The Road to Zen is Via Mumbai’s Potholed Streets


The Road to Zen is Via Mumbai’s Potholed Streets

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

In Mumbai, distance isn’t measured in metres and kilometres, it is measured in minutes and hours. Because commuting in Mumbai is like entering a black hole, where covering two kilometres can take two hours. Most parts of the city are dug up and those which are not, are riddled with potholes. If you reach your destination safely with just a backache, consider it a victory.

If Bear Grylls hosted a show on Mumbai it would be titled Man vs BMC. Traffic jams, water-logged roads, honking motorists seem like torture, but it soon becomes a way of life. You get accustomed to the idea of sitting in rickshaws for hours and watch the meter move faster than Chris Gayle’s strike rate in T20 cricket, and this gives you plenty of time to observe life around you and derive lessons from it.

#Lesson 1: A city of equals

One of the key lessons I learnt commuting in the city, is that money can buy you most things in life, but not movement on Mumbai roads. Mukesh Ambani could be in his BMW, I could be in an Ola Share, and a mango man could be in the BEST, and we’d all be stuck on SV Road for hours with kids on bicycles and men pushing handcarts racing past us. Alternatively, we could all just take the Mumbai local and cover that distance three times faster for one-tenth the price. Mumbai traffic is a true equaliser.

#Lesson 2: No dearth of “me time”

You don’t need to enroll for a Vipassana camp in Igatpuri, if you need time alone with your thoughts. Travelling across Mumbai ensures you have plenty of time with your thoughts because it takes forever to get from Borivali to Bandra or Bandra to SoBo or from Goregaon East to Goregaon West. In Mumbai, time comes to a standstill along with your vehicle. After a while, you stop being frustrated and with practice, achieve Zen mode, knowing that you can’t affect or change any of it.

#Lesson 3: Anger management on the go

If you have anger issues, you must go up and down Mumbai regularly. You may want to beat the shit out of that guy who has been stomping on your foot, but in a packed train there is no place to move. You might want to curse the guy who spat next to you, but you are stuck in traffic and the noise around is enough to drown your voice. You get a chance to count to 30 every two minutes as you come across a gazillion traffic signals.

Because commuting in Mumbai is like entering a black hole, where covering two kilometres can take two hours.

#Lesson 4: Mumbaikar, the master of excuses

Travelling in Mumbai helps you exercise the creative muscles in the brain. It doesn’t matter if you are taking a bus, train, car, or a boat, you have to make a new excuse every day for being late to work. “Stop blaming the traffic, you should have left earlier,” has become every Mumbai boss’s retort. So think tree fall, wall collapse, cows blocking the highways. If you’re working at a mundane desk job, coming up with excuses could be the only exciting part of your day.

#Lesson 5: Tann ki shakti, mann ki shakti

Mumbai doesn’t just help your mental health, it does wonders for your physical endurance and immune system. Either that, or you end up in the hospital, dodging life- threatening, rain-related diseases or getting treated for spinal-cord injuries during bus rides.

The city’s infrastructure also ensures that your car and bike get adequate action. As you manoeuvre around potholes and speed-breakers the size of hills, you are reminded of the time you spent hours playing Excitebike on the NES. Mumbai should become the global vehicle testing lab of the world because if a vehicle can function properly on our roads, it can function in any part of the world.

#Lesson 6: Patience

Of all the lessons Mumbai travel can teach you, the prized one is patience. When you enter a destination on Google Maps and the route appears in a red darker than your blood, you have no choice but to carry on anyway. The roads might be replaced by craters, but you’ll still patiently make your way to and fro. They fashionably call it the “Spirit of Mumbai”, I call it tolerance. Because what choice do you have? EMI toh bharna hai.