Yesterday, I read in papers, saw in the news and read on social media about the stampede at the Elphinstone Road Station, a station I have boarded and deboarded the train from many times in last four and a half years. I feel really sad for all the lives lost and for their families. At the same time, I don’t know how I will pass the ladder of death, next time I’m there.
I see this as two sides of the same coin. Firstly, one can see the spirit of the city, it keeps moving. The people here have lived thorugh the 1993 bomb blasts, 26/11 and now they will live and move on from the Elphinstone crisis. On the other hand, the city is a mess when it comes to infrastructure and the ratio of services to the number of people in the city. We are not living, we are adjusting. It’s like a better life does exist, but we don’t know about it.
I agree that Mumbai is alive and active 24×7 and that it is a safe place no matter what time or gender. I feel safe among this multi million crowd in a small place and I am happy about it. Mumbai gives me a chance to earn, learn and enjoy like no other city in India. I love the night life and how historical Mumbai runs neck to neck with the modern Mumbai.
When I think of Mumbai travel diaries, I think about modes of commutation. Ah the local trains! Are they a boon or a mess? Only God knows! Crowded stations and trains is nothing new, but we have to talk about it. Most Mumbaikars use the local train and are usually honest about purchasing tickets, whether first class or second class. Second class coaches during regular hours are so packed that one might even die of suffocation. It’s a place where you can hardly put a foot in, forget about sitting through your journey – that is a myth. People who can’t board these overcrowded trains, sometimes even cling to windows or travel on rooftops, risking their lives to reach work on time.
Then there are first class coaches, that are extremely expensive in terms of the service they provide. And, if you feel that paying the extra money would guarantee a happy seated and air conditioned journey, the answer is no. The crowd is not really the problem, Mumbaikars have learned to adapt themselves to live with it. People in the first class also suffer as much, maybe with a little less suffocation, but the pain exists. Even the stairs and passages in most of the stations are more than 50 years old and have hardly seen any maintenance. Chaos is everywhere. Some people have become so used to it that they don’t take a seat, even though the train is empty!
On these train rides, you will find people boarding the same train, the same coaches, seeing their train friends and singing along. They bid goodbyes to deboarding strangers who they see daily, but probably don’t even know names of. Some days when they don’t see their peers in the train, they think about their health and well being. But that’s how people here have lived.
They have adjusted to everything, but is there not a need to find a solution for a safer and more comfortable journey?
It isn’t Mumbai to see a lot of change at once, but an honest effort and better investment on part of the government will definitely help. As far as I know the people of Mumbai, they have adjusted so much that they would happily adjust into something that would make their life better.
Our demands are not out of the box. We request for more trains and tracks, for crowd control, redevelopment of old bridges and building few new ones so that when the passenger count is high, a wider passage could be provided. We want decent sanitary conditions and better safety management. These are not demands, these are basic rights.
I don’t know about the future of my place in the era of bullet trains and metros, but I will be happy the day I see Mumbai Locals get an upgrade and see my fellow Mumbaikars travel safe and easy.