Friday evening and by 6:00 PM, I was finally ready to head for home. The journey from SEEPZ to Andheri station was on a crowded bus. As I walk toward the station the crowd is overwhelming. I make my way slowly toward the railway station as crowd moved in both direction, people eager to get home. Its a chaos out there but still in an orderly fashion without any supervision, the crowd decides how it will move.
As I walk on the foot-over bridge, I glance at the Indicator. The Indicator shows 6:40 PM Local for Bhayander on platform number 4. I would get my Borivali after a couple of trains. As I reached the platform, a sizable big crowd was already on the platform. There was still some time for the train to arrive. I watched the home going crowd. So many people and so little space.
One train and the platform would be empty. Its amazing that so many people can squeeze into such an overcrowded train.
“Bhayander kaunsa station ke baad aata hai?” (Bhayander comes after which station?) The questions wakes me up from my task of observing people.
I look at him and taking the clue he repeats his question. A newbie in Mumbai. I tell him the station before Bhayander. I also tell him that the next train is for Bhayander. He is wearing a sweater and carries a heavy rucksack. Who wears a sweater in Mumbai that too traveling in a Mumbai Local during peak hours. As the train enters the platform, I watch him standing back.
I know he is never going to catch a train like that. The trick of boarding a Mumbai Local is being ready before the train stops and he was not even ready. As expected the most people board the train even before it stops. The person does not even have a chance. He smiles sheepishly and comes back. I smile back.
“Aaisa Nahi pakad paaoge” (you will not be able to catch like this) I tell him “Aage jaakar gaadi rukne ke pehle pakadna padega.” (You have to be in front and board before the Train stops)
“Iske baad pakadta hoo” (I will catch it later) He smiles “Khali Aayega na?” (Train will be empty right?)
I smile and nod a no!
The next train is 6:44 PM for Virar. The man decides to board this one I stand back and watch him struggle. This one is more crowded than the earlier one. As people scramble and rush inside our man looks around helplessly even making a last ditch effort to try all the three door at the compartment. As the train starts moving he comes back smiling sheepishly.
“Aap Borivali jao” I give him free advice “Wahan se train pakado” (Board a train from Borivali)
Mumbaikar are a helpful lot. Always ready to help. The advice is really unusable because he does not want the way to go there but the way to board a train and that comes with practice. There is no easy way about it.
The next train is for Borivali. Its the 6:48 PM but then this is the first Borivali after more than 20 minutes and hence is crowded. As people wait for the train, I relax. There is one more Borivali at 6:51 PM and that one will be easier to board. The platform is crowded again for the Borivali Train. As the train enters, as expected. its full but people still board it. Our man tries again to catch it. He is trying another compartment. I want to go there and pull him back and tell him about the train after this but he is too far away and I just look on. As expected he cannot make it with the bag and himself.
The train leaves the platform and the indicator changes to the expected 6:51 PM. I watch him walking toward me.
“Yeh khali aayega” (This will be empty) I tell him “Ismain chado” (catch this)
He nods in agreement and this time he stays close to where I stand. The train arrives and this one is considerably empty. I am ready and before it could stop I have hopped in. Surprisingly it is very empty and I actually make it to the seats. Normally during peak hours, the farthest you can go is through the door.
I am in and I look back. I cannot see the man. I hope he had managed to get in but there is no sign of him, atleast not from where I was standing. Maybe he managed to get in, maybe he didn’t. I try to look out a few more seconds and then hope that he did make it.
He will learn. They all do. One day he will be telling a newbie what I told him today. Mumbai has a strange way of teaching people. They all learn.
In Sai Paranjpe’s “Disha”, when the main character played by Nana Patekar comes to Mumbai for the first time and starts working in the mill, he is disturbed by the noise the machines make. He asks his co-workers if they are not troubled by the constant sound the big machines make. They tell him that everybody gets used to it. At the end of the movie, when Nana Patekar loses everything and is pulled into the grind of the city life, he is training a newbie in the mill. The new person asks him how he can tolerate the noise from the machines. Nana Patekar turns around, smiles at him and ask “Kaunsi Awaaz?” (What noise?)
The Mumbai local is crowded and there is little the common Mumbaikar can do about it. He just grins and bears it. For a person outside the city the trains are always crowded and for a Mumbaikar when he is able to stand without being pushed in the compartment he wonders why the train is so empty.
I am happy to get inside even though its just a 20-25 minutes journey. The evening crowd looks tired after a hard day work. Some people, friends are talking among themselves. In such a long journey, companions help. I plug in my phone and switch to the MP3 mode. The song blasts from the headphones and drown out all the sound around me.
I smile as the MP3 plays “Ajnabi Seher” I will be home early today.
Note: Written in mid-December 2007