Thursday, December 07, 2006

Heart of stone

Permission to republish this article has to be obtained from Hindustan Times

Living in Mumbai can take its toll

Shevlin Sebastian

I am travelling on a train, from Mahim to Andheri, standing behind a group of men at the entrance. The sun has set, a summer breeze is blowing in and the mood is tranquil. The evening rush has not yet begun, so there is some breathing space.

Suddenly, there is a thudding sound, and the next thing I know, the man in front of me starts bleeding from the mouth. A stone has ricocheted from the side of the train and hit him. The man, in his early thirties, with close-cropped black hair, takes out a handkerchief and presses it to his mouth, as his teeth turns red.

“You are lucky, the stone did not hit your eye,” says a fellow passenger. “Some years ago, a girl lost her eye. The newspapers wrote about it.” Says another man: “The stone was thrown from the jhopadpatti.” We look back at the fast-receding slum and, as expected, the place looks harmless. “I thought people had stopped throwing stones,” says another passenger. An elderly gentleman shakes his head and says, “Have people ever stopped throwing stones at each other?”

There is a silence after this statement. As for me, I try to imagine the person who perpetrated this dastardly act. What sort of a man is he? (Can’t imagine a woman doing this.) Why did he do it? What did he gain from this act?
People who travel on trains are not affluent; otherwise, they would have been moving around in cars. So why is he taking out his angst on us middle-class people? Our lives are a struggle, just like his: the harrowing daily commute; the ceaseless pressure to make ends meet; to keep wife and kids happy; to save money for our sunset years.

I can understand his frustration: the lack of education and job opportunities, the grinding poverty, the overcrowding and the pervasive atmosphere of crime and violence in the slum. But does throwing a stone at defenceless and innocent people help alleviate his problems?

Meanwhile, the injured man gets down at Bandra. Apart from the few people around the entrance, nobody else is aware of this incident. In Mumbai, you might be going through hell but the person standing next to you is oblivious. You can’t blame him: he may be staring at his own hell. For days afterward, I am wary of standing at the entrance. And as I watch people being rude to each other, at traffic signals, in the market, at cinema ticket counters and I also hurl a sarcastic barb at a friend, the old man’s phrase keeps popping up in my mind: “Do people ever stop throwing stones at each other?”

No comments:

Post a Comment