“Local arrived on platform number 4 is 8.07 local for CST via harbour line”…
The announcement works like a spur to those like me, who are yet to reach the station, to speed up our pace. And we run, run to give some of the renowned sprinters ‘a run for their money’! Breathless to the core, I finally make it to the ladies compartment on the verge of missing it. Like always, I manage to be the fourth person in a three seater array to an almost filled locomotive from Panvel, one of the crowded routes of Mumbai irrespective of the time, day, season and even calamities.
To cope up with the pressure from the other side, where none are ready to accommodate another to their comfort, is when ‘Newton’s Third Law’ comes in actual applicability to retain my position. The first occurrence that caught my eyes from here is a saree clad woman gulping down her breakfast and trying hard to hide what she has packed in, from the stealing quick peeks beside her. I was interrupted in my vision as the passengers from the station weÂ just arrived at have started with their regular banter of asking the destination of the seated commuters and reserving the place of the one who departs early. There is even an exchange program of seats — the 4th of one array to the 3rd of another as they gradually move towards the sought after window seat.
Suddenly, my eyes fell on a girl seated diagonally opposite to me. Her attire suggests she is on her way to her workplace — the plain morning face steadily becomes heavily decked up as she powders it up, blushes her cheeks, carefully lines her eyes and lips, paints and pouts them to evenly blend it up. Satisfied with her look in her little mirror, she now begins toÂ moisturizeÂ her hands. In the meanwhile hawkers with ‘gauti’ (fresh form the farm) vegetables have started making their rounds. Women here have perfected the art of time management no less than any qualified pass out of a top Business School — they buy the vegetables, clean and process them utilizing their time in the journey. While some are busy plucking out the peas from the pods others chop up carrots and beans, literally carrying a knife in their bag!
Keeping up patiently with the ebb and flow of the crowd, I too managed the desired place in my array. The splendid view of the vast creek outside led me into the memories of my school days, the longest time I was associated with the trains — the fun, the journey…my reverie broke with the unusual and unnatural appearance of a pair of feet on the window grill. The growing crowd in the general compartments have started taking its position in between the joining of the bogies and also on the roof top! The crowd inside the woman’s coach too is growing thick with every passing station but the other side of the divider still has a window seat unoccupied.
A commotion on the other side suddenly caught my notice, a heavy argument close upon the extent to the abusing one another has started between two, much to the amusement of others. The bone of contention being, one not following the unwritten law of sequential booking of seats, have abruptly occupied one in the middle of an array. The chaos, however, does not bother ‘Chewingum Chachi’, a popular face in the route. Her name derives from the fact that her jaws are always in a continuous motion of chewing a gum. But for me, it is because of her ability to smilingly squeeze in her way through the crowded aisle to reach her customers with new designs of bangles, ear rings and clips. Her accessories have a reputation that can compete with any leading brand of junk jewellery.
The train crossed Kurla and the invisible prayer bell rang; swiftly fading off the buzz. Pocket-sized ‘Rosary’ to ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ to ‘Guru Granth Saheb’ to ‘Quran Sharif’ make their way out from the bags that hold food, make-up kit, knife; leaving me wondering if Pandora’s Box contains such variations! Leaving away their daily worries virtually all are engrossed in praying.
The throng too have thinned down, when an unintentional eavesdrop into the conversation between two college goers revealed me the mystery of the empty window seat. While one wanted to take the seat, the other refrained her citing the probability of the bag near it containing explosives. The city that is known for its spirit of never stopping come what may is perennially panic stricken from the core because of some of the ruthlessÂ terrorismÂ they have witnessed; the horror is etched out in their minds and hearts. This is when the views cape of all heads covered, all eyes closed, the silence prevailing makes sense. This, may be, is their way of expressing gratitude to the Almighty for blessing them with a safe start and also an entreat to lead them back safely.
As my station approaches, I vacate my ‘cosy’ position to be taken over by another. The funniest part of commuting in Mumbai trains is, one needs no effort to climb in or get down from it, the rush does so on their behalf! Hence, I smoothly step down to my destination, another busy platform throbbing with life. The train leaves the station for its next reach and drifts away in the distance. And as I pass the bustling tea — stall, the radio there sings out…
“…chalna hi zindegi hai, chalti hi ja rahi hai
Gadi bula rahi hai, siti baja rahi hai…”