The Spirit of Mumbai

by Abhijit Lokre


I have just returned from a trip to Mumbai. The trip almost never came off and once I reached Mumbai, it was a struggle coming back here, thanks to incessant rains there. (this is a longish report.....)

I was supposed to reach Mumbai on July 29 to see of my sister who was flying off to the US on the night of 29/30 July. Tickets were easily available on all overnight trains to Mumbai a week before and I chose the 9272 Bhavnagar-Bandra express as my train. Now why 9272? This train leaves Ahmedabad at 2355 and reaches Borivili at 0948 next day. On the way, it gets overtaken by the Mumbai Raj, Flying Ranee and the AK Rajdhani; all this after Valsad in the morning at 0600. What more can a railfan ask for? At least that's what I thought when I made the bookings on irctc.

On Tuesday, when reports started coming in of the unprecedented rainfall in Mumbai, I was in two minds. Cancel or not to cancel. An earlier scheduled visit to Mumbai had to be cancelled due to the Gujarat floods and I was beginning to wonder if there was some jinx. Wednesday, the news channels beamed some hard hitting footage of the floods there and as expected, trains got cancelled and people started calling up advising against going to Mumbai.

By Thursday morning, the rain had tapered off in Mumbai, but had started in Ahmedabad!! Train services had been restored and after checking with my parents in Nagothane and my relatives in Borivili, I decided to leave. Shelly was a bit apprehensive, but by evening the rains in Ahmedabad too subsided and we got news that the Gujarat express which had left in the morning from Ahmedabad had reached Mumbai central an hour late.

We reached ADI station at 2330 to find that our train had already arrived on platform 4. As we crossed over, the Karnavati arrived on platform 1 behind a WCAM2P, 2 hours late. We settled down in AS1 and I took a quick walk along the platform to check the rake. It was a small rake with 5 SL, one 2AC, one 3AC, 2SLR and two GS. We left a few minutes behind schedule and were soon cruising through Vatva and Kheda road. After a hectic day, I was soon fast asleep.

I woke up in the morning at Valsad. Our train was stationary and obviously waiting for some SF to overtake. Bleary eyed, I got down on the platform and soon enough my eyes popped open as the Jaipur-Mumbai SF thundered past with a WCAM2P in charge. The thrill of a high speed passing or overtake is something else!!

We left soon after in the superfast's wake and trundled along before coming to a halt at Gholvad. Here comes the Rajdhani, I thought….fifteen minutes later; I decided to take a walk to the engine. I asked the drivers about the overtake and he said that there was no scheduled overtake here and the train had stopped simply because of a red signal!! Oh oh…I thought…has it been raining again in Mumbai? However, the train left a little while later and I heaved a sigh of relief. A few stations later, we stopped again at Vangaon, this time the guard at the station said this was a scheduled stop for the overtakes. I took the chance to peek in the other coaches and found a 'less than half full' train. Maybe, people didn't want to take chances!! A word about the AC coaches on our train. They were well maintained with clean toilets and soap. The bed rolls were crisp and clean. Obviously Bhavnagar division maintains this train very well.

Half the train was on the platform with their morning cup of tea as the Flying Ranee flew past us. Well, it didn't exactly fly, but overtook us at a fast clip. (nowhere in the league of the Jaipur sf at Valsad though). Double decker coaches flew past and soon the train was a blinking red light in the distance. I checked with the driver again about the rajdhani overtake, but he said that both rajdhanis were running late and we would stay ahead all the way through…

With a high amount of buffer time, we cavorted our way through the outskirts of Mumbai. On the way in, we passed the late running Swaraj express and Saurashtra express. The fields and open spaces surrounding the tracks were filled with water and gave me an inkling of what Mumbai must have been through on that fateful day. Today, though it was pleasant with the sun and showers playing hide and seek. We arrived RT at Borivili and soon were off in an autorickshaw to my aunt's place at Kandivli. Mumbai seemed to have shaken off terrible Tuesday and there was the usual buzz about the place.

In the afternoon, I decided to take an EMU ride on the western line to see what was happening. (The electronic media had gone overbroad with its coverage of the floods and sitting in Ahmedabad, the impression was that it was raining non-stop and all roads were flooded). Borivili station looked quite busy (1500) with a couple of slow locals on pf1 and 2. I bought a return ticket for Jogeshwari and boarded the local on pf 2. The usual batch of door hangers greeted me at the doors.

We were off soon and I decided to get down at Kandivli, the next stop. After alighting, I saw the EMU carshed to the left and a LHB SG rake parked in the lines beyond. As I climbed the overbridge, the Karnavati sped passed, a couple of hours late. It was sunny at that time as I made my way to the sidings. The LHB SG rake, a passenger rake marked "Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai' and a goods rake were parked there. A WCAM2 marked 'dual brake' was moving in to take charge of the passenger rake. But obviously, my eyes were on the LHB rake. One 2AC and 3AC coach were detached from the main rake and standing all alone. These were marked as 120kmph. The sleeper coaches and SLRs were marked 105kmph. There were a couple of coaches of the AK rajdhani in the middle of this rake. As I made my back to Kandivli, the skies darkened suddenly and it started pouring. With no umbrella, very soon, I was drenched to the skin. Even as I reached the end of the rake, the sun came out again and by the time I reached Kandivli station again, I was almost dry!!

From Kandivli, I boarded a slow local for Jogeshwari. Just before Jogeshwari, I saw a grisly sight. The land along the tracks here has a lot of 'tabelas' or buffalo sheds. In the sheds were line upon line of dead buffaloes with bloated bodies and legs sticking in the air. I recalled a report in the papers which said that many buffaloes had perished in the rains after their owners left them tied to posts during the flood. It was a truly macabre sight…and gave me an insight into what Mumbai must have endured…

At Jogeshwari, I spent time at the level crossing photographing the EMUs and the Rajdhani express. It was a pleasant evening with the sun peeping through he clouds and for a moment, it seemed that everything was fine in Mumbai. Some enterprising people were selling socks and handkerchiefs in the space between two lines at the crossing, even as people rushed about their daily business. Mumbai seemed almost normal again.

On the way back, I got down at Kandivli and spent some more time there. Managed to catch the AK Raj with LHB coaches. We were supposed to go to the airport in the night to see off my sister. The airport was crowded with many passengers trying to get the first available flight out of Mumbai. Electricity was not completely restored and the passenger lounge was running on some standby source. No air-conditioning and dim lighting. My sis got her boarding pass on Delta and left by 2300. We also made our way home. Next morning we heard that an Air India plane had skidded on the runway. We were a little worried, but soon got the news that the Delta plane had managed to take off by 0500.

The next thing on the agenda was a drive to Nagothane. Nagathane is a small town on the CR about 60 km from Panvel and just before Roha. My mother had been recently transferred to the school at the IPCL plant there and hence the trip. We left by ambassador car via Jogeshwari, Andheri, Bandra, Sion-Kurla and Panvel. Traditionally, this area is notorious for water logging and we were hoping that we would be able to get through. Fortunately, it was not raining at that time and we got thru. However, between Panvel and Nagothane on the Mumbai-Goa highway, the rain pelted down with astonishing fury. We could hear the rain drumming down on the car. All fields surrounding the highway were full of water and all rivers were in spate. It was difficult to say where the river ended and fields started.

The IPCL colony in Nagothane is a beautiful area with steep hills and gushing streams and we spent a nice evening there on Saturday. Our return ticket was on July 31 by the Bhavnagar express again and I had planned to take the car to Panvel, then the local to Kurla, then an autorickshaw to Bandra. On Sunday morning, when I looked out the window, the rain seemed to be mocking me!! It was pouring and pouring and as I checked the news, I got the bad news that harbour lines were down again. We debated about the best way to get to Bandra, but with the new channels serving up constant warnings and red alerts being declared left, right and centre, the overriding opinion seemed to be a postponement. In the end, we decided to drive down to Borivli and board the train from there. However, Sion, Kurla and Bandra seemed to be out of the question and we decided on the Belapur-Thane-Ghodbunder route.

We left at 1500 in a Tata Indica and very soon understood what we were up against. The rain was unrelenting in its fury and as we joined the Goa highway, hardly a few feet in front was visible. This is a very scenic road, but we had no eyes for that. All eyes were on the road as we struggled to make out where we were going. On the way, the railway line runs quite close to the road and I spotted a couple of places where the embankment had given way and the rails had buckled. A JCB and a crane were trying their best to fill in the gaps. Just ahead, a Kalyan WDM2 waited with a goods rake.

The rain pursued us till Panvel and Vashi. The roads, by this time, had given way and we struggled through craters and potholes. The Vashi-Belapur road is notorious for potholes at the best of times and this was not the best of times. We inched our way to Thane in driving rain. By 1800 we were finally in Thane and thankfully, the rain eased off now. Next, we took the scenic Godbunder road which passes through the northern edge of the Borivli National Park. There were lansslides at some places and at some places embankments and dividers had been washed away in Tuesday's mayhem. As we approached Dahisar, a huge black cloud hovered above. It reminded me of Independence Day!!! On the Western express highway, the rain gods intervened again. A furious downpour started again and we barely managed to make it to my aunt's place at Kandivli.

The Bhavnagar express was scheduled at 2200 at Borivli and we decided to leave a little early. The autorickshaw dropped us off at 2115 and we made our way to platform 4. The Saurashtra mail was being announced at that time. By 2145, there was no sign of the mail. At 2150, it was announced that the Aravali express would come in ahead of the mail. At 2200, the Aravali express arrived behind a WCAM1. I decided to check with the TC the status of the Bhavnagar express. To my horror, he said that it would only leave 'tomorrow morning'. I rushed back to pf 1 to confirm the news when it was announced that the train was arriving on platform 6 instead of 4. Cursing under my breath, I again wound my way to pf 4 to pick up my luggage. Shelly was waiting for me and as we climbed the bridge, the Saurashtra mail arrived behind a WCAM1.

Soon enough, our train arrived behind a WCAM1. It was the same rake we had traveled on our ADI-BVI journey. Again the train was almost empty and we were the only two in the compartment of eight. I woke up in the morning at Maninagar (0610). A MEMU crossed us there and we moved slowly towards ADI. Outside, it was raining and I had become sick and tired of it all. We ground to a halt outside ADI. Ten minutes later the Mumbai bound Karnavati crossed us, again a couple of hours late. It was followed by the Navjivan express. At about 0700, we got clearance into pf 1 and came to a halt at 0710. An auto ride and 30 minutes later, we were back home and a couple of hours later sitting in office!!!

All in all, it was a trip with mixed emotions. My favorite city, Mumbai was in a bad shape. Infrastructure had collapsed; the politicians (Rane even found time to get sworn in as cabinet minister during this time!!) and administration was nowhere to be seen. Newspapers were full of horror stories and in many cases, inspiring stories of the famed Mumbai spirit.

Hopefully, Mumbai will be back on its feet soon.....

railway station on the KR? Please clarify to avoid any confusion.

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