Friday, June 23, 2006

Bitter Sweet Symphony... Mumbai - A story of my experiences

A small article that I wrote a couple of days ago and got a good response from those whom I had sent initially. So I thought I would share it with some more people !
Hope you will enjoy this..

I have been to Mumbai quite a few times now. Here is a small part of what I experienced and what I thought about the mighty city. Those who have been to Mumbai will find this story their own. And those who live in Mumbai will find the story to be part of their lives. Undetachable one.
A huge creature is charging towards you with full force. And you see lots of men grabbing that creature, hanging onto it from all over the sides and some even from top. Trying to control the beast which is going berserk. And you hear that beast shrieking at loud thunderous voice.
Welcome to a local railway's platform in Mumbai. The city of blinding lights. The city that never sleeps. The city that never halts to take a breather.
If you have hit the platform of Mumbai for the first time, you are in for a good joy ride. The shock of a life time. There is a sea on the platform. The sea of humans. The difference between a sea and this human sea is that here the humans acting as droplets in the sea are far from being in unison with each other like real droplets in the sea. Thus what you see is not the harmonious waves but a chaotic and grisly picture of reality.
The fight for survival begins at the dawn of everyday. Without even seeing the first rays of the sun, people rush to the railway platforms, lest the rest of the world wakes up and the floods the platform. Every night the fear of tomorrow's struggle haunts oneself. The uncertainties. Or the certainties of hardship.
During my first few visits, I was more involved in saving myself from drowning into this sea on the platform. But as my instincts grew stronger or more ferocious and I became more familiar with the 'ever-urgent' state of people running on the platform, I developed a habit of observing people and thinking their thoughts.
There is this concept of direction and reverse direction traffic on the rails. For example, people say that during morning hours of office time, there is a demonic rush towards south Mumbai on the western line. So it is from Borivali to Mumbai Central that you see the unimaginable rush of people. And during evening hours, it is this crowd that wants to go back, desperately, to their respective homes from office. Thus it is the rush from South towards North. And the remaining hours are quite normal. No denial of the fact that these so called busy hours are indeed frenzied. Unfettered wilderness. But the thing that amazes me most is that even apart from these 'busy hours' there is never a time when you can easily get to sit inside the train. If you get a seat, consider yourself extremely lucky. But most of the cases, you might have been in the wrong train altogether which is a high probability event if you find yourself seated.
Then there is one more legend about trains going to Virar. The people regularly travelling in this train have become so feral that for them, anyone violating their conventions, knowingly or unknowingly is worthy of severest of punishment. For example, if you, by mistake, board this train to Virar, and you want to get down at Borivali (a station which comes before Virar), people will obstruct you and will not allow you to get down at your desired station. Reason? They considered the train to be exclusively for themselves. For those who want to get down at Virar only. And no earlier station. Eventhough there is no such rule written about that train. Even worse, if you try to get yourself free from this half-human half-demon crowd, they will beat you to your limits and make sure they teach you a lesson. And also to the generations to follow. The train is for us. Exclusively.
There have been times, I have had the honour to travel by the Luggage Compartment. The humorous part of the story is that you will hardly find any place for luggage inside such compartments. And there are no rows of seats inside. More room for people. More people. More frenzy. But the most noteworthy part about travelling in the luggage compartment is the wide variety of smells that your senses are exposed to. Most of the times it is the biting stench of fish which kills you if you are not already overrun by the people, the mob. Sometimes, the smell of vegetables, the rotten ones also accompany the drift of stench to your nostrils. But unhindered as you are, you travel on. And on.
One more notable phenomenon about the platforms is the ticket windows. Someone with wits as simple as mine, will never figure out where the ticket window is. Even asking people will not help. Because there are numerous types of ticket windows. Once I stood in three queues one after the other. Finding the right one at last after these many attempts. Sometimes, the windows are hidden under the bridge. Sometimes they are on the bridge. Sometime, inside the station. Sometimes outside. I wonder, how creative, the architects of this amazing maze would be.
Now let me narrate a typical sequence of events when a train charges inside the platform. First thing to happen is that the movement on the stairs of the overbridge increases rapidly. Everyone wants to grab the beast which has entered just now. Can not wait even for a couple of more minutes. Not acceptable. This is Mumbai. Thus, there is a sudden increase in the movement even along the platform. People getting ready to take a sprint. To dive. To throw their corporeal bodies in the direction of the menacing beast.
Let us look at the scene from within the train compartments. People wanting to get out, desperately nudging their way out to the doors. Shouting, abusing, threatening has already begun. Both from inside and outside. It is the battle between those who are this side of the train doors and those who are on the other. It is the battle of wits, nerves and muscles. He who has the perfect combination of this, wins. And so does the persons standing behind him. There is no inclination to make male gender the hero in this story by using 'he'. The only reasoning behind this is the availability of ladies special compartments and thus less hardship, though not the absence of it, for female gender.
While this drama of emptying and filling up of train continues, many potential tragedies are avoided by God's grace, or some mortal who transcends the mortality by helping someone. And for the less fortunate ones, the calamity strikes. Often. But the insensitivity has reached such a level in the persons that these incidents are not paid heed to at all. One accident. One news event to talk about in office. Life goes on.
On a lighter note, I would like to share my own experience of getting in a local. The adventure to be remembered for long. It was Dadar station. One of the busiest places in Mumbai. We had to reach our place where we lived in Ghatkopar and then again return to Dadar for taking a train back to Ahmedabad. It was 6 in the evening I remember. Three of us, Ruchir, Mahesh and I, standing at the Dadar station. The first beast comes rushing in. The flurry on the stairs. The movement on the platform. The site of hundreds of people hanging on the doors frightened us if not bogged our wits down. But we had to catch the train so as not to miss the connecting train to Ahmedabad. Thus, after having a short discussion and taking a unanimous decision of getting into the train no matter what, we got ourselves charged up for the thrust. And the train slowed down, or so it seemed. And the next moment is beyond the comprehension of someone who has not seen the utterly wild and maniac scenes at such platforms. People were literally ready to kill each other for a place to keep a foot on the train. And others to keep a foot on the platform, getting off the train. The fight went on for the dreadful half a minute. And the train moved ahead, as normally as if nothing had happened. Some weight got out and some got in. The machine. What else do you expect from it? Sympathy? Do you expect that from a human as well? In Mumbai?
Unfazed by the white washed defeat and all the more determined, we decided to board the next one. A few minutes of wait. And the same prelude. Same activities before arrival of the train. And then came the time. The effort, hardwork, bravery. All paid off in full and we set our feet on the train. But then we realized that setting a foot each was not enough. We had to squeeze our bodies well inside the compartment. Ruch, and I somehow managed to overcome that challenge after much effort but Hesh's condition was somewhat ludicrous and pitiable. His spectacles had almost fallen of his nose and were about to be shattered under the crushing feet of the wild crowd. He was holding on to my one hand which I had stretched to save him from remaining behind on the platform. The other hand of mine swung into action and I saved his spectacles from falling. The next moment, I gave all the strength that I had left in the body to pull him up on the compartment. And then came the moment of glory. All three of us, successfully inside the compartment. With all the body parts intact and all of them inside the train.
But if you wonder for a moment about the efficiency of this local railway network, you will realize that it is a task of mammoth complexity. Hundreds of thousands of people travelling everyday. Not many times would you have heard about some accident of local train, however minor it is. If you remove the local train from mumbai's face, imagine what would be left of Mumbai? Just like a pale ghostly dead body after all the blood has been sucked from it. Lifeless.
End of part I
I plan to write more. Covering my experience in Mumbai apart from those with local trains. I hope I don't have to stop writing that one after getting reviews from the people who have read first part !

With best wishes....