A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
The closest anyone has come to being an adopted daughter.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A tale of two cities

Image courtesy: Somewhere on the internet

It was a hot, sultry day in Mumbai. I was making the long, dreary journey on Harbour Line from CST to Vashi. There was no place to sit, but my eyes had started to droop — something no sane pair of eyes is supposed to do in The City That Never Sleeps.

I usually read through these journeys, but Mumbai had sapped all energy out of me that day. The glasses kept slipping down my nose. I looked around, my eyes resting for a second or two the glassy-eyed faces flipping their fingers vigorously on their touch-screen cell-phones.

WhatsApp? Possibly.

Barring a few exceptions, they do not read in Mumbai trains. This is in stark contrast to Delhi metros, where every other person consumes Chetan Bhagat books with intimidating fervour. Mumbai train passengers do not indulge in such dilly-dallies: when they travel, they travel; and at times, they...

Nah, I need to master the art of storytelling.

Where was I? Yes, my tired eyes were hovering across faces worn out by the gruel of everyday work and travel. Some had managed to obtain seats; others were not as fortunate.

Then I saw her.

No, it was not what you are thinking.

She was your everyday woman. I do not remember exactly what she wore, for I never noticed. All I saw was the plastic containers; and the blade — the unmistakable glint of a knife.

She was chopping vegetables.

I clearly remember French beans and carrots. Were there ladies’ fingers (okras)? Probably. It did not matter, for my overawed eyes refused to look away from those fingers that would put a pianist’s to shame with their nimble swiftness and precision.

I remember a push, a rush of sorts. Kurla? Possibly. My body refused to acknowledge the overpowering thrust of Kurla crowd, second to possibly only the Dadar crowd when it came to single-mindedness to grab seats.

It was an exercise in futility. I was pushed inside. I moved closer to that seat.

Several minutes passed. The plastic containers, now full of chopped vegetables, were tucked away in a large cloth bag. Out came more containers: an empty plastic bowl; a tumbler-ish thing full of water; and — finally — aata (whole wheat).

I remember staring, open-mouthed, only to be disturbed by a bored voice: “Vashi?”

I barely nodded, and led him to the door as those fingers, in all probability, went on with business.

Did she get down at Belapur? Or did she go all the way to Panvel? Alas, I will never find out.

I have subsequently shared this with my Mumbai mates. They have apparently all seen vegetables being chopped on a train, though kneading dough was not exactly the commonest of sights.


The above incident had taken place some time back. I had planned to write on this for almost a year but kept it aside — till Tanmay (Bongpen to the world) told me a story.

This is not Tanmay’s story. This is a story about Tanmay’s friend, whose name I am not aware of (TFWNIANAO). I will use the same acronym to refer to him.

TFWNIANAO works in Haldia but stays at Andul (Google these places if you need to). He takes a train from Andul to Haldia four days a week. It is a two-hour journey.  

On reaching home every day, TFWNIANAO gets going. He makes a new two-hour playlist (presumably with a buffer) for the way to work; and gets a new book ready for the journey back. If the book is too thick for a train, TFWNIANAO photocopies some of the pages (he has got his estimate right; if not, the mp3 buffer is always there).

In other words, there is a full-fledged plan for every two-hour journey. Or, to be more precise, every pair of two-hour journeys.

I am not sure whether TFWNIANAO is a Kolkatan. But he certainly represents one.


The Mumbaikar plans for home when he travels.

The Kolkatan plans for the journey while at home.

The Mumbaikar saves time so that he can put in that extra bit of effort the day after despite being sapped of all energy.

The Kolkatan wastes time that he could have utilised productively.

The Mumbaikar leads the nation, and strives for more.

The Kolkatan keeps falling behind with every passing day, but refuses to care. And probably never will.



  1. আর কিছু না থাক বাঙ্গালীদের একটা বাঙ্গালীয়ানা আছে। সেটাই বাঁচিয়ে রেখেছে আমাদের!

    1. হয়ত। অথবা বাঙালিয়ানার অহমিকায় পিছিয়ে চলেছি ক্রমশঃ।

  2. If you want to see productive Kolkata then visit the area housing Southpoint and Patha Bhavan ;). Saree trading, Embroidery industry, mehendi designing, food industry (home made and footpath served) and compilations of 10 years Question Bank by experienced mothers,all available. The economy is getting a push from this prestigious area.
    Enjoyed reading:)

    1. I am from Patha Bhavan, remember? :)

    2. Yes I do. But was your mother a success ful entrepreneur?

    3. Yes. However, she contributes immensely to the TRPs of some other entrepreneurs.

  3. Nice :) But Abhishek da, I thought somewhere egg chicken roll and varappao will come... :P

  4. While the comparison in your writing is great, the image chosen bets it! Pao Bhaji or Roll That is the much more appropriate description.

  5. The Kolkatan wastes time by reading this in office. The Mumbaikar bookmarks it so that he/she can read at ease.

  6. I wish you'd put delhi in the mix too.
    Kolkatans are talkers,mumbaikars are doers. One should spend childhood in delhi,youth in mumbai and retirement in kolkata.

    1. >> One should spend childhood in Delhi, youth in Mumbai and retirement in Kolkata.


  7. বেশ বেশ
    কার কিসে মনের শান্তি তা কি অত সহজে সবার বোঝা সম্ভব ?
    সত্যিই thankful

    1. সত্যিই থ্যাঙ্কফুল। :)

  8. The pace of living in kolkata is very languid. Mumbai is always on the go.
    Kolkata is cultured,Mumbai is helpful. There's not much time to waste in nostalgia when there's so much to do in the city that never sleeps. City of joy is also the city of lotus eaters. You can't pick one over the other. They are two human beings right in their own right.

    1. Absolutely. I hope none of the two changes.

      However, lotus-eater is perhaps an exaggeration.

    2. er...I meant talking lotus-eaters.

  9. It was the best of trains, it was the worst of drains...
    It was the place for cricket, it was the place for football...
    It was the season of Ganesh, it was the season of Durga...

  10. দারুণ! :)
    মুম্বই বড্ডো বেশী কেজো, ল্যাদ ব্যাপারটা নেই বললেই চলে...সেটা ভাল না খারাপ, সেটা অবশ্য তর্কের বিষয়।