I was standing on the highway in the outskirts of Pune in search of a shared taxi for heading towards Mumbai. A lot of people who are traveling to Mumbai for personal work, allow other people to board their car for around Rs 200 so that their fuel expenses are covered as well they get company on the way. One such car stopped in front of me already occupied by four people. The man sitting on the back seat lowered the window glass and signalled to put my suitcase at the back of the car. At first glance he appeared like a goon with a mark near his eye, wearing a white kurta and big bald face. I was hesitant to get in the car till I saw other three people whose normal appearances comforted me. This is how I started my journey towards Mumbai.
As the car moved ahead, the person in the front seat started talking about numerous tolls in Maharashtra and indirect extortion of money from common people. The person sitting on my right who till now was glued to his mobile screen, lifted his head up. I think this was the first time he noted all fellow travelers in the car. He was the only person who was of my age group while other three members were much senior to us. Soon the topic of discussion moved to the prime minister, government policies, demonetisation and so on. The person at the front was accusing the current generation for all the problems in the world. The current generation in the car decided to exchange smiles and let him vent out what all was in his heart.
Now after some time the person on my other side, the ‘assumed goon’ took over the hypothetical mike. There is a saying – “Appearances can be deceiving”, and when he started speaking, I witnessed one perfect example. He was an excellent conversationalist with words of wisdom mixed with witty remarks. His choice of words to express his views were excellent and he kept on talking forever. He spoke about his life and enquired about our lives. He spoke about the problems of previous generation in today’s times and how some of the things are not correct in metro cities’ lifestyle. I knew about all this stuff but the way he put it in front of us was very convincing. In between all this conversation, the person driving the car informed us that we will need to get down at Jui Nagar if we want to head towards Thane route as he was going in other direction. I had to go to Airoli so I said I will get down at JuiNagar and take a Uber.
The ‘wise’ man in our car inquired why I was taking a taxi, and suggested that I should use local train. I let him know that I wanted to take it but with my big suitcase, I don’t think I will be able to get in the crowded train. For those who haven’t seen Mumbai local trains yet, I just want to tell that if you are outsider, even during non-office hours, sometimes it can be difficult to get in with a handbag, forget about a suitcase. The man still thought I was just making an excuse to take taxi, so he said, “I know you have money in your pocket, but spend it somewhere else, and take a train for now. I am going in same direction, come with me and I will make sure you board the train”. His tone had a sense of command, just like an elderly uncle would have when asking you to do something. Moreover a Rs. 10 journey as compared to Rs. 200 was certainly enticing, so I didn’t argue much.
We got down and headed towards station. He even offered to help me in carrying luggage which I declined. There was still some time for train to come and he started explaining me about different routes, lines, tips and tricks about Mumbai local trains. He told me about his business of arranging labor for nearby IT companies and also vegetable selling business in addition to his job in municipal corporation. I was impressed with his time management and business acumen. We boarded the train and the conversation continued. He was advising me to hire an auto once I get down at Airoli station and pay the exact fare by meter. There was a guy sitting next to us who was going to his office, and told us you have to pay around Rs. 40 as fixed fare. I acknowledged the information and by that time the man turned to this guy and asked whether he is also getting down at Airoli.
On getting the confirmation from him, he ordered him to guide me till auto stand. I said it’s not required and I can manage on my own. To this he looked me into eye with a smile and said you are son-in-law of Maharashtra and you shouldn’t have any trouble (I had earlier told him I am from Madhya Pradesh and my wife is from Maharastra). I didn’t see that statement coming and responded with a smile. He again told the guy to drop me till auto stand which is just few meters away once you get out of train. He ordered this in such a commanding voice that later the guy actually came to drop me till auto stand 🙂 even though I told him I will go on my own. Our station was about to reach, so we got up to move towards the exit door. I thanked the elderly man for all the help and let him know it was great talking with him for last couple of hours. He said, “you might be my friend from previous life and may be we continued our conversation today”. We laughed and waved good-bye to each other. I was not sure whether he was my friend from previous life but I knew he will be on the first page of my Mumbai Diary.