Starting from CST Station
It was 7 AM, I starts my walk from Mumbai Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) via the underground pass near the local station, heading south west, towards Churchgate Station. CST is also known as Bombay VT which serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways and is very much significant to the Indian history. It is one of the busiest railway stations in India, and serves Central Railway trains terminating in Mumbai as well as the Mumbai Suburban Railway. It’s worthy spending some time in and around the terminus admiring the beauty of this magnificent structure constructed during 1889 -1897, architecturally similar to St Pancras railway station in London.
There were not many people walking along the 2 meter wide pavements occupied by the textile and bangle walas who spread around their colorful artifacts all over the footpath between the morning distribution desks set up by newspaper-boys. The complicated network of six lane roads were saturated with cars and motorcycles together with fleet of single and double-Decker buses for public transport popularly known as BEST (Bombay Electric Supply & Transport, a government organization) may not be the best. Mumbai’s legacy, the array of old fiat car taxi service is slowly being replaced with Maruti Omni and Hyundai Santro cars painted in traditional black and yellow.
Roadside Books Stores
My first halt was at the roadside book stores surrounding the Floral Fountain junction a kilometer away from CST where they sell secondhand books,. This is a must stop for those who are looking to purchase rare and old books which are out of print or banned in India. These shops have got an extensive collection of magazines, novels and travel literature, perhaps more than what showcased at Crosswords Bookstall. Mumbai works as a central warehouse for old books in India.
These shopkeepers are more organized than librarians, just tell them the book title and they will tell you the name of the publisher and author. They have a long list of old people who keeps personal library from whom the books are collected and sorted at a central repository and then sold here… thanks to the lazy sons and daughters of the old readers who sell out their precious inheritance.
“You get any booook hereee” , murmured an old lady, while I was searching for a controversial book on Ambani an his Reliance company. National Geographic Magazine is sold in weight rather than numbers just 80 INR/ Kilo. Usually the price of books depends on the weight and availability and so a heavy brochure distributed for free by the marketing people can get tagged with a heavy price. I was amazed to spot out a Getit Yellow pages of the year 2000 priced at 150 INR per copy. They buyback fast moving novels and references with a discount of 50% and is sold again to the next customer.
Spending your time on the Streets.
You sweat so much that you can swim in your pool of sweat: predominantly due to the relatively high relative humidity in the atmosphere of this coastal city. Big thanks to the roadside trees and high arch shaped porticos of the old buildings, roofing the footpaths under the hot sun.
Cold water is sold like hot cakes, at every junction and corner, hubs for day dreamers and young coupes squatting on footpath amidst the restless street kids. The fair young girls sitting under the huge trees in the park, polishing their colorful flip-flops with toes when collared tightly by their male companion worn in torn faded jeans- dreaming about dancing and singing during the evening party.
Mumbai is a city of extremes with its 20 million people: at one corner you find people living a posh life trashing good food under the showoff label hygiene and at the other corner you find old, unhealthy people begging for food and dipping their tanned thin hands into the corporation trash bins for food.
Most of the buildings irrespective of big, small, new, old, ruined, has a handful of air condition systems surrounding them – if it belongs to the middle and upper class people. The only people, who could afford to obtain free Vitamin D quanta are the street kids who spend their time on the streets wearing dirty cloths, playing cricket with discarded plywood sticks and stone balls.
Into Kamatipura Slums
After browsing inside a few bookstalls and the old book shops, I headed to one of the prime locations of Mumbai popularly known as Kamatipura: one of the world’s largest red light areas. Most of the illegal sex trafficking has been controlled by government and Social Organizations (Watch “Selling of Innocence” – A 30 minute movie on trafficking poor young girls from Nepal to Bombay.). Kamatipura is inhibited by laborers and workers, who live in small rooms reinforced by live banyan tree roots, partitioned by flex boards, on either side of narrow busy streets.
The small rooms which lack all basic facilities are ample for a family with 4 to 6 members who find it perfect to drink grey colored water freshly supplied through the public taps and drains. Several others who could not find an accommodation here would be living on the roadside pavements, bathing and washing under the public taps on the footpaths – that is where they sleep.
Most of the inhabitants would be doing those jobs which most people are reluctant to do like cleaning the sewage, collecting and sorting garbage and so on. These are the people who push Mumbai forlward by making it a wonderful and clean city, sacrificing themselves to the powerful hands of hunger and decease. Our big well designed flat can easily become a garbage dump yard in the absence of these people.
Mumbai has a high urban agglomeration rate owing to the dreams of the poor people of villages surrounding Mumbai for well paid jobs. Most of these people entrain to Mumbai after being dragged out of their native land by pawn brokers or landlords. The dreams shatter when they find that they are not qualified to do a white collared job and those who are qualified may not be rich enough to buy even a shirt to appear for an interview.
Sunset and Evening at Marine Drive.
I reached the marine drive by evening to enjoy the sunset behind Malabar hills. This is the perfect spot for Mumbai’s to sit together and relax. The wide boundary wall built along a portion of the shore was an obstacle in reaching the beach. The boys hung around hugging their pet girls and the girls looked around patting their pet dogs. It was sunny, but the narrow beach was filled up with people. A lot of street vendors were crying “pani pani..tanda pani” while selling tons of bottled drinking water.
Local Trains or Sub – Urban Trains of Mumbai
I am happy that I got a chance to travel by the Mumbai’s local trains the economic and prompt public transport system, used by majority of people. These short trains with 5 to 6 compartments pace the city decelerating and accelerating at the local stations in 30 seconds. During peak hours, you will find hundreds of commuters jumping in and out through the 2 meter wide open doors on either side of the compartments. Life in Mumbai is so fast and people have adhered to this mad race. Many fall down on the platforms and get killed.Mr Ram Bhai from Manmad, must have got his legs crushed between the train and platform in front of my eyes: thanks to Naresh from Selam for his timely action. Thanks to Biju Dominic and his Organization, Final Mile for the research and work which could decrease the number of Accident cases.
The only difference between first and second class coaches in the train during the peak hours is the smell of perfume. Most of the people doesn’t find time to talk to coworkers and family members after work: the only friends they have are the train friends. They travel in the same train everyday occupying the same seats seat everyday chatting and playing card games inside until they reach the destinations. “My wife will be away for night duty and my kids are studying in a boarding school. I don’t find time to talk during my work. The only time I am free is while traveling in this train.” said Naresh from Selam, Tamilnadu, an electrical worker.
CST in and around at Night.
My train to Manmad (From where I can goto Lonar Crater) was late and so I had to wait inside Mumbai CST for a few hours. The thought of Mumbai attack, which took place a couple of years ago, right at the place I am standing made me a bit afraid. I could recollect the blood stained footage shown in the Television channels and chaos all round.
It was almost 9 PM, and the scenes around the station were changing rapidly. The bangles shops were replaced by pan shops. The footpaths and bus stops were captured by the street kids who have already spread mats on the foot path for sleeping. The buzy roads were playground for drunkards dancing and falling down the roadside.
I could spot out a few young girls waiting near the huge pillars of the station, squnting at everybody who cross them. They wore dark and shiny salwars, beautifully prettied up with lipstick and cute earrings. At times they used to look in the mirror and were so much worried about the lipstick they have applied.
“Only 300 Bhaya”, Nisha came to me and murmured. She was a sex worker living in Mumbai, who visits here several times a week to solicit customers and invite them to the brothel houses. “Gundas and police treats us the same, both needs money and so we are here with our people that pan shop guy and this taxi driver at the left who care us. We are poor and nobody seems to help us. ” said Nisha in her muscular voice. Nisha has been working in the brother houses of Mumbai for several years, not sure how many and now is it used to the practices.
Though conducted illegally, prostitution have decreased rape cases in India. She said that, many of her clients must have raped several girls, if they could not find prostitutes. These girls who work as prostitutes are sometimes severely harassed by clients sometimes slapped or beaten up very badly. She told about one of her friends who is suffering the hard punches of burning cigarette on her breast done by a client an year ago.
The society pushes prostitutes down in the name of classes even though they do a very dear work. Girls are smuggled for prostitution from several parts of the country and sometimes even from poor countries outside India like Nepal. Most of them are brought by agents who smuggle girls by promising better jobs to parents. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is another issue which is spreading like wildfire through the ignorant inhabitants of Kamathipura. Thanks to several NGOs which helped Nisha who knows to speak only Hindi, understand the effects of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD).
The station was busy for 24 hours, and the main hall was a bed-less open dormitory to most of the commuters.