The Indian Jackie Chan

Indian on the surface. Simply Human inside.

What would it be like to jump off a moving train behind a thief, retrieve the stolen object, and jump back onto the very same moving train? Here’s my experience and what can we all learn from it…

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There’s a reconstruction video further below that I put together around what I have written here.

Here is What Happened

It was exactly 2 years ago, to this very day. I was on my way to visit someone in a hospital in downtown Mumbai. In my usual green fashion, I was travelling by CWT (cycle-walk-train). I boarded a train at 5:15pm at Khar Road station going southbound towards Churchgate. A few minutes later the train stopped at its first stop – Bandra. The local commuter trains in Mumbai stop for only a few seconds. They do not have doors that open and close (they are open all the time unless the rain is pouring in), and crowds pushing to board compete (often irrationally, often violently) with crowds pushing to exit the train – often while the train is in motion! (Yes, it’s part of the excitement in daily Mumbai life for me 😎) [watch this sample]

Going against the flow of office commuters that evening, my compartment was reasonably empty. I stood well inside the train, having placed my tiny backpack on the luggage rack. I was on my phone, messaging someone I mentor in the city of Surat as the train was leaving the station. Being an electric train, these trains accelerate rapidly, much like the subway trains in London, New York and Hong Kong.

I was in a 12-compartment train, standing in the 3rd compartment. As the train picked up speed, and my compartment was approaching the end of the platform, the following happened within a span of 15 seconds.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a hand reach out at high speed – it was of the lanky youngster standing at the open door
I felt the pull as he grabbed my phone out of my hands
Within milliseconds I had turned to be in the same direction that he was
(I was fully aware that my phone was unlocked at the moment he had grabbed it and so he would have full access to everything on it)
I saw him jump off the speeding train
I jumped out behind him
I landed on the platform
I did a half roll on the platform surface with the momentum
I stood up
I saw him jump off the platform on the parallel track and run towards the slums
I saw my phone where he had dropped it on the platform to dissuade me from chasing him
I picked it up
(I was fully aware that my backpack with valuables was on the train)
I watched the train continue to pull out of the station
(It seemed like it was no longer accelerating – perhaps the driver had observed something?)
I moved towards it and sprinted in the same direction as it was moving
I paced myself to run alongside so that I could grip the handle of the open door with one hand and the  vertical bar in the wide doorway of the open compartment with the other hand
I was aware that I was about to run out of platform
I held on tight
I looked below me, there was no more platform!
I was hanging in mid-air, but confident that I was 95% there
I pulled myself up and into the compartment – it was compartment number 9!

All that happened within a span of 15 seconds! But that was not the end of the story

The commuters in that compartment were shocked with what they’d just seen. They were concerned by the blood that was now oozing out of parts of me. I wasn’t conscious of any of it – my focus was on my backpack 6 compartments ahead of where I was.

I knew that in less than 3 minutes the train would halt at the next station, Mahim. I knew I would have only a few seconds to run on the platform, past people who had stepped off the train on their way home from work, to get 6 compartments ahead of where I was. In that compartment, my backpack was still sitting on the luggage rack.  So…

Even before the train had halted completely at Mahim, I jumped off it, running and weaving between commuters, heading south on the platform with my eyes keenly focused on my goal. Before I knew it, it started off again, and I was running alongside, knowing fully well that it would accelerate and soon be faster than I could be. I managed to reach compartment #3 and jumped onto the moving train… again!!

The expressions on the faces of the other commuters were priceless. Usually, when your phone gets stolen you don’t get it back. And the last thing they expected was a 50-year old to jump off a moving train through the open doors on the right side of the train, and reappear jumping back into the compartment 3 minutes later at the next station with his phone on the left side of the train!

Fortunately, for those whom I narrated this too, and who couldn’t believe this happened, there happened to be someone on the train who captured some of what happened on their phone. It appeared on the local TV news a couple of days later and I managed to grab the snippet. The narration by the newsreaders was mostly accurate but there were minor inaccuracies in it – understandably, as I was never interviewed for it!  Here’s a reconstruction video with the TV news.

What I Learned from It

In no specific order:

  • Mumbai is a shitty city – but I still love it! (And, yes, you actually see people doing their morning job by the side of the train tracks where there are many slums – commuters are emotionally immune to those moons in the morning!)
  • Thieves on Mumbai trains wait until the accelerating train is moving fast on the platform and then they grab your object and jump off, knowing that you will not jump too!
  • Green transportation has its risks – but, ‘no risk => no return’ – you can also die suddenly if your German car gets waterlogged in a Mumbai Monsoon flood! Or you can die slowly without realize it if you sit in your car to and from work every day. I would rather die in Mumbai doing what I love than from drowning in toxic floodwater in a Porsche!
  • The state of ‘flow’ (as labelled by psychologists) that I feel with some passive activities (computer programming, teaching an individual or lecturing in an auditorium) and other planned physical activities (endurance running) is distinct from the phenomenon of ‘hysterical strength’. This is when we can display superhuman abilities, (sparsely researched by scientists but suspected to be from a large spike in adrenalin) to do things we would not think of doing ‘if carefully planned’. This is, of course, unlike our favourite Jackie Chan, who does his crazy stunts repeatedly with careful planning!
  • When your measures of health and fitness are high, you are more prepared for unforeseen events – failing to prepare is preparing to fail! “A warrior must train his mind and body all his life, and pray that he never needs to use his training.” (Puru 2020)
  • Since I am planning to be productive at the age of 110, I must be wise about doing things that can destroy the plan within seconds. Protecting capital from large downside risk is important whenever I invest or trade.
  • When I narrate this incident to others, their reactions tell me a lot about them and how they approach their own lives – whether they live life to the fullest they can, or if they live in a chronic state of a low level of fear, or at a level well below their own full potential
  • My guess is that the thief (who I hope is alive and well and doing something more sensible to feed his family) must be narrating a similar story to his friends about how he freaked out when some crazy man jumped off the speeding train behind him, enough to make him leave the stolen phone behind
  • When I narrated this story to my Chinese family, my sister there said, “Woah! You’re an Indian Jackie Chan!” Hence the title of this article! Coincidentally, they have named one of their sons, Ashoka! His ancestry is 100% Chinese!
  • It struck me, many months later that, not once did I curse the thief! Not on the day this happened, not after it! When this thought struck me, I was reminded of a conversation with a Hindu monk during a flight to Hong Kong many years earlier. I asked him what I should think of the CEO of the Indian company whom I had been reporting to, who we discovered was cheating, not just me and other senior generals in the trading firm, but also shareholders of the firm. The monk’s advice was “That is his role in this life, to cheat others, you have your role to do good work, you should focus on performing your role.
  • Young men are resorting to petty crime, often putting their lives and those of their victims at risk. I am as much part of the system that contributes to a society that has reached this state as are the politicians who will enrich themselves with bribes passed on from the police who are forced to collect even if they do not really want to! I remember now, 28 years ago, in Cambridge University as a student, while studying late at night, a friend and I spotted 2 criminals trying to break into a payphone across the street. We called the police who, with our additional information because we tried to shadow the thieves, arrested them trying to escape into the darkness. However, the story did not end there. My friend and I had to spend hours at the police station giving a detailed account of what happened. It took us towards dawn because the arresting policeman interviewing us was trying to make it appear as if he was a hero and we had nothing to do with the arrest. Jackie Chan often plays the role of a Hong Kong police officer. A side note to this could be that, in my interactions with Chinese police officers on the streets of Hong Kong, I have always found them to be extremely polite and helpful. I have yet to visit mainland China!
  • Do not make yourself or your belongings easy targets for desperate criminals in any country. My guess, from personal experience and what my friends report, is that young men in London feel more at risk when walking in deserted neighbourhoods after sunset than young women in Mumbai feel when out with their college friends on a Friday night.
  • We cannot stop doing what we know is right because of one or two negative outcomes – we just have to be smart to reduce the likelihood of the negative outcomes. You can travel with a low or no carbon footprint and be safer than someone who is contributing big time to global heating.
  • Amongst the various modes of transport, cycling is my favourite, followed by train travel. When a city or town of any size does not make human-powered transport and public transport a practical reality for everyone, all the inhabitants of the city are worse off. Since that is not likely to happen in most places in the world, rather than blame others, I will continue to do my very best to make my own moves green. I hope you will too.)

Face reality. Reduce your fears. Live your life to the fullest possible.

Puru Chan

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

2 comments

  1. Hi Purnendu, Hope you’re doing well. Just read your latest blog post. Wow! totally out of a Bollywood movie indeed! Glad you lived to tell the tale😄 Much love and peace! Andrea

    Like

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