What happened after she rejected me was amazing….

Finally, I had the courage to pop the question to her.., How long do I shy away from asking? What if someone else ask before me? Do I want to lose the chance to be the chosen one? . There is never a right time and place to ask this. No one else is going to do this for me too.

So finally I picked up all my courage and approached her. You could ask me but why I asked in the middle of office, when others were around?

“Are you mad Anil?????” Zaba (name changed) screamed almost. “Tum paagal ho gaye kya? Are you out of your mind?”

The response completely took me by surprise. I felt stupid and quite let down too.

Zaba was a pretty Bengali face with a nice smile and a friendly mannerisms, quite sweet too. How could she turn it down that way? I was just not ready to give up. What if I make a second attempt, when she is alone and has cooled down?

I was still new in the city of Mumbai.. In fact I was quite fed up too. I was nursing this idea of a transfer to Meghalaya, Assam or Sikkim (all are termed as hardship postings in SIDBI) so that I can go a place of my choice afterwards (no prices for guessing this right, Kochi of course).

It was a fact that I was struggling and struggling badly in Mumbai. For a new guy from a village, it is quite an intimidating city. It is just crowds and crowds all over. Everyone seems to be in a hurry. Nobody seemed to have a single minute to spare for anybody else. Local trains were filled up like mad. You stand at the platform close to the door, crowd push you inside the train and if you stand near the door inside the train, crowd will push you out to the platform. More confusing to get down, some stations, platform come on the right side, some stations platform come on the left side and some stations it comes on both sides. With such a large crowd, if you do not know which side the platform comes, forget getting down any way. When the train reaches the platform, train is full and platform is also full and when the train leaves, platform is empty and train obviously is full. If you are late by 30 seconds to get into the train, then forget getting a seat, you may not get a place to stand also. Inside the train, almost every part of your body is invaded, since you have no control on anything happening around you. You are sandwiched between dozens of sweating bodies and many times stinking too (At peak time on an average there would be over 5300 people in a Mumbai local which makes it 440 plus people in a single compartment in a 12 coach EMU car). Strangely, you will find guys sleeping in standing position in the crowd too amongst these chaos. By mistakes if you get into a luggage compartment, you end up travelling with fish and vegetables. No one will take the risk of getting out of a compartment and trying another one in peak hour due to obvious reasons.

For a rookie like me, initial months of travel was by getting suspended in the air in the crowded second compartment or amongst fish and vegetable sellers in the luggage compartment. If this was not enough, there were these “Bhajan groups” who would be singing with hand bells and small drums (no clue which gods they were invoking in the train, since even gods would struggle to get entry) and you will feel like chickens hung in air to be roasted in a “dance and music bar”. When you finally come out of the train, you virtually come out in parts like “Tom cat” in “Tom and Gerry show” after being pulverised by the big dog “Pluto”. You breathe in and breathe out a couple of times to get back to original shape. When you end the day, you always feel like a “roasted vegetable” ready to collapse on bed.

After a few days, I mastered the art of getting into a train compartment first. Painful learnings though since you end up falling down some times (I was an idiot to take such risks then). But given a bit of sporting background and being a much thinner guy, I quickly mastered the art of the slide jump, quick swoop in to the cabins and dive into the window seat, that too facing the wind. I thought, Oh man, you have indeed arrived (in local trains at least). Sorry, bro, the train pain is not over yet!!

“Kale baal vale… khade ho jao”, 

I was in deep sleep as usual in my nice window seat (after all I have risked my life to get into the compartment first for the seat). Mid way during the journey from Goregaon to Church-gate, I got up. It took some time for me to understand that I was the “Kale baal vala”. Then slowly, I realised that seats in second class train compartments are normally cornered by large groups (10-15 of them) who will not allow anyone else to sit on them. Often it led to reasonably strong intimidation and being a new guy, you tend to get bullied. It was a different matter that I never ever gave up my seat, but there is always a constant fear and uneasiness of being along in front of 10-15 guys. They never get physical, but it become badly intimidating.

….leverage, current ratio, mortgage, IRR, discounting rate, NPV, pay back….

Office situation was equally bad. First time engineer getting into proper project appraisal. All types of financial jargons were coming in, leverage, current ratio, mortgage, IRR, discounting rate, NPV, pay back and what not. I could only remember “bending theory” and “compressive strength”. Everyone whom I approached for help seemed to be too busy in far too many complicated things. People looked far too smart and you indeed looked like an idiot of the highest order in front of them. Even those sweet looking Goan Secretaries seems to take a dig at you. One of them sarcastically asked me too “what man, you seem to have a problem in operating a printer too”. Too much for me then. It is a different issue that soon I realised that the only thing she knew well was to operate printer. But for that period, I was lost and helpless in a big city on a new job with no one to help. All the green and beautiful places in Chowara and friendly guys of Patna, all seemed to a distant past which I could never dream to get back. To sum up, I was truly and squarely lost. Why did I leave the earlier job and come here. Patna to Kochi was not difficult (just a three year tenure in Canara Bank before a transfer). Mumbai to Kochi looked a long way off.

Zaba was the one girl I thought who looked very friendly in the office. Then I decided to take second chance. Forgot to mention, she was my interface in HR and what I asked her was

“Zaba, can I get a transfer to Meghalaya or any such hardship places?” And yes, she had rejected that on my first attempt.

She was originally from Shillong and could quickly relate to my problems. She took me to a senior HR colleague and both counselled me for good half an hour on what Mumbai (Bombay then) can offer me if I get used to the place. Two pieces of advice they gave me – firstly to move into a first class train compartment (it is roughly four times the cost) which offers a slightly better crowd and more importantly the second advice to study part time MBA in a good college to survive better in the finance world.

Mumbai is all about opportunities and opportunities only. Just that you need to slightly change yourself and adjust to the place. As expected it was only a matter of time that once you settle down, you will quickly realise that people whom you thought as “too smart” are not “that smart”. Just that they had “packaged themselves” quite nicely. Further, after sometime, you will be ashamed of the fact that you went and “clarified” some of your worst doubts with them and they in turn sold “pure crap” as “glorified solutions”.

…A city where men and women can roam around alone and safely past midnight, where you will see girls moving in the shortest of the cloths and nobody comments and whistles…

I ended up spending 14 years in Mumbai (1996 to 2010). A city where men and women can roam around alone and safely past midnight, where you will see girls moving in the shortest of the cloths and nobody comments and whistles (partly because that two second lapse of concentration would get them to miss the next train). Mumbai is a city where your neighbour is least bothered whom you are seen with and what you do. But it is a city which fires up your ambitions once you look around and see what people of much lesser abilities have achieved in their careers. It is a reasonably honest city and people do value their word. A 10.30 meeting is a 10.30 meeting, worst case 10.45, since people value their time. It is a poor city, but quite well behaved. There was no reported acts of house breaks or dacoity when half of the city was flooded in 2005 (remember the looting and plunder in New Orleans after Katrina). Overall it is a city which welcome you with open arms. It is possibly the only city India where four strangers alight from a train at Dadar, get into a shared taxi and travel to Pune without being nervous of travelling with strangers in the middle of the night. It is a place where I found people carrying biscuits for the street dogs in the railway platform. They would throw biscuits at the dog from the running train. It is a different issue that the dog always preferred chasing the train madly than eating the biscuits thrown at him. I was just fascinated by the fact that someone who is in such mad rush daily, find time to think of stray dogs at a platform in between and carry biscuits to feed them. Sounds crazy, but true.

It is a city caught between worst of poverty and best of luxuries. Sub-human existence for people in the slums and “rich and famous” living rarefied atmospheres, both go side by side without much of friction. I had opportunities to work with slum dwellers in “Dharavi” and could venture deep into the slums with the NGOs. It is quite scary as the slums goes quite deep interior and you tend to lose your way back. But, these are safe places in normal course of life and people are quite helpful (please do not read too much into Lalettan movies on Mumbai).

For me, possibly it is the most familiar place (after Chowara of course). It is a place which offered me tremendous amount of luck and prosperity in personal life (marriage with Byusha and birth of daughter Diya) and career (ICICI Bank, Axis).

Mumbai introduced me to scores of people, most of them who were quite nice and friendly as they opened up. Nice, not so nice, funny type and what not. We had a colleague who used to abscond from work and go to film city (disguised as press photographer). She would get her photographed with celebrities including big ones like Bachan senior. We had another guy who always speak everything in plurals (like I was sitting with bosses and reading newspapers and having teas). For me, there was enough humour available just by watching people around.

Mumbai toughens you and shape you up. I believe that for any good professional in India (especially Finance/banking professional), a five year stint in Mumbai is a must. It just opens up your aperture to the world. Even though I believe a longer exposure might wear you out.

It is indeed the “Maximum City”. Salam Mumbai.

Anil Kumar P.R.

11 Comments

  1. Catchy title and great narration ANil. We visited your city last Jan. I can imagine how it would be. Thanks for sharing the picture in detail.So you can actually claim some ” Dharavi ” experience too 🙂

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  2. Once again a good story telling which I could not guess during Canara Bank days . I think you can beat Chetan Bhagat at least in this form . Nice to know about your life after Canara Bank and rise to finance world at different level all together . All the best

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  3. Great sharing Anil. I have not lived in Bombay but you painted it so lively and lovely with the pinch of humor so well! Waiting to hear more stories from you!

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  4. Refreshing narrative dude …discounting my familiarity with Bandra for good 3 years ..enjoyed your writing ..simple , page turning in its own way…keep the right brain stimulated …

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  5. .Great Narration! You should get into writing! Good job Anil.

    What a title, for the story – deceiving shot from a badminton player 😃

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  6. Anil, as deceiving as the Title, so is Bombay.
    It looks Chaotic..but it is very organised chaos
    It looks crowded..but everyone has a place there
    It looks bad bad Bombay streets..but you hardly get even catcalls any time of day or night
    It looks like place of thugs…as you rightly said, no one looted during the floods
    It looks glamorous Bollywood.y…but glamorous in Dharavi or Malabar Hills
    On..and On… and …ON. It is Bombay!!
    Anil, Thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful portrayal! Thank you

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  7. Love listening to your stories at work Sir. You are very perceptive and remember the little details of your life… this was funny, inspiring and a great read!

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