Train travelling in Mumbai; a topic so vast and complex, it could qualify as a subject for a doctoral thesis. There is so much more to it than merely boarding and getting off the trains. A lot happens between those two events, in the time that you spend in the train. It largely depends on how far you travel and in what time slot you catch the train.
There is the Early Morning slot from 4 am to around 7 am. The trains range from being absolutely empty to just about occupied. Other than catching up on some sleep, there isn’t much happening.
Then there is the Morning Rush Hour from 7 to 10.30 when all trains heading towards Churchgate and Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) range from ‘full’ to ‘threatening to burst’. One look at the jam packed train will make one applaud their load bearing capacity. People new to the world of Mumbai locals rarely catch trains in their first attempt in this slot. After missing a train or two due to the inability to cope with the crowd, the resulting frustration provides enough adrenaline to manage pushing into the third train.
However, getting into the train and completing the journey are two different things.
Your journey experience depends entirely on where exactly you managed to stand in the train.
If you are inside and sitting, well, good for you. But unless you are getting off at the last stop, remember to get up well in advance to get off at your destination.
Then, if you’ve managed to stand anywhere in the aisles, or against the ‘wall’ near the entrance, your predicament is pretty predictable. You have little choice but to stand lodged firmly in a fixed position wondering about the meaning of life as the aunty in front you insists on shoving the corner of her awfully hard purse into your rib and the child in that woman’s arms is wailing away just about three inches from your left ear at decibel levels you thought only airplanes could produce.
And in case you forgot to plug in your headphones before boarding, don’t even entertain the idea of trying to do so once you’re in. Not only will you fail miserably, but all your wriggling efforts will attract the dirtiest looks women are capable of throwing and may even end up in you breaking either your headphones or your arm while trying to wrestle your headphones out of the bag.
So it’s a much better idea to just stick it out.
On the contrary, If you are standing in the middle of the entrance aisle, be prepared for some action. You do not have the option to take a nap with your head lodged uncomfortably on your forearm as you hold on to the over head handles. Though that crowd seems immovable, it does move at stations. Very Fast! So you are going to alternate between feeling like a pebble in a water current and a lump of butter in a pot of buttermilk thats being churned.
Make it clear to people around you that you don’t have any intention to get off at a station before your destination. People here often get overwhelmed with the need to help others so they ‘help’ you to get off the train without realizing that you just got in to get off at Churchgate.
And whatever ideas you have about your strong foothold, don’t think you can resist the current of the commuters. Trust me, you can’t.
Then finally, there is the possibility that you may have just managed to catch the middle bar or door of the train before it calmly started moving out of the platform. Then, depending on the number of times the platform comes to your side of the train, you’ll have to keep hopping off the train and getting back on to it.
This has its advantages though.
For one, you get to practice and perfect your train catching skills and for another, you get to feel the breeze as you travel. Just remember to hold your breath when you see too many people close to the tracks with buckets in their hands; it helps.
Beyond the Rush Hour slot, there is the rest of the day, till 4 in the evening when the trains are devoid of much action, except in the rare event of a Ticket Collector boarding it. The Evening Rush Hour is more or less like the morning one with the alteration of the mood. The mornings are crowded, but amiable whereas the evenings come with an added twang of crankiness resulting in a higher frequency of arguments and fights.
In fact, these trains are so much more than mere compartments being pulled by engines. They are more like the ever unfolding story of the city; sometimes you are on it, sometimes you’re hanging on. Either ways, it goes on.