It was my destiny, fate, luck or karma; call it whatever you like that brought me to Mumbai – a city which horrified me from the very beginning. A city known for almost all the wrong reasons- riots, floods, crime and the underworld. A million other atrocities plague this city which proudly calls itself ‘the city of dreams’. More often than not; one comes across oceans of people, mechanically performing their mundane tasks as rituals. Every new day in this chaotic city is a story in itself.

Everyday Mumbaikars swap stories of survival and struggle and one such story was shared with me by a friend. He got into one of the heavily crowded local trains which are the lifeline of Mumbai. Steering through an ocean of tired and irritable people, he found his way to an empty spot at the far end of the compartment. A little sympathy and lot of wriggling got him a tiny patch to sit on. With his back to the perforated partition, which separated one pitiful second class compartment from the other, he was glad he couldn’t witness the chaos and mayhem in the next compartment.

Settling into his seat, his thoughts now reached out to his good old days back home. It comforted him to know that in a few days he would go back and his days of misery and struggle would end. Suddenly, he was jolted out of his reverie as a little finger poked him through one of the holes of the perforated partition. Already irritated and drowning in self pity he turned around, ready to snap at whoever had yanked him out of his peaceful reverie, only to find a cherubic face staring at him bearing a couldn’t-care-less toothy grin. He couldn’t help but smile at the chubby wretch, who less than a second ago was the cause of his irritation.

Almost as if it was his right, this naughty little boy demanded for alms. He did not beg, he did not plead, he just stood there insolently and yelled for money as if it was his own. But for his clothes and appearance, the boy reminded him of a rich heir, spoilt rotten, demanding his legacy back. No one in the near vicinity looked interested in shelling out change from their pockets, which in any case would be exchanged for frivolous little things like cigarettes or candy later in the day.

Knowing for sure that he would not get anything from the people, the tiny wretch proceeded to make faces and sing bawdy songs in his high pitched, childish voice to annoy the jaded crowd. Like a pole dancer, the child swivelled around the pole at the entrance of the compartment. Although they could see the boy only waist up, the commuters were by now quite amused by his antics. Hanging out of the train holding the pole with one hand, not once bothering about the danger, the boy appeared to be having a gala time. The silent spectators watched the little beggar who seemed to enjoy life more than them even though in all probability he didn’t have a penny in his pocket, a home to call his own, a family to look out for him or a warm bed to creep into at night. He looked content, wearing rags and asking for alms.

The train screeched to a halt and my friend again squeezed his way through innumerable sweaty bodies, clamping his brain and ego shut to all the abuses thrown his way and jumped out on to the platform, pleased immensely by his own acrobatics. Just as the train started to pull out of the station, he glanced back, only to see the same wretch who had entertained him throughout the otherwise mundane journey and saw something that would be  imprinted on his memory forever. The cheerful little boy, with a twinkle in his eye and an abundance of energy was standing on the entrance of the compartment on only one leg…..

Preeti Sharma is an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies and dabbles with creative writing. As she stepped into the hectic and mundane routine of corporate life, her writing became her  stress buster. Her insatiable wanderlust and need for change prompt her to travel as much as possible and she is at present, travelling across Europe and trying to pen down as many memories as possible.

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