Any regular traveler in and around Mumbai wouldn’t need a second-hand description about the traveling ‘adventures’ that a Mumbaikar goes through every day. Pushing, pulling, squeezing your way past a thousand bodies trying to do the same is like daily chores. Add one more to this list of activities—‘Hanging on for dear life.’ For relatively new travelers, this term is apt, as this would be their last and only choice during peak hours. For the others, who seem to be hanging on to keep their souls breathing, it’s their way of having fun, also perhaps, a way to impress a few from the fairer gender in every passing station.

I don’t fall under the category of a new traveler. But, and this is a big ‘But’, my idea of fun does not include acting like a super-hero in a vehicle that takes about 2,000 lives in Mumbai every year. A couple of times I have had to hang on to the pole by the door the reason for which was mentioned in the first paragraph of this post—it was my only available choice to reach college on time.

Now, I fall under the category of ‘working class’. This means I have to get off and on the trains at stations where the word ‘crowd’ would seem an understatement. Come to Dadar and you will know why! Getting off at Dadar isn’t tough for me for I go along with the flow of the hundred others in front of and behind me. But getting on to the train, I always think twice before trying to leap (literally) in!

So, here I was at Dadar waiting for a Dadar-starting heading towards Titwala. For someone from Dombivli, getting inside a train, while it is nowhere near its halting point, is a piece of cake. Or so I thought it was! This one came at a fair speed. There were a few hanging by the door wanting to get off. I looked at one door. Found it unmanned. And jumped in grabbing the pole. Well, almost! I did grab the pole, but the jump wasn’t good enough to reach the footboard. I had completely misjudged the speed of the lifeline! I was ‘hanging on for dear life’! My hands gripping the pole hard, my feet suspended between the train and the platform. A red and black costume and I would have looked like a junior Spiderman! Those three to four seconds seemed to last an eternity. I have heard the phrase, ‘heart in the mouth’ a lot of times. I was experiencing it now! Suddenly I felt a strong hand pushing me making me swing inside using the pole in a typical Spidermanesque way! On my way to catch the seat, I looked back and those behind me were still running behind the train. I had no clue who pushed me in, for the people who came in behind me came a good 4-5 seconds later!

Sitting by the window seat that I managed to grab, I was still shivering at what just happened. Or what was about to happen!

The drama didn’t end there. The train became so jam packed that people who were inside wanting to get off at Dadar couldn’t get out even after the train had stopped and restarted on its way back! These were the ‘new-comers’! In an attempt to get off at the next station, Matunga, a couple of ladies from that group fell off from the train on the platform. I watched in horror as the train stopped again! The ladies survived! Phew! I let out a sigh of relief and a big one at that. That could have been me at Dadar about 5 minutes ago!

All I can surely say is I didn’t use any super-hero-like power to swing myself into the train. And I did feel a Hand pushing me in. It was the Hand of God!

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It is not always you feel special about something you achieved. It is almost never that you feel special about something that you were NOT able to achieve. I have been fortunate to be a recipient of both these scenarios. Those who know me well wouldn’t be surprised when I say these have come at a sports field. But, they will be surprised when I say it happened at a badminton court—to be more specific, the court at my beloved St. Xavier’s College.

My second year of junior college. I was an absolute disgrace what one call ‘textbook badminton’! So, here I was playing the selection tournament. I went past my first two rounds with relative ease. My semi-final match was pre-poned leaving me under-prepared and over-dressed for the game. I actually was looking like an executive, dressed in formal clothes, coming straight out of a high-level meeting looking for a break from work. I borrowed a racket from a friend and started off my match with Nikhil, my opponent! If anyone was looking out-of-place in that court, it was me, with my formals minus any footwear for I had removed my floaters before the match.

Half-way through the match, I was already looking down the barrel hardly able to breath. My friends Merwyn and Anish had joined in, cheering for me! Nikhil made me run around the court. Most of his shots were directed towards the baseline, something that I was totally unaccustomed to as I was more an ‘at-the-net’ player. Nikhil clearly had the upper-hand, leading 12-3 in a race to 21 points. I shook my head looking at Merw and Anish, struggling to get even the words “I can’t” out of my 32! Breathing heavily, I desperately looked around for a miracle and lease of life in me out of somewhere. I wanted water. I needed air to breath! An oxygen mask would have been welcome. After losing one more point, I just sat on the court trying to gather some breath. The word, “God” came out repeatedly at every breath I took. My arms were shivering. The score-line read 14-5 tilting towards Nikhil. Not a long match for someone reading the scoreboard for the first time. But each one of the points had marathon rallies. My shots to Nikhil kept coming back at me. And after coming to terms with Nikhil’s strategy, even I had found answers to his baseline shots. My shirt was drenched. I cared a damn if I was stinking! My eyebrows were heavy and sweat pouring out in front of my eyes was making sure I didn’t get a proper view of my opponent. “Quitting” while on a sporting field is not in my dictionary. I gathered myself all over again. Took a deep breath. Waited. And waited. And wiped off the sweat from my brow. And served. And that new lease of life was pumped in. I start hitting the shuttle well. It was time to give Nikhil back a taste of his own medicine. It was time to make him run around the court. I made him play to my strengths. His shots stopped going towards the baseline, rather came just where I wanted it. Now, Nikhil was getting worn out. The score-line: 19-12. Still in his favour. But, I knew I was peaking and I couldn’t let it go from here, every now and then opening my mouth wide to let in some air! A couple of smashes and drops later, I was breathing down his neck. But Nikhil still had it in him to win a point to reach match point! 20-18. I broke his serve. And came back to win a couple more points. Scores tied. 20 all! The match extends to a game of 23! Huffing and puffing, both of us look at each other. Wiping our sweat, catching our breath. It’s like a boxing match. Round one to Nikhil. Round two to Blessen. Round three will decide who will be the finalist! We both are so dead tired that we can hardly get that occasional ‘Yes!” from our sets of sixteen. We restart our game. A smash, a drop and a mistake by Nikhil later, I was walking towards Merwyn not knowing what to say, where I am or what to do next. I had just done the improbable! Down and out about 20 minutes ago, I was now a recipient of a well-deserved ovation by the crowd for fighting through my condition and not just coming out of it, but coming out of it victorious. I was so lost after the victory that I forgot to shake hands with Nikhil, who also deserved the ovation he got. Nikhil’s fitness let him down, my resilience got me through! It was a special feeling!

My second year in Senior College. I was one of the pre-tournament favourites to reach the semis! I’ve hardly had any match practice. But I was confident to overcome my first round opponent, whom we nicknamed ‘Elvis’ for his side-locks! The match was totally tilted in my favour right from the start. I had quite a few supporters. Carlo, Anish, Bijoy, Jasmine, Fiona and Rahul—all rooting for me! The court was more crowded than usual! I was leading 9-3 in a race to reach 21. I was just getting back in the grove finding my old touch that I had lost because of a temporary lay-off! Elvis was playing good, but not good enough! But then, a moment of what-one-can-call ‘over-excitement’ came in. In one of the points, Elvis plays a decent smash away towards my right. Standing at the left side of the court, I dive full length parallel to the ground and manages to reach the shuttle before it touches the ground. The shuttle sails over to the other side of the net towards Elvis, who was surprised to see feather-laden coming back towards him. The crowd lets out a huge ‘Wooh’! Elvis keeps his nerves and plays a drop. I have just regrouped after my dive and am only on my knees when the shuttle is dropping on my side of the court closer to the net a few yards away from me. I go for another dive using the force of my knees and still, manage to get the shuttle across. The spectators, now, are shouting! Elvis keeps his nerves and plays it to the baseline. But getting back up from my second dive, I knew not all is right! I struggle to hit the return at the baseline. I avoid jumping and smashing and instead, just play a safe return. Elvis pounces on the high shuttle and smashes it in front of me. I can hardly move, let alone think of another dive to return the smash. I lose the point. The crowd still applauds and shouts at the circus I just did on the court.

But from thereon, I can hardly stretch or run. All I can do is walk and hit those returns close to me. Elvis smells his chance and grabs the opportunity. He plays all over the court. I limp all over the court. Fiona, a sportswoman herself, comes to the court and asks me to try some stretching. She fears I have pulled a hamstring! Friends standing by ask me to quit. I just shake my hand and tell them I am ok. I wasn’t! I was grimacing in pain! “Hang in there, blessy!” I kept telling myself. Friends around me are concerned about my health. They keep asking me to leave the game midway! But I am of the adamant kinds! And I continue. Playing with pain all the way! At match point, Elvis hits one beyond my reach. I watch the shuttle thudding the ground in horror. Elvis won the game. I lost! And perhaps, an end to my short badminton career too! I limp off the playing area. But I could hear the crowd applauding and still shouting! I saw a couple of them standing up from the temporary seats to applaud. They came forward and shook my hands. “That point (where I dived twice) was worth recording, dude! Great fight!” one of them exclaimed, with a little salute! I limp to the washroom. Bijoy gives me a little smile on the way! I smile back. I am disappointed at losing, but I know I had given it my all! Elvis might have won the game, but, (this might sound like a self-promotional sentence), I won the crowd there!!! I left the court feeling proud of myself with a few still smiling at me! It was a special feeling!!!

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