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Friday, February 15, 2013

Many faces of India: Railway and Mumbai Metropolis (Photo-essay)

A train journey is usually supposed to be a soothing experience as the giant rolling in the iron tracks sees to it that there are as little jolts associated with other forms of land travel as possible. For all of our 6 strong team, trip to Mumbai was supposed to be like a holiday. But the first hiccup in Siligudhi ensured that  our journey had to start with sleep deprivation and the ailment persisted throughout the trip. Here are some snippets taken from the train or the platform, intended to show some aspects of life in India related to railway. 

One who has muscle has his way: In this poorly taken photograph (that I took with trepidation of getting the Camera stolen), a crowd is seen attempting to board on the general or 'Chalu' compartments of the train in one of the Mumbai stations. The queue was woefully long for available seats and frail people were the ones to suffer the most: some of them could not board at all while more muscular young men fought the batons of the clerks to jostle in

Railway under expansion: New tracks being laid at one point in Bihar. Continuous expansion of the existing railway infrastructure is a priority in India. Contrast that with the few kilometers of nearly defunct railway tract in Nepal's Janakpur region. India's drive to upgrade infrastructure seems to be in full speed even though many of the recent mega-scams relate to such projects.

One face of right wing extremism: In this writing which was ditto in many of the toilets of our train, one alleges Indian National Congress of promoting terrorism for vote bank politics and declares 'Diggi' (Probably Digvijaya Singh) as the 'Gaddar' (betrayer, a bad one). This also spits venom at Rahul Gandhi as 'Half Indian' and Sonia Gandhi as 'Full Italian' and urges them to leave India. 
This one looks more formal and acceptable but even this is somewhat ambiguous; reading 'We are Hindi and Hindustan is our motherland'. If connotation of Hindi is Indian, it could be acceptable even though many would object the choice of words. But if it connotes 'Hindus' and tries to exclude others, then that is really troubling. May be one who wrote and pasted it knows what it was all about.
One of many stations; this one in Bihar, in lull hours. 

This couple we met on our way back to Patna was on a pilgrimage and offered us their chapatis. When they heard the price of food we ate from the railway kitchen, they were nearly thunderstruck. The old man was wearing a scarf of some sort but the moment I asked him to be photographed, he promptly removed it and sat in attention, careful not to look bad! The grandma hesitated a bit but soon was ready for this dual photo. They were immensely pleased to see their photos in the screen of camera instantaneously. 

One of the Patna suburbs: the expansion of the human dwellings to the erstwhile farmlands can be clearly seen.

I had grand plans about things to be done at Mumbai. But starting from the ticket reservation, our trouble started and we were to stay in the Bollywood capital for only two nights. Delayed train meant delayed arrival and only 3 or 4 hrs of the first night were spent in Mumbai. The other day, I slept most of the time inside the training hall. The only way to see the city was to evade the training sessions entirely and we did that in the afternoon of the second day.

Among the things of my intense interest were the notorious so called red light areas of Mumbai. But going by what I have read so far, the brothels are becoming increasingly invisible and significantly decentralized following some police raids against them over recent years. That is probably why some people I inquired about gave a very guarded response. I could not pester them further and the matter ended there itself, for we had many more headaches to bear.

In a severely constrained stay of nearly 60 hours in Mumbai, we could see and enjoy very few things. This has also been reflected in paucity of valuable photographs in the list I have of the trip. Here I put some of them.

Crown of Mumbai? the top of Hotel Taj glitters in the evening. This luxury hotel came to  attention of people worldwide when the terrorists mounted a daring attack including in this hotel some years back. 

Some of the sky-scrappers: As our local patron Jimmy John explained: "Mumbai has saturated the possibility of growing horizontally. The only way left to grow is thus vertically". Scores of high rise buildings under construction told the same story
Modern pilgrimage: We circled this Ambani house completely, yet nearly all photos were taken from moving vehicle and this is one among the better ones. 
Sun sets at the beach: a child and a girl play with the waves in one of the beaches in Mumbai . We were, however, reluctant to play with water as it was incontrovertibly foul water bearing the burden of mega-city. 

Two people from our team are seen moving towards the sea as a boat is seen  at the distance.
This bridge that bypasses the chaotically congested roads of Mumbai for considerable distance is often seen in Bollywood movies.

In one of the very few photos taken in Patna for fear of insecurity, the roads are seen free from larger  vehicles.  The day we arrived there, the opposition parties had called a state-wise closure or 'Bandh' as in Nepal to protest a death that had occurred from police firing in a crowd the day before. When asked about the change that Nitish Kumar has brought in Bihar, out rickshaw-driver was frank: "Earlier, people used to confine themselves to their homes as the sun set for fear of criminal elements. Now you can roam the city as long as you want at night, nobody will ask you why." Though he said that, the real test of security in Bihar was to come that night. We were about to travel overnight across Bihar from Patna to Jogbani in a bus. We nearly shivered as the bus we boarded had no signs of armed guards as somebody had promised (or was it just said, or even not that?). Fortunately, we traveled safely and I wanted to thank Nitish Kumar the moment we crossed the border to Nepal. 

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