There is something very distinguishing about every city. Won’t you agree? And Mumbai is no exception. Only in this city, there is not one, but many things that add to the character of the city. Bollywood, BSE, the queen’s necklace, the Taj, the beautiful buildings, the slums, the commerce, the cutting chai, and oh yes…the local train, the lifeline of Mumbai.
After a very long time, I had an opportunity to travel by train yesterday. All the way to CST. Was it fun? Absolutely! Every bit of it. And I was not disappointed. Not in the least. In a local train, the entire scene around you is so vivid and so captivating that you can’t help but be a spectator, when so much is happening around you. Believe you me; there hasn’t been a day in my train travel of 8 years that I didn’t witness a catfight. Invariably, on every single ride that I have taken, there always have been at least two women shouting on top of their voice, fighting, squabbling, cursing, pushing or even, in not so rare cases, hitting each other for one mm of extra place, or for standing in other’s way or for refusing to squeeze in and making place for the fourth lady on a seat of three.
Here are some of my observations, I am sure you will agree with me, without which a local train ride in Mumbai is simply incomplete.
- Just as the train pulls into the station, you will find women (because i am talking about ladies’ compartment here) ready themselves to face the war. Their body language will be all alert and their poise, restless. Getting into a local train in the peak hour rush is not a mean task and definitely not for the week hearted.
- The train wouldn’t even have come to a halt completely before they start shoving each other to get in.
- They will not even allow the women to board out first, before they start pouring in. In the mad rush, at least one person’s bag will be torn between two tightly pressed bodies. Someone’s shoe will fall out. Someone’s mobile phone will smash into pieces. Out of people who are travelling in a group, someone definitely will be left behind.
- People, who do manage to get in, feel victorious. Once in, the second battle begins. A battle to find place to place at least one foot. You will find that even people who have seats can’t really rest. You will have a dozen women asking them about their destination, and booking their place to sit, once they get up. The woman who gets up should rightly pass on her seat to the appointed heir, lest a full blown quarrel can break up.
- In such a mad crowd as well, you will somehow have sales people make their way. From hair pins, to safety pins, to combs, to about every FMCG article you can dream of is on sale. And yes, it doesn’t just stop there. You have women selling chopped veggies, masala, dress materials and even sarees (they offer demonstrations too, just in case you are not sure, how it will look, once you wear). And how can I forget the beauty face pack, which rids you of all the blemishes and gives you a glowing white complexion? Even if your skin tone is naturally dark.
- You will at least have 3-4 tots wailing continuously or screaming their lungs out, and their mothers let them cry as they are so tired of controlling them all the time that that they are not a least bit apologetic about the added cacophony in the already noisy place.
- When you are squeezed together so tightly in such a small place, you can’t help but eavesdrop on what your neighbour is taking about. In most probability, you will hear them talking about unaffordable standard of living in Mumbai, work stress, cost of onions, nagging mother in law, demanding kids, and how they just don’t find time for themselves.
- Many of those lucky, blessed souls, who might have done something good in past life to deserve a seat, will be catching their precious forty winks. After all, they are merely women. No super women. They juggle 100 things at a time, and they deserve their power nap. And I have done that too. It’s the best battery recharger, I vouch.
- You will have faced some awful instances as well when someone else’s sweat trickles down to fall on you and you can’t do anything about it but sneer and when someone raises her arm to find balance, and leave you choked because you can’t breathe, for obvious reasons.
But all said and done, a local train is an interesting platform to observe people and their mannerisms. Your mind will be boggled by the kinds and kinds of people our earth has produced. Come to think of it, Mumbai without its local trains is simply unimaginable. Lakhs of people rely on them to travel to and fro, every single day. It comes at a very affordable cost. If you’d travel regularly, you will notice how people make most of their time when they are travelling. They travel by fixed train, at fixed time, to fixed locations. In the mornings you will find travellers singing bhajans and chants, 100 odd voices in perfect harmony. Some play cards. Some play India’s national game – Antakshari (Housie and Antakshari are two social games; I just can’t seem to like). Some loners love to read. Some listen to music. The whole atmosphere is so charged, so live and so vibrant.
I haven’t seen something quite like this in my entire life! And the local train’s contribution in the success story of our Mumbai cannot be underestimated.