‘Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?’

I’m sure it takes time to find one’s bearings in any new city, but Mumbai is a tough nut to crack. I’m assuming that in most other cities, knowing the name of a particular area ought to be enough to find your way there. But not in Mumbai, where each and every locality is suffixed with either an East or a West. And these four letters could cost you a couple of hours in traffic. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way, as I tend to do whenever presented with an opportunity.

Everyone you meet in Mumbai will ask you (the outsider) a set of questions to calculate your GQ (Gullibility Quotient) – which in turn, determines how much of a chutiya you are. Some popular questions include “How much rent do you pay? What is the area of your flat? How far is the local station from your flat? How much do you pay your maid?” I have been told by certain people that I have a fairly high GQ. I beg to differ though.

Travelling in the local trains is an extremely empowering experience. During rush hour, when I get a thorough full body massage, I console myself thinking about how much money I saved by taking the train instead of Uber. It helps immensely if you have the ability to hold your breath for three minutes – to deal with the stinky armpit that your face is inevitably going to get shoved into. Just don’t forget to take in extra deep breaths of fresh air when the train halts at stations.

I like danglin’ out of slow trains
‘Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

To establish your presence as an alpha male, never forget to ask the following question to anyone standing between you and the door as the train pulls into the station, “Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?” It is best delivered in a menacing tone which subtly hints that you have been known to shove people off the train at the slightest provocation. I haven’t had the opportunity to deliver this dialogue yet, in real life. (I have practised it to perfection, in my head though.) I don’t think I can either. Not with a straight face – because, as radical as it may seem, in my hometown, it is considered absolutely normal behaviour to wait for the train to come to a halt before attempting to disembark!

I have noticed that hairy old uncles standing at the train door have this annoying way of muttering, “Yeh first class hai” when I board the first class compartment in my ratty t-shirt and tracks. At first, I used to get a kick out of saying, “Pata hai” but maybe I should do one better. “Sorry uncle, I was in a hurry. Aapko dekh ke laga ki yeh second class compartment hai.” Or maybe I should stand at the door and give out PSAs myself (“Uncle, yeh first class hai”), especially to the well-dressed ones.

Six months into life in Mumbai, and I feel like a proper Mumbaikar. I can now find my way in the city on my own. I’ve reached a stage where I’m thinking of uninstalling m-indicator. Isn’t that the litmus test for judging if one is new to the city?

Related Reading: Check out Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’. A nice read on trying to fit into Mumbai. You can also take a look at Shantaram.

Book Review: Americanah | Extremely relatable on many levels

I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ this morning. It’s one of the many books that I bought off a sale at Flipkart. Before buying it, I had never even heard of it, but decided to go ahead with the purchase because it was being sold dirt-cheap.

On some level, I found the book similar to Murakami’s works in the sense that the central theme explored human relationships and how they change, especially as you grow up. However, several other themes come into play in this book – most notably, race.

I found the book and its principal characters (Ifemelu and Obinze) extremely relatable. On some level, I could understand Obinze’s obsession with America and his dogged determination to experience the American life. Very often, I feel frustrated with life here in Mumbai and wonder what it would be like to experience life as an expatriate in some other country. In my case, my attentions are focused on China for the time-being. (I am learning Mandarin at the moment!)

Ifemelu encounters race when she moves from Nigeria to America. For the first time in her life, she realizes that she is black. When I moved from Trivandrum to Delhi for my MBA a couple of years back, I felt something similar. From being surrounded by Malayalis, I went to being a ‘Mallu’ in a so-called cosmopolitan city. Everyone that I met measured me in terms of my Mallu Quotient. “You don’t have a Mallu accent. Did you grow up in the Gulf?” “Can I borrow some of your coconut oil?” “I like Mallus. I had many Mallu friends back in engineering college. They all smoke up a lot” I found most of this amusing. What bugged me was how nobody seemed to know anything about the geography of South India! (“You’re from Kerala, na? Which part? Are you from Chennai? I’ve been there” )

I could also relate to how Ifemelu feels like an outsider, both back home in Nigeria (where she is considered an Americanah) and in the US (where she is an American African, rather than an African American). I sometimes feel like I don’t truly belong either in Mumbai or Trivandrum. I’m stuck in limbo, somewhere in between – neither here nor there.

All in all, Americanah was an extremely enjoyable read. Highly recommended! I’ve decided to give Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other books a shot as well.