Mumbai's Lifeline

Mission Jogeshwari: The story from the eye of a commuter

My experience on the platform of a crowded station during the peak hours

Wonder why mumbaikars are known for their grit and determination to survive in a city like Mumbai?
This urbane destination seems to be a dream churning machine for many, a hope to live and an on stage drama for millions. We are just actors who play roles not chosen by us but by the city, its ambience and its lifestyle.

Mumbai is already a melting pot with people from different cultures and ways of life walking together in the search of one dream, the dream to endure and survive, without complaining, with a smile in the optimism to achieve. Mumbaikars are satisfied with smallest of joys and the minutest pleasures of life, be it a vada-pav or a cutting chai, they really know how to execute urbane charm while breeding in the simplest homes and travelling in the most ordinary transports.
Travelling is a quintessential part of Mumbai life, none of the metropolitan cities in India have such varied and cheap transport in offering, from walking, auto rickshaws, taxis, BEST buses and Mumbai’s lifeline the local trains, everything here is easily accessible and affordable. The railway services are the most used and crowded amongst of all of them. Residents of the suburbs and central lines shuttle to and fro Mumbai on a daily basis commuting by trains alone.
One journey so many lives and so many stories. This is what my experience of travelling by trains over the past few years conceals. Most of us are witness to it everyday and now this ordeal has become so much a part of our daily lives that we now tend to take it for granted with a kind of whimsical pain forgetting the grind we go through once we enter our home. It is the true nature of true Mumbai locals, we usually move in the search for peace and once attained the entire process of pain is then forgotten. But we forget how symbolic a daily train journey is to the part of our struggle. I seldom travel by train and may be it could be the reason why travelling by trains could really be something new and invigorating for me. The whole course of boarding, finding a footing inside the train and disembarking to me is a dare game, just like an India-Pakistan cricket match. If I come out successfully unscathed, safely to my end, my day is made. We mumbaikars definitely know how to craft challenges among mundane things to derive happiness even from the un-pleasantries. Commuting during peak hours is but more than just a game, actually it is more about staying alive. Though, Mumbai has the highest passenger density of any urban railway system in the world, the passenger density is not synonymous with the infrastructure. Truly I am an irregular commuter and so I really do not know what it takes to board an overcrowded train, but sometimes being witness to something is just enough to give you the chills. Few days back, an urgent appointment in Jogeshwari forced to push my travel plans during the peak hours. It was around seven in the evening and I had to board a Borivli bound train from Andheri. The welcoming was not good enough; the steps leading to the overhead bridge were packed, waiting to burst any moment. Here, you never know who you are walking over, an animal or human.

It actually took me five to ten minutes just to climb my way up and then down to platform number one. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry, moving up from one train, jumping to another, running from one train while speeding for the other, except me. I began to ruminate, the cause and effect of travelling at this hour. Suddenly my journey became a mission, ‘Mission Jogeshwari’. The platform looked exactly like a concretized jungle, mangled by a pack of wolves forcing themselves upon each other all ready to attack and kill just for one small square inch of a space. Ladies with huge vegetable bags (like they have purchased one whole market), women with sleek handbags, men with briefcases, workers with luggage wrapped in cloth, all anticipating to get hold of the next train, tired with the days hard work. To top it all when the 6:42 Borivli bound train halted at Andheri, a whiff of anxiety and fear rushed within me. People with one feet on the footboards and their other jostling in the air, some on the rooftops, while others on connecting bumpers in between the bogies, hanging on the narrow piping of the windows…the sight was arresting yet unpleasant. If, the ladies first class resembled a cramped fish market, then you could have imagined how spacious the second class was. Women pulling each others hair, pushing from behind, howling away, hitting heads, getting hold of the of their sarees to stop the other from boarding, it was getting wilder, it looked hilarious. The idea is not to move, you will involuntarily be pushed your way aboard, though in the process you might just be abused, and slapped hard from the back, but it doesn’t matter, you can deal with them inside. Moreover, I seriously feel that if the western railway were planning to have branded coffee stalls on the platforms, they needed to think above and beyond, deodorant stalls are a strong recommendation. Thinking business is not a bad idea and good business is always successful if implemented well. Everyone on the platform was sweating profusely. Sweat tricking down the head, wetting the backs, damping the feet makes it suffocating for oneself as well as others. Chances of bumping and rubbing into someone with the smell of their odour reaching for your nostrils are most likely.
Mission Jogeshwari would have been a frightful journey. Three trains down, the scene did not seem to improve but worsen, I was already late for my appointment and the thought of alighting a train was far fetched, to buckle up courage I needed to be a strong mumbaikar, may be I was unprepared, may be I wasn’t too adventurous or may be it was the fear of just not staying alive. I still imagine how grim and toxicating the situation in the boogies would have been? die on the Mumbai suburban railway track due to overcrowding during peak hours. Many of these deaths are caused when passengers cross the tracks on foot, instead of using the footbridges provided for going from one platform to another, and are hit by passing trains. Some passengers die when they sit on train roofs to avoid the crowds and are electrocuted by the overhead electric wires. This is believed to be the highest number of fatalities per year on any urban or suburban railway system. Statistics reveal that the local trains in the city carry more than 6.1 million commuters daily.The annual passenger traffic density for the Western Line exceeds 145 million passenger-km per km of route per year. The busiest segment, 60 km between Churchgate terminus and Virar, carries almost 900 million passengers per year and the annual traffic density and over crowding during peak hours is one of the biggest hassles of a journey on a local train. Everybody travelling by train seriously deserves to be saluted as they are winners from within, well deserving to be credited. They try hard not succumb to pain which is not self-imposed but one, that comes hand in hand with living and surviving in the city. Hail Mumbaikars!

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