Many prominent people in the past might have had entered the subcontinent through the Gateway of India by the Mumbai harbor, most probably in broad daylight. I instead sneaked in via the Chhatrapati Shivaji airport on a hot, hot Friday evening. In a very same manner, I was introduced to this glorious monument from within, after days of getting my hands dirty and pushing my way through this lovely, lively city that is Mumbai. And so as I was sweating it all out trying to learn how to tread on its social undercurrents, I was also taking it all in in between sporadic, sometimes involuntary gasps for air. I tried to shed off as soon as possible the tourist fat in me and start to fully feel like a local, a desi (but always with a water bottle in hand).
On my very first morning, first day, first thing: a full-on immersion into the Mumbai railway system. And here is where the real action is. There is something about the Mumbai train that screams life, humanity in its most elementary, instinctive form. There is that feeling, while not always comfortable, of being alive and being part of something. Mumbai forces you to dance, to 'freestyle n' trance'. To join in this ritual of sharing sweat and smell. It's in-your-face, abrasive. And you can't help but smile not so much out of a deep sense of pleasure as a basic, purely visceral reflex. And since, you find yourself in a crowd -- you become the crowd -- you've never felt so human, so not a foreigner. Just be sure to wear comfortable and sturdy footwear, a pair that would stand by you when push comes to shove, literally and in a manner of speaking.