Melissa Nazareth deconstructs a ride on the infamous ‘Mumbai local’.
“Trains are the best way to commute in Mumbai,” said a friend who often visits Maximum City but has never travelled in a Mumbai local on a weekday during the rush hour; what we Mumbaikars fondly (not) refer to as crush hour. “Trains are the fastest way to commute,” I corrected him good-humouredly, “not the best.” Have you ever boarded a Mumbai local train? It’s an adventure but before we set off on it, here’s a brief history of India’s ‘lifeline’.
Railways in India were first conceived of by the East India Company in 1843. During the British Raj, trains mainly transported extracted resources like coal, iron ore and cotton to ports for the British to ship home and use in their factories. Indians eventually reversed British policy and today, trains transport people with freight bearing ever higher charges in order to subsidise passengers. The Mountain Railways of India are even a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was wondering how to get onto the overcrowded carriage, I was pushed in purely by the principle of inertia; over 50 women swarmed into a 40 x 12 feet compartment; it was war.
I use the local trains to get to work every day and can never know what to expect; more often than not I’m left hanging (pun intended). It was early days and I was still reeling from the relocation; yet to be completely weaned off air conditioned car rides in Bahrain. One morning, as I was wondering how to get onto the overcrowded carriage, I was pushed in purely by the principle of inertia; over 50 women swarmed into a 40 x 12 feet compartment; it was war. I strap handled to a somewhat comfortable position, secure between the voluptuous posterior of the middle aged woman in front of me and what felt like an ample bosom behind me. At every stop, more women flocked in than out; it was a MasterChef Pressure Test. You know how they say if you want to know someone’s true character, give them power? Wrong! Put them on a Mumbai Local! It took an eternity to cover the distance between each station and the crowd notwithstanding, I was oscillating sideways, first to the left and then to the right. Surely, the King of Pop must have learned his legendary anti-gravity lean aboard a Mumbai local. I once even came across a tweet about how twerking must have been discovered by someone squatted over the toilet in an Indian Passenger train. Is there a silver lining you ask? Of course, I am an optimist! The string of innovative words and phrases in Hindi, Marathi (Mumbai’s local language) and the Queen’s English, flying across the bogie, has greatly improved my vocabulary.
Off late, the monsoons accompanied by humidity have enhanced my adventures; or at least that’s what I discovered, last week, when the train jerked to a screeching halt, propelling me, face forward, into the arm pits of a poor lady, struggling to hoist herself. Boy oh boy, was I thankful I had reached my destination in one piece. The ordeal was finally over, but only until 8.30am the next day!
Sketch Credit: Noor Shirazie