On tracks !

A number (that could sound improbable) of Mumbaikars travel on these tracks every day. Life revolves around these tracks as they go up and down carrying energy, conversation, laptops, books and such else ! Not to miss the countless hopes of a better life and the unmistakably prodigious body odour.

Bodies pressed against each other, so much so that your nostrils could swirl with smells of hair oil or deodorant depending on your height !

The 8.33 AM local is so much part of the missus’ recollections of her youth. For her and several others like her, life here revolves around the ‘local’. (Are you catching the ‘fast’ was a dialect that I was very slow in catching!)

Perpetual awe descends on the mind at the very thought of the local trains. Legendary as they are, they cart a population that would be equal to the population of Australia in five working days ! To travel in one during ‘peak hours’ requires a certain pugnacious and a drive that escapes simple description.

One look at the beehive bulge of commuters that jut out of a doorway as the tall towers and standard slum whizz by, can considerably shake up a mind that’s foreign to Mumbai.

Occasionally, (which would translate to once-in-a-day), the newspapers carry a story of how a man fell off and died. A normal man, who was getting to work as he had got to in the past several years fell off. Or perhaps was run over . Or how some sedentary lamp post came in contact with one of those that hung out of the doorway, perhaps a tad too far. Many times it happens too often to get reported !

There are other stories that reach the ear. About buddies and support systems that get formed here. Imagine sharing the next seat with someone for 10 years and counting. It could be implausible for a Mumbai-alien mind !

But just play with the thought that for 10 years you travel with the same set of people whose only claim to an equation with you is that they travel with you, days on end. Everyday. In the same compartment ! Friends who will know exactly how you smell at 6.34 PM, amongst the many such things!

There are legendary stories of fellow commuters who have shown up at home, after a train buddy Didn’t travel alongside for 10 days ! That your not turning up at the train station getting someone who is not your boss or a recovery agent from a credit card company announcing a search for you, is SOME thought in itself !

It is fascinating. To say the least.

The other day, the missus and me took a local train. Not that it’s a first experience for me. Yet..! A combination of off-peak time and direction, gave some space to wield the camera a bit ! Of course, having me do what most other foreign minds would do. Shake their heads in disbelief and awe.

You can call it overcrowded. Unbelievable. Cruel. Energetic. Passionate. Lifeline. Whatever ! One thing you cant do, is miss the trains in any conversation with a Mumbaikar ! Put two Mumbaikars in a room, and the chances that the conversation will veer around to the ‘local train’ is as good as turning on the TV during this world cup season and seeing Kapil Dev still getting interviewed about the 1983 world cup win !

Yeah. For sure.. ! Perhaps rightly so, in the case of the Mumbai locals! About the 25 year old win, well, lets change track !

Whizz Theory !

There. I stand close to the door of the train. There is one another gent standing right at the door. A polite request to have some more space to click a few snaps has just been met with a stern silence and a sterner look.
‘What audacity to ask. I came here, first’. The look seems to suggest.

The sun beats down the other side of the train. I keep this door open. And I stay here.

And watch. As everything whizzes by. Everybody whizzes by. Women walking to work. Men lazing around. And the other way. White fences of the Indian railways. An old man standing by a puddle.

Ducks going about whatever they do in water. Still lakes. Lakes that were. Stiller mountains. Far away songs. A revving engine. Old men beneath coconut trees. Children in the green fields. Barren lands. All of them whizz by.

An ‘Abandoned’ railway shed. Fences. Platforms. Station masters. Pictures of Laloo Prasad and a few others. Some green and red flag holding gent. All of them whizz by.

Everything whizzes by. In super speed. I keep clicking.

I wonder at the speed at which life whizzes by. And then, it strikes me. Actually, everything else stays. Its actually the train that i am in, whizzing by ! All else stays put. And just because i am on something that whizzes by, i think of all else as whizzing by !

‘Can this be some grand theory ?’ I wonder. ‘At least a corollary or whatever they call it?’ As i keep clicking. ‘Whizz theory’ I tell myself.. Or may be ‘the theory of the moving train!’

From somewhere, the missus turns up. She has just had her tea. She sights the camera in hand. “you are at it. Already?’

All other thoughts including the whizz theory whizz away! ‘hmm’ I say.

‘Whats on your mind’ she says.

And i think of the Whizz theory. I look at the watch. Its not even 7.00 am. Its way too early to start the day on that note. And tell her….

‘ Actually, i think hmm… actually, you know, i wonder why would the railways want to differentiate by more than 50 % between taking a bath and…’ as i click this picture.

She sees the writing on the wall! Face palms. And gets started. About me. My mind. About water. About conservation. About men. And habits.

I wonder where the conversation would have gone if i had started out with my whizz theory. I know for sure it would have gone somewhere.

I wonder..I wonder what i would do without her.

Brokered Deal

We travel Train No : 6732. A train that we are very used to. Its just been a while.

Today, a ‘middle berth’ will keep me company for the 10 odd hours. And i climb in. The air is chill. And blankets and sheets are crisp. I am tired. All the travel is taking its toll. And soon i am sleeping.

Woken up, in some time, by a distinct rumble in the compartment. The gentleman at the berth right opposite is snoring. High decibel. When problems come, they come in battalions. This is one hell of sound battalion ! I look around for help. Everybody who i can see are are deep inside the blankets and sheets. They too are suffering, i think. And there is some vicarious pleasure.

I try sleeping. Then i realise that there are new snore variants from other passengers. Emboldened perhaps ! Sigh. I twist. And turn. In that middle berth. I call for divine intervention. I fume. If snoring can be a cause for divorce, can it be used to disembark a gent from a train ? I wonder.

In some time. My one and half year old nephew wakes up. I think i know why. Divine intervention, they say, comes in strange ways. I walk the vestibule with him. And this is what i spot.

At 2.30 AM, in the dead of night, with a crying nephew and a high decibel snorer for background score, standing near the litter box of train no : 6732, here i am. A poor tired soul, ready to make a speech on gender equality to the steel pipes metal doors there.

And then, i chance upon this.

These are guidelines in an emergency.
1. “Pull the chain, to stop the train“. That’s fairly simple, i think.
2. “In case of fire, use fire extinguisher available with the attendant” . Ok. So, upon spotting a fire, i have to run around and locate an attendant. And he will have a fire extinguisher. Which he will give me. Which i will know how to use. Which will work and help me extinguish fire. All this before i reach my destination. Seems plausible.
3. “To exit from the emergency window, follow instructions given on the window” . But where ? But where ? Where is the emergency window ? Then i find the answer written bright red, that emergency windows are coloured red. Aha. So, i go around looking for this window marked in red…when the coach is on fire. Aha. And then read the instructions there. Aha. And act. Aha. Neat. I think.
4. ‘If hammer is provided than break glass of hammer box, pick up the hammer and break window glass unit and exit“. If not, i mean…if hammer was not provided, then ? What if the hammer was used on an incredible high decibel snorer ? Then ? I shudder.
Suddenly i want to make peace with all my current troubles. And with that high decibel snorer.

All of our pain is relative. I realise that. Today divine intervention taught me that.

My nephew perhaps senses my quandary. And sleeps. I return. To the middle berth. And the background score. My peace made.

So what, if it was a brokered deal.