Lifeline to Lifeless…

To many people, it may appear to be a mode of transportation, but only a true Mumbaikar knows what it’s like to travel in a Local train. Yes, it is the lifeline of Mumbai- a model based on diversity and plenty of human emotions.

A Local Train approaching the station

The city once known as Bombay, now Mumbai, is known by many names like, ‘the city of dreams’ or ‘the city that never sleeps.’ It is described as a city brimming with passion and opportunities, its willingness to walk that extra mile, and its fast-paced way of life – it is said that Mumbai never stops!

This pace of life can be found nowhere else in the country, a pace that is often suffocating for some and a blessing for others. This pace is amplified by the local trains of Mumbai. These trains are evidence of the city’s strength, which may explain why the announcement to suspend railway service as a control measure against Covid-19 on March 23, 2020 was regarded as a watershed moment.

Yesterdays’ lifeline has become Today’s nostalgia!

I recall the first time I had to use local. I had avoided it for a long time, yet in 11th grade, I had no choice but to use local because my college was far away and there was no point in wasting money on an auto-rickshaw. My father accompanied me to the station for the first time, and he instructed me to board the train as soon as it arrived. I assumed (having never travelled from the local during the rush hours) it would be simple: the train would stop, people would disembark, and people from here would then get in. But, of course, what was I thinking? LOL!

I couldn’t get inside the first train with all that bhaag-daaud and dhakka-mukki. That was the time my bubble of misconception broke. The fact that I thought people waited for the train to stop and everything was in order, was just a joke! My father was laughing as he looked at me. He said I had to push people and find a way in because there was no other way. Mumbai mein rehna hai toh local mein chadhna toh seekhna hi padega! (If you want to stay in Mumbai, you need to learn to travel by local trains).

I was a little annoyed by people’s impatience to get inside the train, battling for that little leg space, hanging on their dear life, and saying “aage badho.” Why can’t they just wait for people to get out properly and then get in? Train rookne se pehle chadhna zaroori hai kya? But by the second time, I was determined to catch the next train, by hook or by crook! So as soon as the train came I shamelessly elbowed the people to get inside. I wanted to turn around and wave goodbye to Dad, but by the time I did, the train had already moved away from the platform, having been stopped for two minutes! I was curious if my father was still laughing.

Well, that was my first experience, and after that I completely fell in love with the connectivity of local trains in Mumbai. Now that it’s stopped, I recount some amazing things about Mumbai locals –

1- It’s Aamchi Mumbai : When these words are spoken, the true spirits of local trains are reflected in them. Locals have become a symbol of Mumbai, so it’s no surprise that regular visitors refer to them as their first home.

2- It’s a ‘fare’ deal (see what I did there) : because it’s cheap, fast, easy, and you can go wherever you want, thanks to the connection between the three major railway lines – Western, Central, and Harbour. Remember the times when Nokia came out with the tagline ‘connecting people’? Well, I don’t know about the phone but with its colossal network of criss-cross metal rails and overhead electric lines, the local helps 7.5 million commuters to travel daily. It surely serves as a great connecting network!

3- The helpful crowd : As a commuter, all you have to do is purchase a ticket, the rest is handled by the crowd. When the local train arrives, you are automatically lifted and pushed into a compartment by the human escalators that line the platform.

4- Sharing is Caring : after all the “arey yaar, andar bhado, bahot jagah hai” you do manage to get a little space to stand, even though you continue to fight with those strangers for ‘thodi se jagah’ because you don’t have much choice.

5- “Ye Virar Fast hai.” Enough said! (Mumbaikars, you know this one)

6- The mild panic attack : we experience on hearing the words “Next stop Dadar”, and brace ourselves for the same.

7- Shopping and Entertainment : From all kinds of munchies to accessories, kitchen tools, cosmetics and clothing, everything is available. And to make up for the lack of music, there is Bhajan Keertan. Really!

8- Window seat : with a blissful nap over a shoulder, or standing at the doorway to enjoy the cool breeze, based on first come first served lol…Missing much?

9- A mix of people : When you travel by local train, you meet people from all walks of life. A nosy neighbour peering into your phone, a crying toddler with her mother, an uncle staring at you for no apparent reason, that one woman fighting for space with everyone, and finally, the ‘bhajiwaali aunties.’

10- Yaatrigan Kripya Dhyaan dijiye” (travellers, please pay attention) : There’s always hope for the next train to come soon if you’ve missed the first one!

All of this has taught me to be more patient in life and to cope with new experiences. Once you learn how to travel in the local train, you will soon become a member of that community because such is the vibe. You will realize that these train journeys teach you a lot because the people in them share a common goal: they want to arrive at their destination safely, and on time!

Hopefully, everything will return to normal soon, and then we will talk about how ‘the city that never stops’, stopped in its tracks (literally).