Ever since we came to Mumbai over a month ago, I have been looking at the locals and wondering if I would be able to put my foot inside one of them and to travel as I used to do all those years ago. But pragmatism advised me to take it easy since the old bones and eyesight were not the same nor were the crowds. ‘But I travel by the Delhi Metro,’ I told my pragmatism. ‘Sure, you do, but that is a cakewalk compared to the locals,’ jeered pragmatism. Browbeaten I kept quiet.
The last time I was here, it had been for a short time and so when I looked at the local train I would remember the times I used to commute by it. But this time since my stay has been for a longer period, I began going down memory lane.
Now, the difference between remembering and going down memory lane is like the one between an anecdote and a story. The former is short and to the point while the latter is replete with situations, events, people and even emotions and rambles along. Since recounting my trips down memory lane would be lengthy, I am sharing some of my remembrances of commuting by second class in Mumbai locals:
- How getting out of bed just two minutes after the alarm went off at 5 AM would become a cumulative delay of a whole half an hour as you missed your 8.25 bus to the station and then the 8.53 local to work and then had to stand in line for the share taxi to take you to office – all adding up to 26 minutes of lateness.
- How you have to surreptitiously keep glancing at the clock even as the little one clung to you in the morning and wanted you sleep a little longer.
- How your commute friends reserved a seat for you when you managed to get into the compartment.
- How a girl on the footboard had fainted and would have fallen off had a eunuch not held her till the next station. And how, at the end of it, the eunuch was a hero.
- How with just two minutes to spare for your train, you had run all the way from the bus stand to into the station, over the bridge, down the stairs and into the compartment a fraction of a second before the train pulled out – and then had your heart thump for a whole twenty minutes – yes folks, I had timed it!
- How you missed the beggar who sang so well and made you wonder what Bollywood music directors were doing hunting for talent all over the country.
- How you narrowly escaped falling out of the train when a fisherwoman lifted both your legs off her basket where your feet had landed as you boarded!
- How housewives who got place to sit cleaned greens and shelled peas to save time while cooking after reaching home…
- How the hawkers of everything from trinkets to scouring pads bring their wares in cardboard boxes and give them to the ladies as they wait for them to pick what they want and pay for them. There is so much trust in Mumbai that it is something one has to see to believe. It would never cross the mind for the women to sneak an extra pair and it would never occur to the hawker that this might happen!
Whoa, even the memories are so many. I could go on and on about hundreds more. That is what makes the Mumbai local train travel so full of life and interesting.
Coming back to the present, age has caught up with me. Had I been commuting regularly, it would not be difficult but with a gap of over two decades the prospect looked daunting indeed. The younger one shot it down every time I mentioned taking a local anywhere. But the day before yesterday, I decided to find out if I still had it in me. I was near the station and before pragmatism opened its mouth I went and bought a ticket and got into the train!
It was just as crowded as the Delhi Metro during peak hours, only it was off-peak hours in Mumbai when I boarded the train! So what? I had boarded it and got down at the right station too, didn’t I? The announcements of the next station on the line made me relax as it sounded like the Metro announcements.
Having successfully completed a dry run, I went the whole hog yesterday, starting during off-peak hours and returning during peak hours – even changing lines – all in a second class compartment! I forced the L&M to get me a second class one and first class one for himself.
When the younger one called and I told him that we were waiting for the train, he screamed in alarm, ‘Amma, you will not be able to make it! Take a cab and come back!’
‘Appa has bought a first class ticket,’ I said and cut the line. I wasn’t telling a lie, was I?
The train came crowded as expected but I managed to be among the first few to board the compartment and then quickly got a ‘fourth seat’ in the seat for three, precariously perching in the few inches conceded by the third-seat-wali, with most of my butt hanging in space. I braced against the seat across the aisle and kept an eagle’s eye out for any seat falling vacant.
The girl on the third seat told me that the woman in the opposite seat would get off at the next station. Regular commuters know who gets off where and park themselves strategically near those and quickly occupy the seat as the person gets up. As I said previously, trust is an important part of life in Mumbai. It is simpler to be honest and follow rules. Ultimately you save time and THAT is an important commodity here.
So I trusted the girl and got up to ‘stake my claim’ to the seat. And it was a second seat, which meant that it was comfortable and I didn’t need to squeeze myself too much to accommodate a fourth one! Now, that was an accomplishment, wasn’t it? I sent off a text message to the brat about it and relaxed.
I might not be able to do something like this on a daily basis any more, but I had proved to myself that I could still do a lot of things I used to do all those years ago – guage the speed of the train and get into it careful not to lose a chappal, and then hunt for seat before plonking myself on to it.
For the moment, I felt as if I had indeed come home; for you can take a person from Mumbai, but can’t take Mumbai out of her and certainly can’t take the Mumbai local train out of her!
Image courtesy: Burrp.com