Mumbai’s Local Train: The Heart Of The City

Posted on May 25, 2011 in Society

By Aditya Mani:

It is 10 in the morning on a Monday. Hariprasad the dabbawala is on his way to Mrs. Mishra’s house in suburban Vile Parle in Mumbai to collect her husband’s lunch. Last night was his daughter’s wedding. The euphoria and the fanfare of it all haven’t sunk in yet. The tears of separation still ravage his mind. He is groggy from the drunken revelry he had indulged in with his friends, right after the marriage. At the same time, he is also concerned about his daughter’s welfare in her husband’s house. All these issues notwithstanding, Hariprasad has shown up for work the very next day. He knows it’s his livelihood. He knows it has to be done.

Shailesh Shinde is a sales executive in a leading computer hardware company. His job is to scour the millions of back offices in Mumbai, in an attempt to sell his products to various executives. His job takes him many places. Being an able salesman and next in line for a promotion, Shailesh leaves no stone unturned to impress his bosses. Ergo, more often than not he ends up covering over 100 kilometres stretching over 14 hours and 20 prospective clients daily. Be it a 40 degree temperature reading or knee high floods in Mumbai, Shailesh beats them all as he sets his focus on his goal and works toward it relentlessly.

If one is lucky, one can spot Samarpita Banerjee, a 12th standard student in a Mumbai college, unruffled and at peace with the world. Alas, such rare moments of calm and tranquillity are novelties that she rarely enjoys. Samarpita is an industrious student. She has to be, to survive in a city filled with thousands of students just like her, squeezing every available resource at their disposal to become the best at what they do. The competition is fierce and letting up even for a single day can spell doom for young Samarpita who wants to do well in her university exams, 5 entrance exams and her external test series. She knows what’s on the line, she knows what it takes to excel. Every day, 6 days a week, Samarpita leaves home at 7 am only to return at 11pm.

In the city of dreams, in the city once known as Bombay, the aforementioned 3 individuals are mere illustrations of a 10 million strong Mumbai. It isn’t known as ‘the city that doesn’t sleep’, for nothing. Yes, Mumbai is characterized by this never-say-die attitude, the passion for excellence and the will to walk that extra mile. Nowhere else in the country can one find this pace in life, a pace that is often asphyxiating for some and a miracle drug for others. This pace is ably accentuated by what is regarded widely as the lifeline of the city — The Mumbai Local Train.

The Mumbai Suburban Railway System (fondly known as the Mumbai local) is an astounding feat in public transportation system management worldwide. Provided for by the Indian Railways, the Mumbai Local caters to 6.9 million commuters on a daily basis, which is more than half of what the Indian Railways handles daily. A dense network of crisscross metal rails and overhead electric lines, the Mumbai local has proven to be more than just a means of transport in this city that is bustling with activity every second of the day. Every citizen of this geographically gargantuan city, regardless of caste, creed, ethnicity or even economic stature, is affected in one way or another by the Mumbai local.

For most of the city, it is the best and only way to reach work daily on time; much more reliable than private transport on traffic congested roads or even its inefficient sibling, BEST (Mumbai’s public transport bus). Owing to the great expanse of the city, some commuters are forced to travel for more than 3 hours. For such commuters the Mumbai local is truly a blessing which, along with the conveyance also offers warm amiable co-passengers who alleviate the strains of travelling to a great extent. Eternal friendships are forged in this giant metal worm which is seldom seen without vibrant conversation or heard without the rhythmic clanging of devotional percussion instruments.

It is also very interesting to note that though the Mumbai local in peak hours may seem hostile and another playing ground for Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest theory’, it is in fact as amiable and endearing as the proverbial puppy. The average individual often contorts his own body to accommodate a fellow passenger in the compartment or squeezes to allow for an extra person on the seat. Even under the ever increasing burden of the daily inflow of immigrants, no one is left feeling unwelcome. This is why even diverse people like Hariprasad, Shailesh and Samarpita are all co-passengers on the same boat (figuratively and literally).

One of the most striking features of the Mumbai local is its tenacity and perseverance. Even when faced with adverse conditions like floods or terrorist bombings, the Mumbai Local simply pulls itself together, digs deep down and keeps chugging; very much like the average Mumbai resident. Truly the epitome of human spirit, the Mumbai local’s importance in the social and economic fabric of Mumbai cannot be undermined to any extent and it is without a shadow of doubt, the spirit of Mumbai itself.