Mumbai locals inhabit a world in itself. As ancient as the city perhaps, these serpentine lines connect places as well as people. The scarcity of space, much like the city itself, forces conversations and forges relationships. Mumbai locals denote both the journey and destination, enclosing both stories and storytellers.
Hindi writers Rakesh Kayasth (writer) and Divya Prakash Dubey (narrator) have come up with an audio book Dil Local, which attempts bringing the cacophony home. These fictional episodes have their roots in reality, stemming from what these authors have (over)heard in all these years.
In an interview with indianexpress.com, they answered questions on their experiences, the romanticism of Mumbai local trains and the way they translated an experience so visual to an audio series.
What prompted you to come up with something like this?
Rakesh Kayasth: I am a fiction writer who spent many years in mainstream journalism. My books Kos-Kos Shabdakosh and Prajatantra Ke Pakode are counted among the best satirical works in contemporary Hindi literature. I also penned popular television shows like Movers and Shakers. I migrated to Mumbai from Delhi in 2012. I was quite sceptical about using the local train as my mode of conveyance. I, however, started using local on Sundays to get glimpses of the vibrant and culturally-diversified city of Mumbai and that was the beginning of my romantic affair with the Local.
I was amazed to see morning hawkers carrying newspapers of six different languages, diversified passengers right from daily wage earners to diamond merchants of Kandivili and ladies doing household jobs like chopping vegetables in the moving train, a person who came to the dream city 20 year ago to become a playback singer singing in the local trains just for the sake of acknowledgement that he could have been treated in a better way.
Soon, I realised Mumbai local is a mammoth moving library on the wheels carrying uncountable stories of core human emotions. I started using the local at least 3-4 days in a week, following some characters observing them quietly, sometimes trying to talk to them to get their story, and even visiting their place if allowed to explore further. I started writing short stories based on those real characters. It was completely different from what I have done so far, as local stories had all navras instead of my favorite humour and satire. I was almost certain these stories would be a part of my short story collection. One day, my friend and prolific writer/storyteller Divya Prakash Dubey got to know about these stories and told me that he would like to read them. After reading them, his reaction was: ‘These stories must reach to more audiences than conventional Hindi readers’. So, taking Local Stories on to the big audible platform was Divya Praksh Dubey’s idea. He is not only the narrator but show runner of this whole project.
Divya Prakash Dubey: I knew Rakesh had written great stories. The idea was to make it big and take it to people as if they are a part of the same local journey. Audio was best to fit for the show. Also the key insight was, ‘Har admi apne aap mein ek kitab hai aur us lihaj se Mumbai local is duniya ki sabse badi chalti firti library’.
Why did you choose Mumbai local trains as a setting for your stories?
Rakesh Kayasth: A train symbolises many things. A train journey has a great romantic feeling and nostalgic value. Every journey has a different story, every journey has a start and end but sometimes the journey becomes more important than the destination. Many of us are not sure about our destination, but we keep going, hoping one day we will find our destination. My stories have all such underlying messages.
Divya Prakash Dubey: We assumed that every story is the first story of the show and the listener does not know anything. It gave a fresh point of view each time.
Mumbai trains, with the teeming crowd and homogeneous urgency, is a democratic space. It also encloses a diverse group. How did you go about it and was there always an element of surprise?
Rakesh Kayasth: Local is a myth buster in many ways. Outsiders have strong preconceived notions about this city. In north India. Everyone thinks Mumbai is a filmy city and everything is quite glamorous. The second myth is that Mumbaikars are anti-north India or they don’t like outsiders. Once you board in a local train, you will find this city carries middle class values more than any other city.
How did you translate these local train stories — with visual appeals — into the Audible medium?
Rakesh Kayasth: The entire credit goes to Divya Praksh Dubey. He is extremely popular as a romantic storyteller in the campuses of India. All of his five books are best-sellers across languages. What I wrote was completely different from his brand of writing or storytelling. For example, my stories had characters like domestic help, polish wala and sweeper, and Divya still decided to go with them. For me, he took a gamble but after the mega success. I feel he has a better understanding the way content works.
What did you take back from this experience
Rakesh Kayasth: My takeaway is ‘agar dil ke kahani kahi jaye to wo auro ke dilon mein jaroor utarti hai‘. If you don’t have proper research and are not aware of people, you can’t write a good story.
Divya Prakash Dubey: Zindagi mein thak na hai, rukna hai, girna hai fir bhi chalte rahna hai, like all the characters in the story.
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