Column: Changing Tracks

(Please note: This is my fortnightly column that was published in The Goan on Saturday)


Two weeks ago, I met a college friend from Goa at one of the coffee shops in Mumbai. He was here to complete a couple of tests to make it for his next voyage on time. “It’s been a day since I’m in Mumbai, and I’m already so bored. How do you survive here?” he asked me. Every friend from Goa asks me this same question. And I reply, “Stay here for a year, and you will fall in love with this city.” They think I’m crazy. I don’t explain because I know Goans in Mumbai will agree with me.

When I first came to Mumbai five years ago, I wanted to take the next train and flee to Goa. The odour, traffic, crowded trains, the noise and the fast pace – It was all just too brisk and beyond my senses to catch up with. But after a point, I guess we start liking this shift from slow to fast. At times, we’re so used to the fast pace that a slow train’s speed feels like a crawl when it’s actually not. It’s just not the train that skips stations or if put the other way, it’s the train that halts at all stations. Let’s take each sense at a time, and how it undergoes transformation.

The first sense to be alerted is your nose. Previously, when I visited Mumbai, the moment my nose sensed a strong odour, I knew the train had entered the city. It was so strong that even clenching my nostrils with my fingers wouldn’t stop the smell from entering my nose. But today, I’m immune to this same smell. I can pass a dustbin on the street without covering my nose with a handkerchief or I just pause my breath for a moment and it’s gone.

Next on the alert are our eyes. After a point, my eyes started paying close attention to traffic jams and people running helter-skelter. And it’s normal. The day you do not spot a vehicle on the road or lesser than usual, you will wonder if you’ve stepped out of your house on the wrong day. Is it a holiday? Is it a bandh? Also, your eyes will get used to distinguishing between economy cars and luxury cars. Number plates are one thing I make a note of.

With all this comes noise. Earlier, this noise used to give rise to a base drum banging in my chest. It reminded me of pigs making noise in a trough. This noise was mainly of tardy trains helloing each other, taxis greeting auto rickshaws, two-wheelers and four-wheelers wafting up or BEST buses puttering noises of their own. And again, it doesn’t bother anymore. Sometimes, these decibels are so high that it can be jarring to your ears despite listening to music through noise isolating headphones.

Then comes the sense of taste. I remember my days in Goa. The moment I saw leafy vegetables my face would droop as if it was not watered since weeks. But the day there was fish, chicken or any other meat, I would get a command from my palate to lead the queue so that my mother could serve her daughter first. However, I’ve now developed a taste for paneer (cottage cheese) and other north Indian vegetarian food, masala dosas and idlis from the south, Mumbai street food – vada pao, bhel, paani puri and other chaats. Not forgetting the famous cutting-chai!

Lastly, if you think you can walk on the road or enter a bus or even stand still in a train, you will find it difficult to do so without nudging someone to make your way. Beware about your toes being crushed under a kitten heel. Especially, if you’re trying to commute during peak hours, even God seems confused about whom to extend his help to.

As long as I’m in Mumbai, I won’t understand these transformations. But the day I visit Goa, it’s a break from the odour, unavoidable traffic, uncontrollable noise, monotonous dal-rice-roti-sabji and the hustle-bustle of Mumbai city. In Goa, my body starts functioning at a leisurely pace. Drifting away from the past seems difficult, but as you approach the present everything seems incredible.


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