Mumbai Local: The Brighter Side
There is a lot to the infamous lifeline of Mumbai, also commonly known as the Mumbai local. The trains that run from Churchgate to Virar on the Western line, CST to Thane on the Central line and CST to Andheri and then Andheri to Panvel on the Harbour line, carry approximately 7.24 million commuters daily. It’s truly a miracle as to how these trains work-the power supply, the punctuality (well, almost), the changing of routes, the traffic control, the efficiency of the motormen and so on. Local trains bring an image of over-crowded train compartments with people literally hanging out of them, dirty smells of sweat, filthy station platforms and odd train timings i.e. 8:27 am, 5:49 pm etc to one’s mind. There is enough said about these aspects of the Mumbai local.
I have been a regular local train traveler for about five years now, and I can vouch for the fact that the local trains have much more to them than the stench, the crowds and the dirty platforms. To me, the trains and the commuters are my daily dose of fascination. There is nothing impossible for these train travelers, you can expect anything and everything from them!
As I squeeze into the 6:59 am fast from Andheri station to make it on time for my 8 am lecture, I see sights that never fail to amuse me.
The men’s compartment, in the mornings, sound of cymbals and men singing bhajans to the rhythms of the cymbals and the moving train. This is not just one or two people singing, it is an entire group of men that indulge in this Morning Prayer.
The women’s compartments too, the ones I get on to and I’m more familiar too, are buzzing with fascinating activity. What catches my interest the most out of these are the women that do their make-up in the trains. Every regular commuter must have, for sure, seen at least one woman who applies her kajal or combs her hair neat or applies her compact or shades her lips with lipstick, if not all of it in the trains. The trains are crowded with almost no place to stand comfortably, but these women utilize the 40-45 minutes (average train travel time) to do their make-up. Some of them begin right from moisturizing themselves. Not just their make-up, I have also seen women applying Mehndi, either on themselves or on friends in the trains. And the best part; that the one with the Mehndi on her hands manages to push her way out of the trains without damaging even a bit of the wet Mehndi on her hands. It is seriously something that requires an expert level of skill.
Another pass-time for the women on the trains is shopping. No woman can get enough out of shopping. Hawkers get into the trains with items ranging from artificial jewelry (including artificial Mangalsutras) to stationary to hairclips and hair bands to safety pins to pouches and folders to electronic items like calculators and dozens of others are sold at throw away prices. But however, where there are women and there is shopping, there is always scope for some bargaining. Women argue, fight and finally buy whatever they have to at their bargained price; all in a train so crowded, that on a seat allotted to three people, five are seated.
Apart from this, there are students studying, probably preparing for an exam or a test, amidst all the chaos, with one hand holding a handle in the train and the other holding a book. Those who manage to get a seat, pass their time indulging in small talk with the woman on the seat next to their’s, knitting, reading or even peeling peas and preparing themselves for the evening’s dinner preparations.
These train journeys symbolize the life in Mumbai; exhilarating, exciting, exasperating. There is always that pressure, that tension to be on time, to not waste even a second. It’s busy, it’s tedious and yet in many ways, it’s organized.