Once Upon a Local Train in Mumbai
[Guest post by Mallikarjuna Kalika, who is a brilliant blogger and a cricket buff. Currently doing BTech from a reputable institution, but is disillusioned with engineering (who isn’t!). A voracious eater, eats like he is paid to do it, and an avid reader. You can find his blog here.]
People in the front, those standing at the very edge of the platform, are virtually a fart away from death. Behind them, a crowd builds up; a motley mix of smartphone wielding persons engrossed in flinging birds at pigs. A few others loiter around with their gadgets in hand and earphones in place, ostensibly listening to music, actually trying to be flashy.
Almost invariably, everybody, irrespective of gender, resembles a newly ordained mother. The bags lie to the front of the commuters, much like the bags hassled new-moms use to carry their babies. Safety issues, we are told. And wallets, phones, anything, everything have to be in the front pockets, lest you want to treat a pick-pocket.
The ubiquitous smell of vada pav (Mumbai’s version of burger, if it helps) emanates from the IRCTC kiosks, and a few break off to have the delicacy that they most probably already had for breakfast, and will have for lunch as well. Imagine eating bread and potato for breakfast, brunch, lunch, snacks, dinner! It is really fascinating what the demands of eking out a living in Mumbai can do.
A shrill cry from the overhead speakers sets a lot of things into motion simultaneously. All those who had broken off start aligning their bags to the backs and butts of people who are already a part of the melee. In a matter of moments, a relatively peaceful crowd turns into a violent mob that looks capable of leading an Indian spring.
The air is heavy with the damp smell of sweat and vada-pav, and the weight of anticipation.
It takes years of practise to come out alive from what happens next.
The loud horn of the approaching local pushes the crowd a few millimetres back. But don’t be fooled. It is mostly out of respect for the conch that signifies that the battle has officially begun.
The people clinging to the doors of the approaching train let go of all support much before the train comes to a halt, crashing into those who await their turn to hitch a ride. This daredevilry is a necessary devil, for if you don’t jump out, you are liable to be thrown out, as people in the inner reaches of the train face the prospect of unnecessary further travelling if they get mobbed before they get out in time.
Outside, nobody bats an eyelid. The noise of people gulping down their saliva is as loud as the speakers. It’s now or never. After all, who is going to wait for the next local that is a full 5minutes away?
As soon as any door is within their grasp, people jump in with as much audacity as those who are jumping out at the same time, all this while the train is still moving. It’s every man for himself.
Out of about, say 40 odd people who were vying to get through a single door, 20 try their luck simultaneously, vying to get into a compartment that is already filled. Feels like scenes from World war Z playing out in the local stations of Mumbai. But, magically, there is always enough space, even when there is none. You can throw the physics book out of the window.
People who get in first, they run in straight towards the seating area, like they do in Singapore when the next-in-line i-phone is launched, and occupy the leg-space between two rows of seats facing each other. Unlike Brad Pitt in Fight Club, you can’t offer either your butt or your balls. Someone must have the butt; the other must have the balls.
In order to ensure that you get down where you want, you have to be meticulous in your preparation. Just like the peanut vendor shouts unabashedly, you have to proclaim your destination loudly, tapping at the backs of all the people you have to overtake in order to reach the door. Then, wait for your turn to jump into near death.
All this, that too in the morning. You reach your workplace in a condition in which you should have reached home in the evening: dishevelled hair, shirt out of pants, like Ranjit of yesteryears’ cinema. God knows what’s in store during the return adventure.
Vagaries of big city life!