i am no authority to discuss the spirit of Mumbai since i’ve lived here for just a little less than 2 years as opposed to people who have spent their entire lifetimes here. In that little time that i’ve lived her, i can say with confidence - the city has a great spirit and an indomitable at that. And nowhere is that spirit more visible than on a local train during peak hours! Every time i travel by a local train, i cannot help but be absolutely astonished and intimidated at the same time at the way people herd together and set out for their destinations. (Thankfully i don’t need to do that everyday like other job-goers, or i’d crumble in a day!)
In my opinion, you need quite a bit of grit and courage to step into that mammoth locomotive that breathes like a living being during peak hours!! The most popular mode commuting in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, the Mumbai local faces overcrowding as a compelling problem. The 9 car rake with a capacity of 1700 holds about 5000 passengers during the peak hours in the morning and evening. That is 14 to 16 people passengers standing on per square meter of floor space! Phew! Those are mind boggling statistics indeed!
People joke around saying you just need to make it to the front of the entry and the crowd behind you will ensure you are pushed into the compartment. My initial experiences were a little different. i always ended up being the last one in the crowd after being pushed away by the rest who knew how exactly to make their way and it was too full to get in by the time the other women have stuffed themselves. i am still by no means adept at making my way first, but i do manage to throw myself on the crowd which ensures that am shoved into the boggie! And i need to get right inside unlike women who insist on standing at the edge of the entrance holding the pole! It took my breathe away a couple of times when i was stuck there since i couldn’t puch in any further and couldn’t afford to miss the train!
Once inside there’s no way the jerks and bumps of the moving train can make you fall. Since everyone is held tightly packed in place by the crowd around. i can just about manage to turn my neck a wee bit and push my eyeballs to the corners of my to catch a glimpse of people my co-passengers (who just don’t look like co-sufferers!!). Everyone except me seems to feel at home and some even strike a perfectly animated conversations with their train friends about anything under the sun. i don’t need to hold on to a pole to steady myself is good news but with no freedom of movement, there’s precious little that i can do with my hands except try my best to ensure my personal things aren’t pulled away along with people getting down at stations.
A few journeys during peak hours threw up patterns and i realised there is a method to the madness. The lucky ones sitting comfortably are the ones who’ll stay till the last station. They have the luxury to be chatting with friends they've made on these trains, even share snacks turning the journey into a picnic of sorts. Then, there are people turning towards either doors and there are people stuck in the middle. The ones near the door are going to be out at the nearest station and the others will take their place for the next station. It’s after going through hard times that I realised how lethal it can to put yourself in the way of that mob on its way out. Now I ensure that I stand right in the middle, neither turn left nor right and stay away from the powerful stream of people waiting for their exit.
The Mumbai local also has a serene almost listless side to it. The second class ladies compartment in the not so rush hours is fun. You can just doze off on your seat or pass your time with lots of itsy bitsy stuff on sale. From clips to junk jewellery, stickers, kids books, cheap toys, even vegetables, Women also get home-made snacks for women who would want to munch to keep hunger pangs at bay till they reach home. Those are times you can see the city go by and extract your moments of peace on the train.
It’s only a true-blue Mumbaiite with his undaunted spirit who can go through the grind. Not accidents on the tracks, not the crowd, not the sweat, not even bomb blast succeeds in taking away the resoluteness and faith that the Mumbaikar has in this great phenomenon called Mumbai Local.