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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Stories of Mumbai Locals

For the intellectually challenged, the aforementioned "Locals" refers to the local trains, not the Mumbaikars, dahling!

So here's a tribute to the immortal spirit of rush-hour second-class local train travellers, based on the fond reminiscences of a year-old veteran of Mumbai local train travel.


June 2003. My first "trainy" day. As I confidently lean out of the second class cubicle, I observe my station approaching. People begin leaping out of the train well before it has stopped. I think, "What da heck", and do the same. Now you see, I disembarked on the left side with my right foot. Zap! I am swung around, round and round, like a human whirlpool. After 3,600 degrees of turns, I am safely deposited in the arms of an ample Punjabi lady. She whacks my head with her grocery bag. Was she carrying cement in it? Now, apart from being dizzy, I also have a bump on my head. I regain my balance and composure, and disdainfully ignoring the mirthful audience, make a hasty exit.

Lesson: Leaping out of a fast moving train is both a science and an art. Since it has never been documented before, here goes! Assuming you are dismounting on the left side, follow the nine-step process documented herewith:
1. Hold on to any appropriate support with your right hand. Keep the fingers firm but the elbow supple.
2. Lean out as the station approaches.
3. Dangle your left leg out of the train.
4. Point your left foot towards the ground.
5. You should now be standing straight, with the angle between your legs being 30 degrees, your left leg inclined at 15 degrees forward to the horizontal, and your left foot at 45 degrees to the ground.
6. As the train starts decelerating, start leaning out further and coming back in. Repeat the process a few times so everyone is convinced that you're going to get off.
7. When the train slows to 6 Kmph (3 Kmph for ladies), shout "Chalo Boss!", straighten your right arm, touch the platform with your left foot, and simultaneously release both right foot and right hand from the train.
8. Run like madman in direction of train, else will fall flat on face courtesy Newton's Dumb First Law of Motion.
9. Rely on dense crowd on the platform to save you from falling flat. However, though it may be very tempting, do not fall into the arms of stout Punjabi ladies. Also stay away from heavy grocery bags and ladies' umbrellas.


Second week of travel in second class. I have a comfy window seat. As my destination -- Bandra station -- approaches, I get off my haunches and start pushing through the dense crowd and moving, inch by inch, towards the exit. The more I push and shove, the more the others pull and grunt. It is a war. They outnumber me. I do not give in. I push even more. Finally I reach the exit. Oh heck -- Bandra station is gone! What's the next station? Khar. Which side does it fall on? The other side. Dammit.
So I push and shove, grunt and groan, and I again part the Ocean of Chaos to reach the other side. Here a pretty sight awaits me. Khar station does look beautiful as the train is leaving it behind. What's the next station? Santa Cruz. Which side does it fall on? The other side. Dammit again.
Some dumb guy tells me to stay on this side, and jump off when Santa Cruz arrives. I do so. Now there's a new problem. A big one. There's this high fence plumb in the middle of two tracks, right where I got off. Now how am I supposed to know that I should have leaped over this fence onto the other side? I'm not Superman to do such stunts, am I?
So now I'm stuck in a 2-foot gap between an insurmountable fence and a crowded train. Kindly people on the train start animated discussions on what an idiot I am, and how I have committed suicide. I hear "Bechaara ab kya karega? Waat lag gayee." "Dekho, ladka marne waala hai. Train aur railing ke beech mein chipta hone waala hai."
Then, just as the train starts moving, someone yells, "Abey jhuk jaa". Talk of an angel's voice from heaven. I grab the railings and squat. And the train, along with all its overhanging passengers, crosses safely over my head. And then I cross the tracks and safely reach home.


One day, as I get off the compartment, my bag gets stuck. I'm holding it from the handle, but I just can't pull it out of the crowded train. I yank. No result. I yank harder. No luck. I ask the passengers to make space for the bag. They try, but there's no space for them to budge. The train starts moving. I become frantic. I give one mighty heave. The bag is pulled out ... along with a burly Sardarji. "Oye paaji, tussi yahaan aao", he thunders, crazy with rage at having missed his train. I choose rudeness over Total Annihilation. Accordingly I discourteously turn down his earnest invitation, and flee for my life. Talk of near death experiences.


Then there was this boisterous woman who clambered into our men's compartment and started pushing people around. She smelled of fish, so people were happy to be pushed away. Suddenly this elderly gentleman starts yelling at her. Apparently she had tried to pick his pocket. But her hands are empty. He points at her and uses colorful Marathi words, the real flavor of which is tragically lost on a non-Marathi like me. She has spirit. She yells back. The instructive discussion reaches a deafening crescendo. The station arrives. The lady dismounts, taking both noise and smell with her. The old man is virtually in tears. I feel very sorry for him. I get off at the next station. I suddenly feel light. Is it my conscience? Am I going to have an out-of-body experience?? No -- my wallet is gone. Now how the heck did that happen?


Nowadays I travel first class, and that too usually in the direction opposite to traffic. No wonder life is much less interesting. Yawn.

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