Chaotic Commuting and The Blessing Bovine

You may have heard that Mumbai is India’s most populous city. Nowhere is this more visible than at Dadar train station during commute hours.  I once stood there, missing train after train, unable to push my way into already over crowded compartments. The sight of watching people explode out of these trains remind me of angry swarming bees, making their way out of a smoky bee hive.

After a month in Mumbai, I have finally learned to maneuver the crowd. I know not to get on a fast train during commute hours. A few weeks ago I was unable to get off one, but that is a whole other blog. I get to work early by Indian standards, 8:45am. I time my commute home accordingly to avoid massive crowds. While I am avoiding crowds, the rest of Mumbai is trying to save time. Mumbaikars will push, shove and elbow their way into a train rather than wait 5 minutes longer for another one. I have heard that women even chop their veggies on the train to cut down their cooking time. I come across the best entrepreneurs on the train. Have a broken zipper? No problem, someone can fix that for you. Missed your breakfast? There is plenty of dhoklas, upmas and roti sellers, who will provide you with a quick plate of your favorite. Toy vendors always get the best of my guilty-busy-working-mom side.

The train station themselves are filled with entrepreneurs. My favorite one is a cow, or rather it’s owner. Not too far from Churchgate station, as people are frantically swarming to their destinations, a healthy cow waits to bless passers-by. There are no signs that say, “seek my blessings” or “feed me”, but everyone seems to know exactly what to do. For several days I wondered why this cow was tied at this busy intersection and why its owner was rolling what looked like laddoos. The next day I noticed some men stop their mad hour rush to gently touch the cow and then touch their foreheads. It took me a while to finally see the exchange of money, Rs. 10 to feed a wheat laddoo to the living goddess. You could also choose from a pile of greens because the goddess prefers variety.

The owner of the cow rolling laddoos.
The owner of the cow rolling laddoos.

There are no shortages of entrepreneurs in India, but this one is a perfect example of a social enterprise. The owner of the cow is not only getting a healthy and well-fed cow, but is also providing a service to the commuters.  It is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The cow’s blessing may or may not guarantee a good day ahead, but it definitely makes the busy bees stop, even if it is just for a quick second. So, people in Mumbai may not have time to stop and smell the roses, but they certainly have time to……well, you know the rest.

Seeking blessings for a busy day
Seeking blessings before a busy day.

Srijana started her career working in Global Policy and Government Affairs department at Cisco Systems where her role was to identify public policy priority needs in sub-Saharan Africa and define Cisco's policy engagement strategy. Additionally, she was a key player in the development and management of Cisco's environmental sustainability program. She created and drove company wide employee educational campaigns geared towards environmental sustainability. Srijana is also a founder of Friends of El Shadai, an organization based in California, which gives educational opportunity to former street children and HIV/AIDS orphans in a loving home environment in Bugembe, Uganda. Friends of El Shadai recently funded the construction of a building for El Shadai, which 35 children now call home. Through her experience working with Friends of El Shadai, Srijana realized that demand based skills training is just as important as education in countries like Uganda, where unemployment rate is very high. This realization led her to leave Silicon Valley and spend time in India and Nepal researching opportunities to create jobs for individuals living below poverty. After 8 years of working in Silicon Valley, Srijana is delighted to be part of AIF fellows and hopes to bring together her business and public policy experience, with her personal passion for working in development and economic empowerment. In addition to Friends of El Shadai, Srijana is active and on the Board of Sahayeta.Org, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that she co-founded. Sahayeta.Org provides free primary health care screening for immigrants without health insurance and connects them to additional resources, if needed.

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7 thoughts on “Chaotic Commuting and The Blessing Bovine

  1. Yeah, good imagine Srijana, on local trains you will find all sorts of funny people. Some play songs on mobiles loudly, some sleep on your shoulders, some spit out of windows, some constantly stare at the girls, some keeps reading newspaper (even in standing position), some eat bhels or chips, some doing stunts on the doors or shouting loudly and teasing people on other parallel track trains. So in Mumbai; local trains are happening places. You should have great strength in your arms and good height if you want to stand comfortably in the crowd. So others, whenever you will visit Mumbai avoid travelling in peak hours!

  2. I can picture it Srijana haha… I did see “Slum Dog Millionaire” you know….The home I stayed in while in J-burg, well the husband had lost a leg when he fell/was pushed or whatever off the local commute train there…much like what I’ve seen on screen of Mumbai…. be careful and safe!
    Sorry you will miss the luncheon tomorrow but we will update you.
    Love, Linda

  3. I wonder whether with all those laddoos the cow produces pre sweetened milk. Perhaps the entrepreneurial lady will find a way to brand and sell that milk back to the devotees as a return “prasad” from the goddess . India is a country of entrepreneurs . There are not enough jobs. The challenge and opportunity is to convert it from survival to choice entrepreneurship . Stay safe in your commutes
    Sridar

  4. Haha, great story! It reminded me of many of the train rides back home in the 90s 🙂 Amazing, how entrepreneurial people are (both inside the trains and at the train stations ) Keep them coming!

  5. Speaking of cow entrepreneurship, I don’t understand why someone hasn’t started hanging advertisements on some of India’s wondering cows. It would be great visibility since they walk all over the place, and an added value for the owner.

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