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One in a billion: born on a Mumbai commuter train

Indian sleeping baby

It's a girl! © set_apart1

I woke up this morning to a heartwarming story on a cold, wet, misty day. We are having one of the wettest monsoons ever, in an area that already has one of the highest normal rainfall patterns in India. The rain is good for us. It will fill up the lakes and reservoirs. So hopefully, we will not have a water shortage in the coming year.

However, it has rained incessantly since May and after three cold, damp months, we don’t seem to be getting the break of a few sunny days that we normally expect. It’s the only season when Indians, in these parts, sound very British as we say, ‘oh look, the sun’s out, three cheers.’

Normally, the sun is a given, always present, with scorching heat in the plains during mid-March, April, May and half of June. This is why we give thanks to the rain gods when the monsoon finally arrives to bring the much-needed relief we've all been craving.

So you, dear readers, will bear with me. I thought it was lovely to have a story celebrating the spirit of Mumbai, on a miserable monsoon morning. Poonam, a 25-year-old woman, heavily pregnant, boarded a Mumbai local train to go to the hospital with her mother. As the train began to pull out of the station, she started her labour pains. Someone pulled the chain. Fortunately for her, three nurses going to work shared her compartment. They gathered around, shooed everyone out, closed the windows and delivered the baby girl. Everything worked out wonderfully, thank God.

The train was stuck on the platform for over half an hour. And Mumbai’s suburban railway has trains rushing in every four minutes. Commuters travel long journeys to and from work every day. So they are not amused at delays; in fact, they are quite proud of their trains, which normally get them to work on time. So there was an angry, restless crowd on the platform, in the dark about the reason behind this inexplicable hold-up.

Some railway official had a brainwave. Suddenly, commuters stopped to listen. Unlike the usual boring drone, there was a story on the public address system. ‘On Platform such and such, on a Dadar-bound train, a child has been born! A baby girl.’

The startled crowd broke into loud cheers. People were smiling, laughing, clapping, hugging strangers and congratulating each other. People texted their colleagues and families. Late for work because a baby was born on the Dadar train. With our one-billion-plus population, babies are not really news. And a baby girl is not good news in most places. Yet babies have this tendency. They bring a smile to the dourest face, mostly.

So the ambulance arrived. The first-time mum with the newborn and the proud grandmother were whisked off to hospital. They left with a platform (and Indian railway platforms are something else, with crowds ranging from a few hundred to a thousand milling around at peak hours) full of people clapping, cheering and wishing them well. A truly grand send-off for a poor family (they must have been poor, or they wouldn’t have been on a crowded rush-hour train). And a baby girl in a country where boys are best.

It’s wonderful that the story ended happily. So we’ll leave it at that and not ask unpleasant questions about our health services. Not today.

For that new mother and grandmother at least, it was, ‘oh what a beautiful morning’. And as I look out of my window at the sheets of rain, I will think of this story and smile.

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