Monday, April 12, 2010

Train Travails

Here is a piece I wrote long back when I used to travel regularly on the Mumbai Local Train..

The Great teeming mass swarms ahead. The drone of voices, footsteps, the heartbeat of throbbing millions, mellifluous announcements made ceaselessly, the clamor of vendors, the haste of the multitude, the hanging on for dear life, the heaving and pushing, the sluggish movement on the tiny footbridge, the agony of losing a fast, the swearing, the compunction of that extra sleep that caused the missing of the fast…Welcome to Mumbai local station.

Chug chug chug chug… There she comes like a beacon of hope, winding her way and halting with geometric precision impeccably at the same location every time. Whooooosh...a new mass of heaving human bodies extrudes from the train. Great amounts of adrenaline is pumped to board the train and the cacophony grows manifold as seconds tick away and amidst the imprecations uttered, the horn blows and the train moves on. The ones left behind look away disgruntled, to the next opportunity. No, train travel at Mumbai during the rush hour is certainly not for the faint hearted.

Once inside, one heaves a sigh of relief for the toehold available thanking ones stars with the density of people per millimeter square varying according to the station. There is an entire range of humanity and a sea of different faces in different garbs. Fashionably dressed teens, local fisherwomen, tired teachers, smartly dressed office goers in saris, suits, western formals, cheerful students, students poring over their notes for exams, some old grouchy women, girls in love fighting with boyfriends on their mobiles, you name the type of woman, she certainly will be found in this great leveler of people in the women’s compartment. Smells of deos, perfumes, lipsticks, garam samosas, food from dabbas and smells from outside mingle as the train and the people move along..

The hum of voices discussing everything from love affairs, relationships, office gossip to recipes, the fights over the place to stand or seat available, the announcements made about various stations, beggars singing terribly… are heard over the chug chug chug of the train. Vendors selling accessories, magazines, cosmetics, fruits, vegetables, snacks, clothes and much more call ones' attention to their wares in this mini shopping mall. With a phenomenal sense of balance, they carry their bundles through the crowd in the moving train. Stations whiz by as the train moves on with great celerity. Minutes tick by and the somnolent grow alert wiping their sleepy eyes and await the moment when the train halts.

Well, however trying it might get, this experience is one of a kind and the short journey has a life of its own.  However crowded, they may get, they are the lifeline of millions of the commuters they ferry to and fro day after day after day. That is the Great Mumbai train travel.


  1. If i may connect your last post with the current one .... quite a bit of story telling !!!

    it is truly amazinghow much you learn about people and their lives just by being a silent listner in the local train :)

  2. yep you sure are on the mark...however...i wish it would get better with time...nothing for mumbai to be proud of. however the fact that they keep on running after day in day out of such punishment is a miracle in itself

  3. @Whacko: Hope you liked the story if it was anywhere near one :)

    @Puneet: I wont say there is nothing to be proud of, well, there are trains almost every 2-3 minutes and usually bang on time. Its just that the city is bursting to its seams, and the number of people just don't seem to dwindle. Ever. Hopefully the metro might just alleviate some of the pain.

  4. It requires skill, technique and persistence to get in and out of a Mumbai local train.If you have not travelled in a Mumbai local, you have not visited Mumbai, you have not lived, you don't have any adventure spirit.

  5. I usually dont travel during peak hours, once I had to. Man, it was a terror. I never saw so many people in one place and I could never imagine so many people could fit in one place. It was a sight.

    I never travelled during the peak after that.

  6. What a great blog making the tiresome journey in a crowded local train in mumbai a pleasurable experience.I have heard people cribbing and grumbling abt the journey with some cursing their fate and some accepting the unavoidable with stoicism of a sage and resignation.but here was a refreshing view from a very youthful commuter going about in a cheerful way , observing human actvity and nature with the keen and humane eye of a writer and actually enjoying the experience.My kudos to the blogger.

    It's good to note that the stone pelting incidents and eveteasing are not mentioned.Especially funny was the fleeting comment about the beggers singing in their 'terrible' voice.I agree fully with you that these trains are mini shopping malls for the classes and masses as the venders sell every possible item we need in our daily life and that too at a reasonable price.

  7. Thanks Aai for commenting once again. Well, to be honest, I do travel by the local trains, but have always avoided the peak hours. I love the trains only in the lazy afternoons when one can stretch out on the seat and sit! I guess, thats the only time when I can be cheerful otherwise I am sure, I would be amongst the cribbing and grumbling folk who curse their fate at travelling by the train!

  8. The populace grumbles and cribs but can't do without this lifeline of the city. I commuted by second class then and it was fun to reconnect again this time.