1853 was arguably one of the most memorable years in the world history. It was the year when Levi Strauss and Tissot were founded. It was also the year when the Potato Chips were first prepared. Closer home however, 1853 was important for a wholly different reason - It was the year when the first railway train ran from Bombay to Thane. Crawled would be a better word - the train, Aag Gadi (How apt is that?!) covered 34 kms in 57 minutes.
160 years later, the Mumbai train system has expanded at an extraordinary pace; running 2343 trains and carrying 6.94 million passengers daily. If the numbers don't add up, kindly feast your eyes on a typical Mumbai local:
|Just another day at the station|
While a metro system and a monorail are in progress to diffuse this accident-waiting-to-happen, the love for Mumbai locals can seep into the staunchest of hearts. Even if it does not, prolonged exposure to locals can change you irrevocably - either make you stronger or break you completely. The local also happens to be a very good teacher. Some of the best lessons that can be learned in the process of travelling include:
1. Strategic Analysis: I learned my first truly practical strategy generation and application through trains. Train journeys have their own SWOTs with slightly varying definitions:
· Standing: This involves a lot of planning. The bag has to be taken care of, the sticky hands and faces have to be avoided, the sleeping-lady-on-your-shoulder has to be gently nudged, and most importantly, the ones-who-come-to-fight must be pointedly ignored.
· Weaning: A gradual weaning from lady-like whims occurs. After few months ( or years), someone's foot on top of your own does not elicit the necessary cry of pain, nor does being crushed to death, or being sandwiched in the middle of four thick skinned ladies.
· Opportunity: The seating opportunity is a difficult one to grab, especially by the genteel personnel. The steps involved are: Barge in - > Poke everyone asking where they will get down -> Stand right over their head until they get up -> Get into a mini fight to occupy that seat.
Or you can take a loser's way out and stand in a corner like I do.
· Tension diffusion: The approach of a station can send everyone in a frenzy, even if they aren't getting down. It's palpable. People hold their breath, laugh nervously, get into position and start pushing the ones in front - just to let go of all that pent-up energy.
2. Need for Speed: The amateurs see a train which has reached the platform about 200 metres away and decide to let it go. The seasoned ones run. They push, scream, shout at the oncoming traffic and plead with the driver to wait for at least one or two more seconds. Invariably there is an Shah Rukh Khan-heart girl inside the compartment, leaning and holding out her hand for you to latch on to.
3. Ignore or Procure: The most interesting part of the train journey is the shopping opportunity. There are trinkets, books, home supplies, flowers and snacks. Sold at about 1/3rd of the market price, the wares are tempting, and the journey is an important lesson in controlling one’s wayward desires.
4. Respect (or Callousness as the case may be): Local trains brings out the true character of a traveller. It hit a particular low when a college girl was periodically kicking a 60+ year old lady sitting down, asking her to move a bit so that she could stand. There are very few (less than 5%) who get up for a pregnant woman/mother and none of them think twice before lashing out at older, tired or diseased women. Fights are started with little incentive and swear words are used in abundance.
Mumbai locals are an enriching experience. There are unwritten rules and counter-intuitive codes of conduct. There is always a temptation to be a little less human and a little more cruel. However, there are people who overcome that by making lasting relationships and singing old melodies at the top of their voices. Conversation flows freely ranging from books, music and recipes to weather, politics and cricket. There are beautiful eunuchs coming in, singing and teasing everyone mercilessly providing the much needed frivolity. There are kids who enjoy the variety of the company and the novelty of the journey ( I can vouch for one at least!). The local trains are that and much more; for they are an exact mirror of the city they run in.