Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sweating in an Air-conditioned Bus in Andheri (East)



Andheri. The name means “darkness” and darkness it is. Today Andheri has been taken over by IT majors, BPO companies, and outsourcers of Bangalored business from the shores of the US of A. One would assume that Andheri is some futuristic area of office complexes, well laid out roads, gardens, and wide-open spaces where people could enjoy a relaxed working style.

The opposite is true, as darkness pervades like a shroud over this area. As I disembark from the train I see that platform no. 7 is dirty and several puddles of water has collected on it. Moreover, it doesn’t have an exit system which results in the whole train of some 10,000 odd people queueing, moving slowly, looking at each others’ feet, agonising, impatient to get to their office. There are some zombies listening to music and talking, talking, talking on their cellphones as nothing in the world matters. How out of touch can you be? Once you are finished with this ordeal, you are into the exit on the East side, where a rivulet smells suspiciously of sewage and, yetch, I am not talking of the average everyday sewage of the bathroom variety. This is even more serious. It stinks badly but nobody flinches, except me, I guess. Still glued to their mobile devices. Mobile phones are going to create a generation of cynics, I am well aware. After all, I am new to Andheri (having worked so far in other parts of Bombay) and am a new kid in this block, so to speak. Welcome to Andheri (East)!

Over here are several layers of people standing, just standing doing nothing. It is tough extricating yourself from this crowd, and if you do, you are into a crowd of rickshaws and the cramped depot of the BEST bus service. If you are a new kid in town (remember the song?) then you would amazed to find that this mass of people consists of queues for several buses: 415, 422, 531, etc.

“Where is the queue for 415?” I ask. I am directed to a plastic sheet under which are stand a mass of sweating humanity, with flies circling over them and the hordes of pan-bidi sellers, tea vendors, mobile cover sellers, diary and knick-knack sellers, etc. Why don’t the government throw these people out and make the station accessible? I ask myself as I sweat and board the 415 bus.

This long queue of suffering humanity creates a traffic jam outside the station that extends well over a few kilometres into the Marol area. What a mess? I board a 415 air-conditioned bus and am sweating all over. The bus is crowded and hot and again nobody is complaining. They charge us 10 bucks for such a short journey and there isn’t even the promised air-conditioning. Oh, God!

But then that’s Andheri (East), the area of darkness. In the evening rickshaw drivers, those angels of the night do not deign to drop you at the station. You promise them double the fare and they don’t budge, and you stand and stand by the piles of garbage, enduring the stink, the heat and the vehicles that seem to run you over for your impudence of waiting for homeward transport.

As I said, this is Andheri, the software technology capital of Bombay, the area of darkness Naipaul mentioned, the shining gem in the outsourcing map of India.

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