I wrote this post a year into my transition in Mumbai (circa September 2010). My tryst with trains in the city continued till June 2013. I have since left Mumbai and looking back at this post, I pity my past self. Haha!
If you have no stories to share from myriad train journeys in Mumbai then, I dare-say, your tryst with this city is incomplete. There is no evading those trains and also no denying their inevitability. Whether running at leopard-speed or crawling at snail-speed on the rat and litter-infested tracks, trains truly are and as popular parlance would have it, the ‘lifelines of Mumbai’. Long distance road travel in this busy and over-populated city is frustrating and utterly time-hogging, leaving the host of commuters with a rather sensible, economical, quick and preferable option of train travel.
Sit in a train compartment and you will quickly notice how welcoming this mode of transport is to people across different strata of society. Affluent and chicly-dressed girls sit contentedly as poor hawkers laboriously earn their daily bread selling locally made accessories. Mind you, not just accessories are sold; within the over-crowded compartments, you can buy anything and everything under the sun – from suspicious looking red roses to hot tasty unhygienic samosas to head massaging equipment to smelly prawns to cotton kurtas – you name it, you get it! The overwhelming peak-hour rush fails to intimidate hawkers from earning every extra rupee and neither does it thwart commuters from indulging in some ‘in-train, on-the-move retail therapy’.
It is no queer fact that most commuters spend a considerable chunk of their life train-travelling to and fro shuttling between origin and destination points. Hence, many use that time to immerse themselves into some sort of pursuit or diversion – the wise ones take to reading, the quiet ones pull out their iPods, the chatty ones vent out the day’s frustrations over the phone, the efficient ones chop up the curry leaves the hawker just sold to them and the others, usually the awfully jaded and frustrated ones fight with one another making for great entertaining episodes for those devoid of a train hobby.
First time travelers, make no mistake, take no chances, listen carefully and learn fast. Some of those ladies are not to be messed with. Train fights turn into wars. The sophisticated become barbaric. Pettiest issues burgeon into something of nuclear proportions. And no party ever withdraws from the battlefield until their last breath. Usually fights transpire because one accidently hits someone in passing or steps over somebody’s foot, or if someone’s seat is (un)intentionally stolen. Having gotten into my share of messy train woes, my better sense has taught me to keep to myself and be a mute traveler.
I will instead indulge in another story – a forgettable one. My initial days in Mumbai obviously had me low on my railway IQ. After a not-so-great-day at work, I just wanted to hurry home. Rather than waiting for an Andheri-bound fast train, I innocently boarded the Virar fast local at 5.45pm. Some of you may even guess where this story is going…Anyway, station after station, the compartment was bombarded with more and more and more ladies, each looking fiercer and huger than the other. Approaching Andheri station, I found myself nowhere close to the exit but tightly wedged under the armpit of one woman and behind the oily hair of another. Needless to say, I missed my station. Those around me guessed I was an ignorant ‘first-timer’ and warned me from ever taking the Virar train ever again. Some even raised bets on whether I would ever make my way to even the next station – Borivili. An evil woman told me, “Looks like you’ll go all the way to Bhayandar station.” I never heard of Bhayandar before and never knew where in hell it was, but I certainly felt it rhymed with ‘bhayankar’ (Hindi equivalent of ‘scary’! Ironic, isn’t it?) Then like an angel appeared a woman who said, “Hold on to my ‘duppatta’, I’ll push our way to the exit and when we reach Borivili station, jump out with me”. This was ‘do or die’ Hanisha! I had to seize the moment and jump or else ride to Bhayandar, for me a no-man’s land. So as the train barely halted at Borivili, jump we did. After profusely thanking her, I promised myself to never steal even a glance at a Virar train, at least not in this lifetime. But my story pales in comparison to my friend’s train bomb scare experience. That’s right, bomb scare!
Curious things happen in trains every day. We only have to board one to witness it all. There are times when we get sick of trains but we also miss them when their motormen go on hunger strikes. Those train compartments serve as escape and comfort zones to many of us. We centre our routines around our morning and evening trains. We begin our day by boarding a train and by day-end, we recommence our train journey right back to where we boarded it from. Well, I better sleep now lest I wake up late and miss my 8.05AM train to Churchgate.