It seemed as if it was just yesterday that I was speaking to her about the train that passed our village in the wee hours of the morning. I had made my mind, I knew where I was going and for what. It must have not even crossed my mind that what I believed and knew about Mumbai was probably just self assurance or maybe even self mockery. I always told my sister, “Mumbai is a city of over brimming dreams” and she always smiled at my usual shred of wisdom. She adored me like no other elder sister would, her eyes shining with pride when I read the bhagvad gita in the yatras, or composed a poem of my own. She believed in me and her naïve innocence made things very much easy for me. She was the only one who took care of me and the only one woman that I’ve known to be so strong and virtuous at the same time.
I made my way into the dense fog of the premature morning, trying to push my thoughts of fear and anxiety away in the darkness. This night was my night, where I could think of my own, relive my memories with my sister, understand a language of my own where I thought and proceeded with no guidance further. I thought of him, the silver bearded man, who respected my thirst for words and taught me the language I could now speak and write. He never acclaimed any happiness with my writings. I once wrote a poem about love and loneliness for which I received a passive response and a nod. His belief was my strength, my pride, my loneliness.
I stopped in between to sit at the lake where I used to often come and read. I liked the silence that prevailed, the beauty of the moss covered lake. I saw the moon from there for the last time, shivering, but yet counting the constellation once again to see if were right on track. I believed that looking at the direction of the pole star gave a direction of the way ahead. I swallowed the darkness and looked back to the ground and started walking again on my way.
I reached an hour before the train was scheduled to come. It was a chilly night and all I had were clothes that could cover me from sheer nudity. I sat down at the battered station looking out for some tea stall or some sign of human movement when I saw a man with a shawl draped over him, smoking a beedi. But I loved the smell of smoke. Our village did not approve of women wearing even salwar kameez, so the sight of a teenage girl puffing a beedi was one big sin. But to make myself feel better in the cold, I had smuggled beedi’s a couple of times to my lake spot and puffed a few drags while I read in silence. Envying the old man, I checked my tattered bag for some water. Gulping down some of it felt good after the long walk from the village. I remembered old times with the anticipation of something new and wondered how I would ever be able to survive in a city like Mumbai.
Yes, I was heading to Mumbai, the city of over brimming dreams, to change my name and make a name. I believed I was strong enough to encounter all that took place in Mumbai; I had read some stories in the local newspaper about it. They wrote about the books they provided, the stars that lived in Bandra and Juhu. I didn’t know these places, but they made me surrender my village and my destiny. The clouds were today seen in clear shapes in such darkness because of the moonlight and I figured Revathi would have loved to be here, sitting with me, counting the stars. Revathi was my classmate, my neighbor, my conscience. All she said when I was leaving today evening when I’d been to her house to say my goodbyes were, “Take care of you, it’s a scary world out there”. She gave me no emotional drama like my sister, just a few words of general concern.
I sat there with my eyes in the direction of the tracks, not knowing where the train would come from. What made me do this is a good question. I was learning very less with no competition in the village that made me lose my concentration and sincerity towards my subject, my love. I needed human involvement in my dreams, my world and all I could think of when I wanted to go to a proper college was, Mumbai. I was eighteen years old with a frail body of meek weakness but a strong voice and a power that I myself was astonished of. I was simple with my clothes as I had no male species to entertain and believed in wearing two plaits to avoid any hair on the eyes while I read. Nothing is more annoying then your own features disturbing your moment of solitude happiness. I had no plan, no future sketched. Just a map of Mumbai borrowed from a traveler ages back that I’d kept with utmost care and made sure that I ironed the sheet before leaving. I surprisingly had a lot of money with my savings from teaching, cleaning and baby sitting. It was revolting for the villagers to be paying a teenager, a girl, for chores she should perform as “duties”. But I demanded and I received.
It scared me to think of accommodation, but I had known of the Colaba slums and had decided to find solace there. People in Mumbai couldn’t be that bad, I hoped. But I didn’t need help… just some time and a blanket. This was my only requirement.
I swallowed some air, I was hungry. But I decided to stay put till the train arrived. I made a decision that I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t regret. It was a feeling of freedom, of finding one self within, of determination and confidence that made me do what I was doing. The only difference was it wasn’t any other dream, it was reality. Like air, feelings, thoughts.
So that’s why I remembered my assurance to my sister when I saw the gleaming yellow light of the train from a distance, “It’s my endurance to surface this reality that’ll help me survive in the over brimming city of dreams”.