You are in a suburban train going to a suburb in the morning at around 8 a.m. and you dare to get down on the side where the platform is approaching, at either the last stop of the train, or any station starting three stops from the last. Most logical, right? What the **** else are you supposed to do? But here’s what happens - you are met by a seething, cursing mass of bodies that rushes into the train before it stops and starts boarding it with naked aggression straight out of a National Geographic TV special on elephants in ‘mast’. This is called the 'return maarna routine' where people from around three stations prior to the suburban terminus go there first, and then go back all the way downtown in the same train. All to get a seat, or a comfortable standing space, because the train gets lethally crowded from the suburban starting point. You are supposed to stand at the ‘far side’ so to speak…let the junta get in, writhe, abuse and manhandle their way to their seats and ‘stands’, and THEN it’s your turn in the writhing order, to somehow squiggle your way through to the ‘platform side’. If you are lucky, you get to alight; else it’s back to where you came from sonny. It’s that simple. And cruel.
You catch the last train of the night a couple of stations from the origin, and actually expect to get a comfortable entry, seat and exit. Har-Dee-Har-Har. (That evil laugh is amplified a million-fold if the station is Dadar…)
You never stop marvelling at the subtle class distinction inherent in our local trains here, where the second class (where the proletariat travels) has the concept of the ‘fourth seat’. The Spartan wooden benches in these compartments are meant to seat 3 people, but thanks to the adjusting factor of the Mumbai Manoos, people are obliged to huddle together and accommodate 4 people. It doesn’t matter that the fourth sitter can accommodate just one butt-cheek. All that matters is that he’s got a seat on the wonderful journey home. It takes just five minutes of walking to get the circulation back…contrast that with what maybe an hour’s worth of homo-erotic rubbing and jostling would do to you. Scary. However, this fourth seat funda fails when there is a ‘ladies’ sitting. (“Arre kaisa sarkega? Ladies log hai ladies…”). All this is just not observed in the snooty, white-collar dominated first class. Three means three. Period. I have a feeling this ‘rule’ might not last for long though…just a matter of time.
You actually ask people how many kms is place B from place A. You are usually met with a brusque, flat answer in terms of time – “20 Minutes” for example. NO Mumbaikar I know has EVER answered back in terms of kilometers, meters or furlongs(yes…they use that term in Bangalore. Quaint, what?). It’s ALWAYS in terms of time here.
You actually get affected by the poverty and the sheer number of beggars, lepers, handicapped people and street urchins. Also, you believe that the women begging at signals and the infants that they brandish to tug at your purse strings are actually related to each other.
You are catching a train late-ish at night, and you are surprised to see well made up, middle-aged and young women in bright outfits and sarees waiting around the ticket counter and the footbridge. The first thought that pops up is that it’s a marriage party returning from somewhere, waiting to buy tickets or to catch up with the rest of the company which might be en route. It’s only when a middle-aged one smiles foxily at you, and maybe sticks out her tongue for a fraction of a second, that you realize that that’s really not the case… (The same applies to well-dressed males standing underneath bus stops late at night, who slide up to cars which slow by, and ask people whether they can help them with something…)
You just can’t believe that you’ll get something to eat at 3 a.m. at practically every place in the city. And it’s not just like one lonely street vendor; you will have a proper, proverbial smorgasbord to choose from. Granted, the grub won’t be exactly hygienic, healthy or haute, but it will do what it’s supposed to do – give your stomach something to mull over for the next 8 hours or so. Add cigarettes, tea, coffee (courtesy the cycle-waala dudes of Tamil origin or ‘Annas’ as they are called) and booze to the list too.
You find it blindingly ironic that the miserable people selling ‘the apparatus that wards off the evil eye’, consisting of a lemon, a couple of chillies, and a piece of coal all connected by a bit of tin wire, themselves could do with a little bit of ‘bura nazar’ alleviation in their lives…
This entry was posted
on Sunday, April 09, 2006 at 11:11 PM.