New Internationalist

One in a billion: born on a Mumbai commuter train

Indian sleeping baby [Related Image]
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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  1. #1 Ricky Lingwood 06 Aug 13

    Great Story.
    It has all the elements for 'normal' sad journalism
    - poverty, heavily pregant woman forced to catch a train to hospital (Crowded!!) accompanied by frail mother. Could weave in a telling story about why the husband could or was not present! Shame!!
    - the mindless mob trapped in the daily grind of working to survive, restless, primed for violence and ready to explode becauseof bad management and corrupt infrastrcture planning.

    Instead, the piece is real and indeed heartwarming. All life rises above the immidiate. And a positive resonates far and wide.
    Well done.

  2. #2 Esi Dadzie 06 Aug 13

    What lovely news! I really hope this little girl either gets to ride on trains for free or maybe more significant in future runs the Indian railways...

  3. #3 chandrika sen sharma 06 Aug 13

    This brought a smile to my face!

  4. #4 Chris 06 Aug 13

    Dear Mari

    Thanks for the lovely story! Makes us all STOP! and give praise to our God above! He knows everyone is too busy rushing to work and making things happen! But only HE can bring life into this world! I always think - Our God is showing off whenever a baby is born! Its HIS finest work or art! A birth of a new born is just Beautiful! And in this manner - even more! A true blessing to everyone who was part of the celebration.

    And yes!!! I too won't comment on the unhealthy environment - or the health service - the goodness in everyone's heart outlives all of that!

    A great start to my day! love you Mari.

  5. #5 Aloke Surin 06 Aug 13

    This is the Mumbai we all love...the same Mumbai that rallied around and showed compassion and concern for fellow human beings on that fateful rainstorm which swamped the city in July 2005....the heartwarming stories that came out of that natural disaster helped us regain that there are still good and great people out there in spite of all the doom and gloom that we are constantly exposed to. Contrast that with the looting and pillage of the post Katrina flood: so which is the Third World and which is the First? Something to ponder, eh?

  6. #6 Peter Berger 06 Aug 13

    Hi Mari,
    I was struck by the humanity of the story which you put together in your own inimitable style. What a lovely way to usher a new baby into the world.Stories like this one show that there is a heart even in the the toughest of cities, Bombay!

  7. #7 Capt Dhun Daruwala 07 Aug 13

    Dhun D

  8. #8 mari 07 Aug 13

    Thanks Ricky for taking the time and trouble to comment.

    Yes, I asked the question, 'where were the men, husband, father, brother of the pregnant girl? I read several papers and found the men were waiting anxiously on the platform. So they must have been a poor family, almost everyone can manage a cab\auto fare these days in Mumbai.

    Howsomever, tho I've done so much gloom n doom in my time, I've always marvelled at the spirit of Mumbai. And thats what this story said to me, A girl was born to applause and joy! In a country where Punjabis and Haryanvis have exterminated their female population with female foeticide after amniocentesis, this was a story to celebrate. Questions on health, infant and maternal mortality, I have done to death!!

    Thanks for responding to the spirit of Mumbai\Bombay which Aloke n Chris(former Bombayites), Peter.and others have picked up on!!


  9. #9 Sabita Banerji 07 Aug 13

    How lovely to hear you tell a positive happy story about India, Mari! This one literally made me cry with joy!

  10. #10 Prabir KC 07 Aug 13

    Brilliant story! Thanks for this one!

  11. #11 Sister Janet 07 Aug 13

    What a lovely story! Thanks for this, Mari.

  12. #12 Betty 09 Aug 13

    Reminded me of that P S Buck book, The Good Earth, when the woman stopped working on the field, had her baby and then resumed working the next day. Real women !!!

  13. #13 Magnus 15 Sep 13

    I really like hanging out with my friends and watching funny vines and playing lego star wars because it is my favourite

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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