Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Mumbai ite’s Ode to the Local Trains

“Platform kramank do par aanewaali local nau bajkar ek tees minut kee Mumbai Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus jaane waali dheemi local hai. Yaha local sabhee sthanakon par rukegi”. 

The above is a very common announcement made in Hindi, that one would have heard if he has ever traveled using the lifeline of Mumbai – the local trains. The announcement above is immediately followed by its English translation from the public address system in the platform as “The local train arriving at Platform No. 2 is 9.31 slow local for Mumbai Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus. This train will stop at all stations”.

A city is known by the various landmarks it has and also by its cultural fiber. This cultural fiber of the city is the way it behaves day in and day out with its own residents and also with city outsiders. One of the best places to experience this interaction is in the local trains, which form the lifeline of Mumbai. One ought to have this unique experience of travelling in Mumbai’s local trains. Here are some experiences listed out over my years of commuting in the, getting deeply ingrained in the city’s cultural fiber:

1)      Deal with the Mystic Smell using Yoga and Nirvana:
When you travel in Mumbai’s trains for the first time, your nose knows that it has to sense too many of the scents and send them to your brain quickly for you to decide to continue inhaling or get into a forceful trance of controlling inhaling.
The mystic smell is a strange concoction of sweat of thousands of blue collared and brown collared workers (The brown collared are the coloration of a white shirt’s collar by brown color polka dots due to the mix of sweat and dust in Mumbai which no washing powder can easily ward off!), different varieties of scented oils from the hair of various travelers that mixes with sweat over time, the odor and foul at times emanating from the landscapes that the railway passes through and also a product of a million tummies grumbling together and sending shivers down the ass of hassled passengers.
When your nose gets its first hint of the mystic smell, the decision is simple - to either practice “Yoga” by not breathing any further till the mystic smell to goes away or to achieve a greater state of being – Nirvana by having an attitude of “This too shall pass” and breathing the mystic smell in.
Over a period of time, silently our mind stops protesting the smell and gets used to it. After months / years of travel – the mystic smell is a part of your experience and it is taken for granted. You can no longer treat it with skepticism, but you may well already be on the path of tolerating it and silently enjoying it without being aware of it!

2)      Enjoy the “Video Coach”:
This concept used to be there early days. Between the gent’s and ladies compartments in some trains, there is a small partition separating the two with a see-through window on top. Through this window, one can enjoy  a direct view of the ladies in the ladies compartments. This was termed as “Video Coach” in local Mumbai slang referring to a privileged coach in the men’s compartments where you can hit on the ladies in the women’s compartment. I am not sure if this coach still exists, but this compartment in men’s was the most difficult one to get into of all the other compartments! There were too many Romeo’s who had swore upon themselves to find their Juliet through the “Video Coach”! The “Video Coach” could well have triggered a lot of real life love stories or marriages, but for some reason the Bollywood movies have not done enough justice to it!

3)      Salute the “Footboarders”:
They are the unwritten Rajanikanth’s and stuntmen whose contribution to Mumbai city and to passengers in local train has not been rewarded or acknowledged yet. They are the underdogs, who will never pass on their “Sweat” to the mystic smell as all that they stink off, is carried away immediately by the strong breeze gushing past them. They are the “Footboarders”. Their principle in life while commuting in trains is simple – occupy as little space inside the compartment, as possible so that the train can accommodate more people  and this principle is governed by a few rules as mentioned below

“Thou shalt stand right at the edge of the compartment, standing on the railings of the door of the compartment, with your foot criss crossed right on the edge of the footboard and enjoy life as it moves with the train, with an arm holding the roof of the train for support” 

“Thought shalt get down at each station”: Like a gentleman from an old movie bowing down his head and taking out his hat as a mark of respect for the lady. Only difference is that the gentlemanly footboarders treat each station as a lady! This is where the gentlemanly gesture ends. As soon as enough passengers have got inside the compartment, the footboarders push them further in and get back to their stances of standing on the footboard.

“We are the guardians of our fellow travelers”: At each second of their journey on the train – they are dangling between life and death.  The internal forces in the compartment at peak hours can literally throw out anything and everything from inside the compartment through these doors and these doors are precisely guarded by the footboarders. Apart from this, the footboarders also are prone to getting stones / balloons filled with water pelted at them from the external world. They take such risks on them, without bothering to wear a helmet or a space suit to protect themselves.

If US President Mr. Barrack Obama can get a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 which he self-admittedly feels he didn’t deserve, the footboarders have yet not even been considered for any award -  like the “Red and White Bravery Award”  which is usually awarded to folks achieving brave feats in India. The Footboarders truly deserve an award.

Rest in next…


Meenakshi Deepak said...

i really felt I was travelling by train as I read ur blog... nice read.. :)

Amol J said...

Very nicely done! Keep writing!

Cheers, Amol

Anonymous said...

Very well written...seemed like I was on the local!