour or so sitting in traffic, breathing the pollution of which there is no dearth of in Mumbai. I have to say, though, that I have tried to look at the positives, even in sitting in an hour of traffic. I have found some interesting pictures that capture the diversity and colors of this city. I am sharing some of them below:
This picture freaks me out a little because it is an image of one of Mumbai’s skylines and you can see how the buildings are shrouded in smog and the buildings look like they are (literally) in a haze:
So, traveling by road, though a royal pain, allows me to get some interesting glimpses of this city and my gratitude for this opportunity to take in the scenes and images that I would probably have missed if I was not sitting (and most times baking) in traffic!