Travel Story - Not Interested in Living.


Not Interested in Living!

Our Journeys are the Stories of Us - Susan Pohlman

I started packing my baggage, knowing very well that I was surely going to miss the plane. With half an hour in hand, two bellboys rushing my luggage to the trunk of the waiting black and yellow taxi, my hotel in Colaba an upscale residential cum tourist area in Mumbai (earlier Bombay) seemed to be a million miles away from the bumper to bumper traffic of this city called Mumbai which earned itself the tag of becoming the Mega city of India, just because of its bursting population.

In fluent street Hindi, I requested the Taxi driver, “Can you hurry and rush me to the domestic airport in time? I will give you double the fare if you reach me to the Airport gate by 4.30 pm.” The taxi driver in khaki uniform, looked at his wristwatch, turned behind to talk to me. “Aage Dekho, Aage Dekho, (look in front, look in front), I screamed as the driver was multitasking by talking and driving at the same time. In Mumbaiyah, Hinglish he communicated, “On time, triple fare, or standard meter fare.” I agreed to whatever he had to say.

As the seconds passed by and the minutes flew, it downed on me that I was surely going to miss the plane. I nonchalantly asked the taxi driver why he asked Triple rate, when he too was not sure of reaching me on time to my destination. Pat comes the reply, “ Just trying my luck. On normal days, i get my rate for taking people here and there. Some day’s I get lucky”. I did not understand what the heck he was saying. He further continued. “We poor taxi drivers survive on daily luck. In this busy city of Mumbai we end up getting left over stuff of passengers such as mobile phones, laptops and sometimes malamal (hard cash) too.” I confronted him that surely he must be reporting the lost goods and returning it to some lost and found office of the Taxi Driver’s Association. “Customer forgets stuff, not my mistake, I go to return, and I lose my one day wage. Honesty makes my family go hungry Friend. This taxi, not mine. I no owner. I drive day shift for 12 hours, another driver for night shift.” Some educated and polished person like you our taxi owner, not of 1, but 6 taxis.”, “I learnt from my passenger’s, In English they say, “Finders are Keepers”. “So I find. I keep. I happy, my family happy. Passenger buys again. Make Shopkeeper happy.”

I could not beat his simple street survival logic. I sat there still in the black and yellow taxi moving at a snail’s pace, waiting for a miracle to happen. For time to stand still and for our vehicle to zoom past all the big cars to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharajah Airport Terminus. Quite a mouthful of a name for an Airport. I wondered why the airport was named after a historical person, who had never seen what a flying object like an aeroplane was. I was about to ask the Taxi driver, but then better sense prevailed and I kept my thoughts to myself.

We reached the domestic airport at Santacruz on time, meaning late. The flight took off on time. We arrived late.  Another disturbing thought came to my mind. In India, why do planes take off on time, whereas the trains are always running late? I was sure this Mumbai taxi driver would have some interesting answer. “Back to Hotel” he asked me. I asked him the question and as always he replied instantly, “So simple. Trains run on land. Planes do not.”

On my multiple visits to this Mumbai port city, I always used to wonder, why it is so easy to enter into the city, but somehow all the lanes, paths, circles, highways and expressway get choked with traffic as if trying to hold the visitors back in its deep embrace. Now with my plane having taken off, hot glasses of “cutting” (half cup) chai’s (tea) in hand, standing over the bridge looking at the mega polis and beyond, my taxi driver by now had become my buddy , my friendly mumbaikar, who seemed to have handy answers to all of life’s mysteries. “Something magnetic my Friend in this place Mumbai. It is a magnet to money. Where there is money, people will follow. Mumbai feeds millions.”

After a long drawn silence, the Taxi driver finally asked the purpose of my visit. I had difficulty in explaining to him my scientific work, so I just said, “Science Seminar”. This did not suffice his curiosity. “What type seminar? How to make money.” “No no, I retorted. I work for the Indian Meteorological Department”. “What is that?” “I am a Scientist; I study the effect of pollution on the future of rains, the South west monsoon rains”. Sipping on the warm & refreshing Elaichi flavoured tea, the driver remarked, “you joking nah”.

By now we knew each other’s names, the taxi driver was Raju Bawde. He had a bond like tagline to go along with his name. Raju Bawde. Bawde (family name) by day for customers. Bevda (drunk) at night for friends.

I tried my level best to explain in simple terms to Raju, as to what work I do. “Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) is expecting an El Nino weather effect developing in the Pacific Ocean and so there is huge worry over its impact on this year’s monsoon. These concerns seem to go up with the delayed arrival of rains over Kerala, the southernmost state of India and a delayed monsoon arrival towards north. So I am part of a huge team, studying the El Nino effect of Nature on the annual Monsoon rains.”

“You foreigners know nothing. Not El Nino, well Nino. All this China is doing. All Mumbai market full with China vegetables and fruits. Now even China fish coming from China Sea to Mumbai. This El Nino, China doing my friend, so our farmers die and we import more food from China.”

As we were sipping hot Chai, I realized that the Taxi meter was running and I would be paying extra as waiting charges. I surely could afford that. “Raju, what is the next best option for me to set my feet in Goa, tomorrow?” Raju replied back saying, Train is the best my friend. Even if passenger gets late, train waits for you.” This was definitely not true. Raju was passing a sarcastic remark about the popular abbreviation for the Indian Railways with regards to time that is IST; in India it means Indian Stretchable Time and not Indian Standard Time.

So here I am after missing to board my confirmed flight to Goa on the 4.30pm evening flight, was about to try my luck catching a popular train to Goa by the name of Jan Shatabdi Express which was scheduled to leave the platform at Kurla Terminus in South Mumbai sharp at 05.25pm with its originating station being Dadar in the heart of Mumbai city. Raju the taxi driver reminded me another peculiarity of Indian Railways. “My friend, Trains always leaves strictly on time, then why they always not reach on time?” “This definitely demands a serious research into the statistics of man, machine and time management on a national scale.” I replied.

Raju assured me that he had the right connections at the railway station to guarantee me a confirmed seat. Raju claimed that the booking staff at the counter themselves had rigged the electronic booking system, thus bypassing the entire system and hence now becoming themselves as self styled commission touts. Pay an extra baksheesh (bribe) and anything is possible in Mera Bharat Mahan. (My Great India).

As we were approaching our next destination, keeping my fingers crossed that I hopefully get myself a reserved seat on the Jan Shatabdi Express train to Goa; I wondered what it would be next, the Bus or the Bullock cart ride to Goa. Oh I forgot, maybe Raju would convince me to hire a Taxi itself to Goa.

A taxi driver in any part of the world, in all of my travels and travails I have found that the man in uniform with a steering in hand on any road, can be your best friend or the worst foe to have in a strange land.

Finally I find myself standing on the metal bodied train, exhausted and exhilarated both emotions flushing my brains at the same time. Luggage in one hand and Mumbai Vada Pav’s (Indian Burger) in the other hand, a parting gift given to me by Raju the Taxi driver who was beaming to glory. He gained a double trip fare, waiting charges, hefty commission for arranging a reserved seat ticked plus extra baksheesh. All of this surely made a small dent in my pocket; never the less I wanted to get myself out of the air pollution that was getting itself to my virgin village lungs.

As I surveyed the train compartment, it suddenly dawned upon me that it was the beginning of the Monsoon season in Goa and hence there were very few tourists taking the train to Goa. Here was an intelligent scientist so sweetly duped into parting extra fare, when so many seats around me were totally empty and waiting for customers. I blamed it on my exhausted internet package that converts the smartest smart phone into just another colourful gadget. I consoled myself that the end result is what matters the most and here I was reclining and relaxing in my 2 X 2 push back train seat which was more erect and less of a push back.

Sharply at 5.25pm the platform speakers scream about the train about to leave Platform No 4 anytime. Last minute late passengers barge in with more luggage than people. Sometimes I feel that Indians carry all their comforts of the home to their holiday destination. A holiday in India, without taking your wife along is like forgetting to take along the cleaner, the cook, the manager, the overseer, the washerwoman, the ironing woman, the baby sitter, also the finance controller who ensures that the holiday does not cross or surpass the agreed budget. All that the Indian holidaying man has to ensure is the necessary funds for a holiday and booked train tickets and hotel room reservations.

Goa seems to have become the unofficial Las Vegas of India. With more than the 1.5 million resident populations, Goa attracts Indians like bees to Honey from all geographical borders of India providing a floating population of over 2 million tourists every year. The Indian tourists visiting Goa has surpassed the international foreign tourists to a mere 6 lacs plus. As a foreigner myself, I find the culture of Goa more western, more liberated and more accommodating to people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. As a foreign scientist on a research project to India, studying about the El Nino climate effect on the declining Monsoons and providing the study papers to the Government of India, I feel comfortable in Goa and at home.

My trip to Goa was not a holiday visit, neither was it for rest or relaxation. As part of the El Nino research, I was entrusted with the responsibility of studying a very unusual geographical phenomenon that had occurred on the coastal belt of Goa. Tourism is of major significance to the economy of Goa and it was second in order to the Mining Industry which had been clamped & closed down by the nature lovers and environmentalists.

Nothing negative is liked or encouraged within Goa, that would affect the political, economical and tourist industry which is now the sole surviving industry for the major population of Goans and the migrated Indians running their businesses here. Hence, a blind eye treatment was given to a major geographical event that was witnessed in many coastal areas of Goa. A Mini Tsunami effect was witnessed in Canacona district and many beach areas of Goa. "It was a mini tsunami. There was so much underwater current and the water levels rose to 6 meters and then subsided in no time. It cannot be anything else,” Goa Science and Technology Minister Churchill Alemao said during a post cabinet briefing. “Tsunami in Goa is not something that you would hear being discussed in village bars and socialite circles. Tsunamis are meant to happen in Japan”, remarked my co passenger “and only in Indian politics.”  “That’s the perspective and perception of many fatalistic Goans who continue on with their Susegado (carefree) life of whatever will be, will be the future’s not ours to see kind of attitude.”

“Friend, Sorry for disturbing, I could not stop from commenting on noticing you reading the book, titled, “Tsunami and its Hazards in the Indian and Pacific Oceans”. I closed my book and said it was okay and a meaningful conversation was always fuel for the mind.

Indians will not converse and communicate with fellow Indians as much as everyone wants to talk to foreign visitors. One would end up getting a very biopic view that all Indians are very warm and friendly and always welcoming. I was prepped and prepared in sufficient advance by my friends and fellow research assistants to the different kinds of cultural shocks in India. One of them was the travelling passenger’s behaviour in India. They exhaust all of the 5 W’s and 1 H of any judicial enquiry. Why you are not married? How many children? What religion are you from? Which is your home country? Where is your family? What do you do for a living? Are you a Hippie? Are you a Tourist? Are you a Backpacker? Why are you travelling alone? I was told to expect these pointed personal questions from every next co – passenger on a bus, train and even on a plane!

As the train was departing the landscape of the mega city of Mumbai, since a child I always fantasized that the world and its destinations were moving ahead with the train being stationary in one place. Here we were approaching the twin satellite city of Mumbai named as Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai). Developed in the year 1972, Navi Mumbai is one of the finest and largest well planned townships of the world. Our train enters Panvel Railway Junction. This will be the last major stop enroute to Goa, before the train picks up speed of approximate 80 kms to 100 kms an hour towards the hinterland villages of Maharashtra state which it will mostly bypass.

Most of the passengers boarding at Panvel were families or eighter large groups of people. In the midst of the rushing crowd was one female who caught my attention. In her early thirties or so, draped in a traditional & colourful Salwar Kameez. What surprised me is the non existence of any baggage or luggage in hand. I guessed that some other family member must be with that chore.

This beautiful Indian passenger seemed to be not having a confirmed seat and hence she was all the time standing near the open doorway with the passing breeze flowing through her colourful dupatta (scarf) making it look like window curtains flowing in the wind. Her eyes were transfixed on the next incoming phone call on her mobile phone or on the distant horizon out of the running train. Nothing seemed to matter to her, nothing seemed to be of importance or existence to her. The only belonging she carried on her seemed to be her brown expensive looking leather purse which was a total mismatch with her traditional outfit.

I noticed that I was not the only passenger staring at this alone woman. Most of the Indian men seemed to find her immediately attractive. She was every Indian man’s dream come true. Fair complexioned colour, long graceful lock of hair, light blue eyes (or lenses) suggesting she was a mountain woman, not too short, neither too tall, her 36 cup size bosom not missing the stare of any man. Majority of Indian men, I repeat majority like 3 main features in a woman. They need to be “Fair & Lovely”, big bosomed and not too smart. Alteast not smarter than themselves.

That was the last time; I had set my eyes on the beautiful damsel. I assumed she must have got herself a seat somewhere, before the night set in. I had found the wonderful solution of discouraging Indian passengers from making repeated boring small talk with a foreigner on a train in India. The solution was of always wearing headphones, with some soft music in the background.

When did my book fall off my hands? When did the battery drain off my music player? I did not realise the passage of time. Last I remember having a hearty Chicken Biryani cooked by the moving railway kitchen, before continuing to read my book and listen to soft instrumental music. The lights are never put off in all of the moving trains in India for safety and security reasons. I looked at my wristwatch to check the time, it was way past midnight and as per my railway timetable calculations we should be half way to Goa, soon approaching the major railway junction of Ratnagiri, where the famous Alphonso mangoes are grown and shipped to the whole world. With the mango season just over in May, was hoping to purchase some of this king of fruits on the Ratnagiri Railway Junction platform.

Suddenly, with mangoes on my mind, I felt the same aching desire to see the beautiful damsel who had boarded the train at Panvel near Mumbai city. A desire so strong, that it hurt and moved me into action. On the pretext of stretching my aching legs, felt that my wandering mind needed some fresh breeze too. So I ventured to move from one coach to the next, moving up and down the aisle. It would be easy to spot her as all of the Coaches were general and none were private cabins with all of them brightly lit with long Indian pole like tube lights.

On crossing the 6th coach I reached the Kitchen Pantry busy making meals on wheels. The kitchen pantry was placed right in the middle of the 12 coach train so that the waiters delivering the food orders could easily access both sides of the train. Passengers were allowed to criss – cross the pantry carefully and there were some passengers even buying fast food stuff directly from the kitchen cooks.

As I pushed open the connecting door to the 08th coach there she was huddled in a blanket to keep her warm in the cool of the night. As I reached closer to her seat, I noticed that all was not well. I felt a tingling sensation run down the center of my spine as if receiving a forewarning of what was to come. There she was, now in clear view. But not the same beautiful damsel that boarded the train. She was all dirty and disfigured. Her clothes were torn apart as if it was violently ripped off her body. There was blood all over her body but it was getting disguised with the red colour of her Salwar Kurta dress. Oh My God! I wonder what happened to her.

Seated beside her was the Ticket Collector (TC) attending to her by providing her first aid. All the other passengers seemed to be resting and in their respective seats. Curiosity kills the cat, so they say. My heart seemed to have an overwhelming concern for this female stranger and It did not matter if curiosity got the better of me too.

On enquiring with the TC and other fellow passengers I was told that the young lady had attempted to commit suicide by jumping of the running train. I was fast asleep and with the music playing in my ear, I seemed to have missed all of the ill fated action that happened on the train. I might have assumed the train must have stopped at a signal when this accident happened. I was told that the train will be offloading the injured passenger at the soon approaching Ratnagiri station as it was the closest city with medical aid and hospital facilities.

Standing there and staring blankly at the badly bruised face of the young strange lady, the TC wondered what I was doing. All I could muster enough was to ask him, ”Is she alright? Is she alive?” The TC replied back in a very tired and sombre tone. “She is surely alive. But she has hurt herself. I only can hope that she survives.”

I was wondering, how come all was so calm and quiet on the train. Where were all those Indian passengers who were so curious to know more about me, where I came from? Why do I travel alone? Where am I going? Now why is that same concern missing for one of their own kind? A fellow woman passenger, an Indian.

Seeing my worry and excess concern, an elderly Gujarati man comforted me by sharing some statistics. “Do not worry. This happens all the time, on Indian Railways.” See he says, pointing to a folded news report on the Times of India, the largest selling English Newspaper in the world. “Death on rail tracks on rise; 18,735 lives lost in 2014 till October” A Railway police official in the same compartment chipped in by saying,” Main reasons for death of persons on railway tracks are trespassing, falling off trains, accidents and suicides,”. I was too dumbfounded and struck with shock to say anything.

I went back to my train compartment and back to my seat, staring at the window outside, offering no views, no scenery but just pitch black darkness outside. All those questions that Indians ask me as a tourist visiting India, I too wanted to ask that beautiful young lady. Who she was? Where she was going? What she does in life? Where does she live? Who are her family members?  And finally as to why she was choosing death in the prime of her life.

By now passengers in my compartment were gathering their bags and baggage’s making me realize that Ratnagiri Station was soon approaching. I too started packing my stuff; little did I know what I was doing. I transferred all the important research & travel documents to my laptop bag and all of my valuables and cash. I ensured that I would be having minimum hand baggage on me. Unconsciously and unceremoniously along with the other hundreds of passengers I too was disembarking and getting off the train, knowing very well, that I was parting off with my heavy luggage. Presently my destination had changed from Goa to destination unknown.

With a heavy heart and a mind full of concern, I waited patiently for the Railway Police Personnel to carry the injured lady to the waiting Ambulance at the entrance of Ratnagiri station. I walked along with them as they climbed the Railway over bridge steps from the fourth platform to the first platform. I continued walking with them. One of the cops asked me,”Are you International Journalist?” I replied curtly saying, “No”. As soon as they were closing the Ambulance doors, I barged in and sat besides the injured passenger on the stretcher. The Ambulance driver came out and questioned me, “Only Family & Friends allowed”. Sorry please get down. I immediately lied to him. I said, “I am her friend.” “We were travelling on the same train”. Na jaane kaha kaha se aate hai, yeh gore logo. (Wonder why these white skinned people come here?). He pulled out a printed chart and asked for the injured ladies name. I recalled her talking over the phone and without hesitation said, “Nillofer”. “Boarding Station”. I answered, “Panvel, Mumbai”. “Please put your full name here. Then sign here. And initials here, here and here.”

Once Nillofer was admitted to the Female ward of the Civil Hospital which was in the center of Ratnagiri town, an old dilapated building with accommodation for 40 beds, I made myself scarce to avoid the unnecessary investigation by the Police authorities. It was 1am past midnight and all I wanted was a soft bed to sleep for the night. Early morning, I planned to visit Nillofer and to face the authorities too, but after the much needed sleep and rest.

I scribbled a short note to the Hospital informing them that I am off to get some rest. Noted my name and mobile phone too. Mentioned it will be off all night. Confirmed that I will be back first thing in the morning back at the hospital.

I choose a hotel that was a little away from the Civil Hospital. I booked myself for the night at Hotel Landmark at Thiba Palace road, Next to All India Radio (AIR). I was surprised to find the rates of Rs.2445/- per night after taxes for a 4 starred hotel in Ratnagiri quite reasonable compared to hotel prices in Goa.

Early morning after a small breakfast with Ginger tea, hired an Auto rickshaw straight to the Civil Hospital. The police authorities seemed to have done a surprising job of informing Nillofer as soon as she came to consciousness that there was some caring friend waiting for her to recover and get well.

As soon as I entered the Intensive Care Unit, Nillofer showed a sign of recognizing me, of remembering seeing me on the moving train to Goa. She remembered we having exchanged brief glances. Brief moments of connection in a wide expanse of time.

 I requested the nurses present within the ward, to please provide us some privacy. As one of the female nurses left the ICU, she remarked to me, “Nothing to worry, she is out of danger. Her family will be arriving soon too. You can proceed to Goa”.

For many unending minutes of silence, Nillofer and I continued staring at disbelief at one another. What does one ask? What does one say? We were perfect strangers yet mutely connected in a way beyond words. Here was I a foreigner, on a research grant on my way to study the Mini Tsunamis of Goa and here I was engulfed in my very own emotional and physical Tsunami.

An attraction so immense that was engulfing my body and mind with feelings so strong towards Nillofer that I had no words to say. As I pulled the metal stool to sit closer to Nillofer, she dug into her deep Salwar pockets and pulled her handwritten suicide note written in blue colour ink.

Nillofer handed the blue suicide note over to me and requested to destroy it after reading it. She said, since she survived, she will not need it more.

I opened the neatly folded page from some diary and it read:

Not interested in living!

I’m not interested in anything; I don’t love anyone, feel minimal feelings – especially towards family and my fiance. I feel like my life is going nowhere and that no matter what I do his parents will always be hateful towards me. I really just don’t feel like going on because there is nothing for me to live for. As I am a lesbian and a freak. I hate myself and everyone around me. I’m not even happy about getting married anymore. Please help; I don’t know what to do anymore.


Outside I could hear the Police authorities talking and any moment they would enter in. Without any delay, I tore the suicide note into tiny little pieces and swallowed them down with the aid of a glass of water from the nearby table.

I had to get close to Nillofer to communicate something urgently. I got off the metal stool. Sat beside Nillofer on her hospital bed. Gave her a warm embrace and whispered quietly in her ears. “Nillofer, from the first moment I have set my eyes on you on the train, you have set my heart and mind on fire. I am just like you. I love you just as you are.”

My eyes were moist with emotion. Nillofers eyes burst into tears and rolled down my breasts as I pressed them in embrace against her face. The train had led the both of us to our destination. Our love.