05-Feb-2008

Train sporting

Thursday evening we were to leave for a 6 p.m. meeting in Andheri. It was 5 p.m. and we were in Churchgate. If you are from Mumbai you probably know that taking a cab will be the worst solution to this time and distance problem. If you are from outside, however, here is perspective – Churchgate to Andheri is a mere 25 km or so. However the horrible peak hour traffic will ensure that you spend the rest of your natural life in a cab, smoking in petrol and diesel fumes as you inch your way towards asphyxiation.

So we did what any sane Mumbaikar would do and hopped into a train. Another aside for non – Mumbai people – trains in peak hour are packed as tightly as a beer bottle whose contents have frozen inside the fridge. Any moment, it will explode. So getting in and getting off means standing in the middle of the crowd going in the same direction as yours and hoping you will be pushed in or out. I managed to get off at Andheri despite the on rush and felt very proud. My colleagues, travelling in the general compartment were quite impressed that I could still do this after four and a half years of getting soft in Chennai.

Friday evening it did not come as a surprise that we were late again and had to take the train. This time we hopped into a Virar Fast train. Alright, non Mumbaikars note – Fast trains stop only at the junctions and not at the stations in between. Virar is a junction about 60 km from Churchgate. Most trains terminate at Borivali (32 kms away) and a few at Andheri (25 km away) and still fewer at Bandra (17 km away). Virar trains are a rare occurrence and people who live in the Borivali to Virar stretch hate people who have the temerity to board their trains.

So there I was, positioned near the exit at Andheri. I could sense the stop had come. I could also sense that there was a sonic boom in my ears as people rushed into fill the available crevices in the already tightly packed train. I could then feel the train begin to move. I panicked and faintly bleated ‘this is my stop. I have to get off’. When the train settled into its rhythm and people had settled in the far recesses of the train, the passengers by the door looked at me with a combination of pity and irritation. One persistent voice pointed out relevant statistics on the number of trains to Borivali directly and the pollution of the Virar trains by nincompoops like me. Another one gave a long discourse on tactics to get off the train “you can’t wait till the train stops!” she rolled her eyes. “You got to jump off as it slows down and before the people start pushing you back into the train”.

As Borivali approached, I began to perspire. I would not be able to get off at Borivali either and would have to travel all the way to Virar. At Virar, people would rush to board into the train as it started in the reverse Churchgate direction and I would then travel back. I would not be able to get off at Andheri again. A vision of spending the rest of my life as the bag lady of Mumbai local trains loomed large. I panicked again and as Borivali station arrived, in good Mumbai style jumped on the onrush of passengers, clawed my way out of the crowd and triumphantly noted that both my bags and all my clothes were still on me.

I did not have my mobile phone on me and clearly by now my colleague would have given me up for lost. There was nothing to do but to board the train back to Churchgate and try and get off at Andheri. I watched stoically as the train meandered through various stations, stopping to smell a flower here, pick a rose there and so on and so forth. It was 7 p.m. when I finally got off at Andheri and made my way for the 6 p.m. meeting. Though not without another slight trajectory of getting off at Jogeswari, the station before Andheri, realising my folly and jumping back onto the train.

At 7.15 I made a grand entry into the reception area of the client office. My tired looking colleague was waiting there. It turned out the meeting had not yet started because the client was busy with something else. I joined him and lazily read the newspapers and swore never to use the train for official work. The office can bloody well pay for my cab and I will leave on time even if my colleagues don’t

Two hours later I was right at the back of the long line for train tickets at the Andheri station. I was not carrying enough money for a cab, there was no ATM in sight and my colleague had already taken an auto back to his place. At that time of the night, it was still crowded and I had a goodish half hour wait. Enough time to catch in the sights and sounds of Andheri station – a steady drip from the ceiling forming a rich paste with the red pan stains on the floor, three young men huddled on the platform fast asleep while a bandicoot sniffed around them tentatively and other signs of dirt and poverty.

Whew, I may have spent more than necessary time whizzing by in trains, but atleast I had a nice house to go back to.

9 comments:

Bharathis said...

LOL! Keep writing, we enjoy your writings brimming with sarcastic humour:-)

Lepus europaeus said...

Yeah,It happened to me.But luckily i was in a slow train.So i got down @ the next stopping.The moment i got down the guy behind me was pulled down and was beaten up like anything,Just bcos he was standing in the way.The experience even today gives me shudders

Anita said...

wow. that is some story lepus

Anonymous said...

superb...

byker7 said...

Have your read 'Local', by Jaideep Varma?

Anita said...

no i have not. on bombay trains is it?

byker7 said...

they form the background for the book, yes.

kaushik said...

wow! reminded me of Bombay.....very nice writing of not so nice experience !!!

Anita said...

Kaushik - thanks! and it was indeed a not-so-nice experience. don't think i have attempted trains in rush hour since then