As the sun rises quietly behind the clouds, I wake up with a long yawn, wishing in vain for a little more sleep. A barrage of noise hits me unpleasantly in the face as I open the window for some fresh air. Vehicles are honking impatiently and incessantly, people are waiting for cabs and peddlers are talking loudly. Crowd.
The local station is 1.3 kilometers away, but there is too much traffic to take an auto, which would take half an hour. Crowd.
A walk would take fifteen minutes, but it seems like a big ask in the morning, so my flatmate and I just order an UberPool. It’s only seven kilometers to work, but this is Mumbai we’re talking about. It’s in the direction of the traffic, so the travel time is 45 minutes. Crowd.
I wedge out my ID card from my pocket which already contains keys, a handkerchief, earphones and a pen. Crowd.
After swiping myself into the building, I head for the elevator, where I join thirty other people waiting, who rush and uncomfortably squeeze into the elevator the microsecond it opens. The assertive stand straight, the rest stand in interesting angles. It reminds me of of the aptitude questions in CAT about fitting things into other things. Crowd.
I approach the desks with everyone else, but I don’t have a desk yet. Too many employees, too few desk chairs. So I go sit in the breakout area. Crowd.
The clock ticks onto the lunch hour, and I enter the cafeteria. It’s a big cafeteria, yet not big enough. I have to ask five people to excuse me on my way to the cash counter, for which there is a queue, of course. Then I carry my food tray with the expertise of a tiptoeing burglar, through the traffic of people walking in every possible horizontal direction, hoping not to spill onto someone’s shirt or mine. And the bonus challenge is to find an empty table and a chair because guess what – crowd.
When it’s time to leave, the word ‘cab’ itself is scared to pop up into my head. So I drudge along with a vada-pav and a cutting chai to the station. My trajectory barely has any straight lines, as I weave through any gaps between legions of feet, wheels, and occasionally puddles. Crowd.
While waiting for the train, I feel thankful for just a teeny tiny second that I have a first class pass, deluding myself to dream of having more space than usual. The reality is, so do a million others. The only difference between the first and second class compartments of the Mumbai local is that a 3 seater seats three in first class and four in second, because first class is so obviously more obese. And so, it’s time to get pushed around again. Crowd.
After the seemingly long walk back home from Santacruz station, I wonder whether all this is worth it. But then I open the door to my room, and there is nobody there. This room is just mine. I am uninhibited literally and ergo metaphorically. I can listen to a song or sing one, and actually hear it. And I realize why it is worth it. “I need my space” is a big ask in Mumbai, and when everywhere else is crowded – any space you have is worth it. Peace.