Sushma, my wife, had agreed upon this one bedroom-kitchen-hall abode that we are presently residing in, mainly because our colony, Satellite Park, has a lot of open spaces – a rare commodity in a land starved city like Mumbai. Besides, it is just a stone’s throw away from Jogeshwari Railway Station. But after having lived here for over a year, I have no option but to conclude that it takes a lot of courage to survive here. For example, I can say, with a certain degree of confidence that only the strong willed and the brave-hearted can manage to complete the short but adventurous journey from Jogeshwari Railway Station to my house at Satellite Park.
The ordeal starts right away when you get down from an auto at SV Road near the railway crossing in Jogeshwari West. But before you can even think of getting down, you might encounter some quick-reflexed passengers trying to get into your auto to grab seats. If you are not fast enough, you might just be pushed out! These are the guys who want to share an auto with like-minded passengers to areas like Behraum Baug, as it costs as much as a bus ride and is faster.
After you get down from the auto, a valuable bit of advice – turn a blind eye to any vehicle that might stop right in front of your nose. Act dumb to the driver’s abuses and head directly towards the railway crossing. To facilitate the speedy flow of the peak hours local train traffic, the Jogeshwari crossing is made non functional for twice a day for two hour each. Sensing immense business opportunities, many roadside vendors set up tables and blankets right on the middle of the road. They spread their goods, ranging anything from cheap shirts to plastic watches to ultra red apples. During these times, you have no option but to wade through their goods. You better be a good navigator, for if you step on any of those goods you have had it!
During the rest of the day, when the rail crossing is functional, these vendors would be gone for sure, but there would be umpteen smoke emitting vehicles, some times huge fat old lorries, waiting to get over to the other side. You would then be forced onto the narrow footpaths, or should I say whatever is left of the footpaths – because these footpaths themselves are encroached by the nearby licensed shopkeepers. In the process don’t worry if any of the speeding bikes hit you, there are two medical shops right there!
When you finally reach the railway crossing a feeling of achievement may erupt in you – a feeling of having won an Olympic marathon. But beware! The battle has just begun. Make sure that you don’t get under the crossing gates while it is being closed, for they might break your head. Pray your stars and begin the next step of your journey – which is to actually cross the railway tracks.
This leg of your journey is very easy. If you forget to look over your shoulders to spot the speeding trains, you can be assured that you will hear yells from your fellow travelers. Whenever you hear such yells you can blindly stop wherever you are and be safe – except of course if you are right at the center of the track in which the train is coming. And be prepared to see some broken skulls, real blood and curious types watching fellow travelers hit by some moving train, dying a painful death. Needless to say, sometimes a white Maruthi ambulance, donated by a nameless well-wisher, stands alone near the ticket counter at the other end of the railway crossing. Wonder what it is doing there…
Ah yes… one important tip while crossing the tracks, especially the long distance ones, is to be careful of the human waste that is thrown outside the lavatories of traveling trains. This is really crucial. Otherwise you might end up transferring some human shit onto wherever you go, thanks to your sticky shoes! Before I forget, let me tell you that you can also climb up the footbridge to cross over the tracks, avoiding the umpteen beggars housed there. But I would bet that, like me, you too would neither be having the time nor patience to do that. It is very human to take grave risks!
If you find yourself alive after having crossed the by now not-so-dangerous-railway tracks, consider yourself to be damn lucky. But the ordeal is not yet over. To come to my house at Satellite Park, you have to now ‘swim’ through the innumerable vegetable and fruits vendors encroaching upon the road that leads you to the Western Express Highway! I use the word ‘swim’ because during the monsoons, this low-line area is always water logged. In the September floods this year, the water levels had almost reached chest high! But even in such situations you need not worry because there would always be drunken volunteers who would hold ropes to guide you – as if they are helping you cross a river in the Amazon forests.
But during the dry days, if you are in a footpath-shopping mood, you can have a variety of choices – Flowers, banana leaves, newspapers, balloons, false mustaches, mehndi, tender coconuts, blouse pieces, mobile phones, sugarcane juice, incense sticks, lottery tickets, rat poisons – you name it and it is there. But I should confess that, although I am not an avid footpath shopper, a couple of desi fast food joints selling vada paavs, samosas and other spicy stuff look tempting, despite the fact that they have caused infections in my system every time I ate them or sometimes, even if I had the thought of eating them!
A few steps into this on-the-road-supermarket and you will find a road divider. The best way to travel into our colony from this point is to walk right at the center of this road divider. No vehicle would crush you. No person would brush you. You can even increase the pace of your walk. A few months down the line, I can’t assure you of this, because your fellow travelers would know this secrete and the divider then would be as crowded as the road or the footpaths, or whatever is left of the footpaths!
When the divider ends, you take a left into the only official shopping complex of Jogeshwari East. Behind this complex is the Satellite Housing colony – with its open space and refreshing breeze. ‘This is bliss’, you may feel and you are right. There are no vehicles that would crush your toe, no one coming from the opposite side who would brush against you and no vendors screaming at your ears. The green campus of the Ismail College that is right opposite our colony is the only area better than this bliss.
Once inside the colony you can walk peacefully and come into my house at B 603. I normally enjoy this last leg of my journey. And believe me, there is nothing like stretching your tired legs in your own house after hard day’s adventurous journey.