The consistent association of the City of Mumbai with its locals is clichéd and yet there is no other way to put it. A fast life, the rush, the feeling of constantly being on the move, all of this simply comes with being a Mumbaikar. I am being prejudiced, of course. But truth be told, I experienced it all properly for the very first time just a couple of years ago. The above feelings are quite fresh, emerging out of my recent stint with the Mumbai life – travel and work.
Travelling cannot be separated from the life in Mumbai. It is a known fact that the locals that run here are the lifeline of Mumbai. The constant movement of trains in all directions is like the blood pumping in the arteries – necessary and life-sustaining. Facing the roads by not taking the train is like performing a bypass connecting the brain to the arteries. I say brain on purpose because the emotional attachment a true Mumbaikar has with the locals, invariably stems from his heart. He may have millions of rifts with the locals but at the end of the day, he’ll still be grateful for its existence.
The standing on the edge with the wind in your hair, the mumbling of the tracks below which is the typical sound that forms a part of every child’s play (chookh chookh?), the getting down or climbing into a moving train, letting natural physics do the trick. Who hasn’t related to that feeling when inertia was first taught? The innumerable experiences a Mumbaikar has while travelling on the train! They are worth the effort, life lessons as they are! Patience, perseverance and determination – to deal with the maddening, suffocating crowd, to remain in one of the most uncomfortable positions throughout the journey, to push the crowd apart and make your way into the compartment just to reach work on time or home soon. It’s survival 101. It teaches you to be selfish but also to be helpful. It teaches you to negotiate and how to compromise and adjust. You name it and you’ll learn it.
This brings me to the ladies’ compartment. Men are simple – not much to them or their traveling characteristics. It’s the women who are entertaining. It’s a typical crowd every day, can be divided into 4 groups – the pch-and-look group, the I-am-deaf-as-my-ears-are-plugged group, the talkative group and the “bullies”. Of course, there are a few who only observe the proceedings, like me for instance, but even I take sides at times, just to not get alienated.
The most common occurrence in the ladies’ compartment – the “point the finger” occurrence. As soon as a lady gets in, she starts pointing the finger at each one sitting. It’s the unasked question of “where are you getting down?” If the answer is a little before her own stop, the finger goes back and forth between the pointer and the seated person with the sideways movement of both heads. It’s a ritual followed by all. If initially you don’t do that because you think you can stand among the women throughout the journey, you will give up gradually and begin doing this. Longer the distance, sooner you give up. Experimentally proven, I can say.
Coming back to the groups, a little elaboration. Women love to talk; it’s in our blood. You get into a full train and the first thing that reaches your ears is the banter of the women circles. Not really a punishable offense, eavesdropping brings various stories to you, from different backgrounds and in numerous languages too. You get to hear Tamil, Hindi, English, Marathi and Malayalam stories and you listen – not much else to do when you are that crammed. They are fun, interesting and at times, boring. It may be an amusing incident from the day, a complaint about a colleague or boss, plans for a holiday or sorrows of womanhood. The weird part is that they (the group), if very friendly, even engage you if they think you can contribute, with the most common “hai na?” (isn’t it?).
But at times, you come across a particular group which doesn’t respond to anything. They are not only deaf but dumb and blind too. The “ears are plugged” gesture is the subtle way of saying “don’t bother me”. And the message is well received. Only time you could get irritated with this clan is when you really need them to move and they don’t because they simply can’t hear you, and when they ruin the “pointing” ritual. Else, it is a live and let live situation.
Want to know who gets on your nerves the maximum? It is without a doubt the pch-and-look group. It is obvious that everyone is standing, or even sitting, uncomfortably. Everyone can see that the tiny compartment (wonder why they make the ladies’ compartment small – gender discrimination, thinking only men work or something as deep as female foeticide?) is packed. And yet, this batch of queen bees want their space and comfort and won’t hesitate a second to show their disgust at being touched. I pity their husbands..ahem..even two is a crowd for their wives. Such fuss is impractical and it’s fun to tell them ‘deal with it’. Most satisfying.
I suppose that’s the feeling the “bullies” enjoy. The feeling of satisfaction that they get from ordering the others around. They are the center of every brawl, imposing their presence and many times preaching upon the other, more gullible women. You know the quality women possess of continuing a topic, talking to themselves or anyone who listens, forming a team and bitching together by the end of it? This group has it and they use it. Perhaps it is to vent a frustrating life, lifestyle, job, family, no one knows. Raging menopause (women do have many biological excuses, I must say), but among the same gender, it is obviously rendered moot.
But brawls are as common as flies on food. Especially on a hot day. Better if you are not a part of it, especially if you are losing. You lose a lot more than just a fight. Your dignity, worth and even place is taken away from you. Cat fights are even worse; pulling of hair, hitting, slapping, the whole of WWF happens right there in the crowded compartment. Men, in the adjacent compartment always have a good time. Of course, the satisfaction of victory is immense. Makes your lousy day good and a good day the best. It’s not only the men who get a boost in general, even women have ego which gets fed from winning a fight. She has just been proven right and which woman doesn’t like being right?
Whatever is the case, at night, you know the destination is home. Place (in most cases) of peace and tranquility. And even if not, at least a few hours of shut eye is in there somewhere. Maybe a good conversation with family, quality time with your partner, something that rejuvenates you to go through the whole process of travelling in Mumbai locals the next day. And believe me…it’s all priceless.
P. S. I’ll be leaving this place soon, but until then, happy travelling! 🙂