A fortnight in the city, I’m no longer exploring the city, but the city is taking me on a tour of my inner self. Walking the streets of this city I’m discovering more about myself than about the city. I have grown up to accept the traffic of the city as an integral part of it’s being and am no longer whining about. But, that doesn’t prevent me from trying to escaping the almost stand-still traffic queues during the evening commute. In an attempt to escape the beast of Mumbai’s road traffic, I found another monster in the form of the local trains. Since the time I started thinking about my self as an adult, I can’t remember a time when I was petrified. I have done some crazy stuffs so far in my life, had made a lot of impulse decisions, been unmindful of consequences; none of them caused fear in my heart, and this was totally different. I felt totally ineffectual. And probably for the first time in my life, I felt small. A couple of days back, I would have said that I could do anything that is humanly possible in this world; But now I’m like I could do anything in this world except for travelling by a “Fast” Mumbai local train. Speaking the truth, there was nothing new or unseen that I saw there in the station. Almost every Railway station in the country follows the same template and looks pretty much the same. The train’s coaches are just identical to the ones I’m used to travel in Chennai as they are both made at the same place. The crowd was also not new to me as the Chennai locals also do get crowded during the peak hours. Though the crowd in the Chennai train’s may be a little less when compared to Mumbai’s, but still Chennai trains would get crowded enough to cause you discomfort. Visually there wasn’t much of a difference, but I could feel the difference in the emotion of the place. The working class of the Chennai’s trains too would be tired after a long day, but they would have space (both figuratively and literally) to unwind in their commute back home. Though the trains in Chennai are not the most comfortable mode of transportation, they serve the city pretty well. But the crowd in the Mumbai’s trains were not just tired, but Angry, Annoyed, Anxious, Frustrated, the whole air around the train was so negative that it repelled me and I literally took a couple of steps back and watched motionlessly the chaotic routine of people on the platform trying to force themselves into the train and the people who are supposed to get down at that station pushing hard against the tide to get out of the train. There was no room for decency on the train. No one apologised for stepping on someone else’s toes as everyone knew that they are going to step on a dozen more of people’s toes and at least a few tens of people are going to step on their toes, so there was no incentive to be civil. Everyone was just contended that they were able to make the commute. The train was sweaty, cramped, filthy but the people were glad just to get a small hand hold and a little space anywhere on the train’s body to rest any one of their feet and travel dangling out of the train along side the spit and stain marks of paan on the sides of the train. The trains are indispensable as the alternatives are worse or simply just don’t exist. When I finally managed to get into a slow train, that is when the demons from the closet came to haunt me. The train was overflowing with people, and I was separated from the gang. Though the people I came with are in an earshot distance, panic started creeping in. What if I got lost in this cosmic city. I can’t speak a single word of Hindi yet. For all the combinations of misfortunes I thought that could happen to me during that ride, I found out that my phone was the only thing which could take me to safety in all of them. So, I held on to my phone, like my life depended on it (Actually, I really still believe that it did) and I was holding it so tight that it felt like I’m holding my heart in my hand. No time else before I depended so much on a particular thing and did not trust my ability to salvage any situation. I always had an Plan B. But now there was no plan at all but not to get lost.
All is well that ends well. To me the Mumbai local trains are like Demi-gods. I could found a whole religion based on them. The local trains are like the saviours which has come to save us from the drudgery of the city’s traffic and deliver us to the promised land. In a city as dense as Mumbai these trains are serving an herculean task. I can write a book of complaints about these trains but looking at the context of the city these trains are just perfect. There is always room for improvement, but still these are perfect none the less.
To read more about my experiences in local trains follow the links below.