Mumbai's Lifeline

Train Travel Tales

It isn’t normal. The train is 20 minutes late and though the delay doesn’t really hurt me much, it is worrisome. On any given weekday, local trains arrive at a rapid and unchanging frequency of four to five minutes on Platform No 1. Since my presence in the office is warranted by 4.30, catching the 4.11 train or anything before that is but imminent. However, today as I said, wasn’t a normal day. 
I left home late (was just too engrossed making the “saltiest” chicken curry ever cooked in the kitchen of my house), and didn’t show up at the station before 4.25 pm, only to learn that platform 1, which is otherwise barren during early evenings, was teeming with people. The next train as the sign board read was running late by 13 minutes. I walked down the north-end of the platform, seemingly excited at the prospect of reading a gifted novel The Far Pavilions peacefully for at least a good 10 minutes at the station (you can call it scuttling time for a book amidst my ‘work, sleep and eat’ schedule). 

I stopped at the ladies compartment section of the platform and opened the book, less in anticipation of the train and more in the hurry to read a good number of pages of the book. Like often, I remained unaware to people pushing me because my eyes were too focussed on deciphering lines in the book. I had a read some 10 pages, when the fact of being at the station-waiting for a train-heading for work suddenly dawned upon me. I looked up to find a  large group of women encircling me. It had been 20 minutes, and there was no sign of a train yet. A good four trains could have halted at the platform in the span of 20 minutes, this only meant that the next train would have to accommodate passengers of the four trains, which were seemingly cancelled due to some work on the tracks.  To our relief, we finally saw a train approach the platform. 
People on my end of the platform looked like they were gearing up for a baton relay. One leg forward, hands tightly-gripped, bodies ready to face the daunting pressure of commuter rush that would lunge them forward towards the train gates. At the ladies section, women in sarees almost unconsciously brought their palloos in front and lifted the fall of their sarees, to gallantly stride into the train compartments. I for once sensed the need to close the book and instead take the train, for want of time and to save myself the embarrassment of reaching work after our daily edit meeting. 
But for a brief second, I was reminded of the scene from  Bend it Like Beckham, where Parminder Nagra ‘Jess’ shudders as she witnesses her team-mates and opponents lined up some distance from the net, pushing each other, moving left then right, in anticipation of the ball, which Nagra would soon kick towards the goal. (The ball being the train and the team being the commuters, there is no Nagra like character right now, unless you mistakingly thought I was referring to myself).  

As the train halted, I noticed it was already packed with commuters from the previous station. I switched my mind for a second or two all set to push myself into the compartment (Oh! I could be Nagra here, like when she shuts her eyes to kick the ball. Finally, I can claim to be a significant character, but we are drifting). 
I don’t know how I got in, but I did. And as soon as I entered the compartment, I tethered myself to one end of the door and locked the fingers of my right hand to the handle above my head. The women behind me tried their best to push me hard and prod me to go ahead, but I refused. I remained stiff, and moved my left hand inside to place the 1000-page fat book, which was also struggling for space, behind the curve of my back. The position seemed a comfortable one, but only for 30 seconds. Soon, my hands started aching.  
Women of all ages however continued to flow in with each station. 

The compartment reeked of a concoction of talcum powder, the queasy smell of sweaty underarms, assorted deodorants, food etc. Not to mention the noise pollution. Somewhere in the background I could hear two women fight, one of whom kept repeating the typical Bollywood line the girl uses before a rape scene, chodo mujhe, chodo mujhe  (leave me, leave me). Amused, I turned my head towards the scene of action, to witness the “chodo muje girl” being incessantly thrashed and abused by a frustrated 50-year-old woman. Few others were attempting a rescue, even though they were unable to move their hands, due to the lack of space. 
Apparently, the chodo mujhe girl had stamped the frustrated 50’s leg. She not only refused to apologise, but snubbed her instead. Well, the 50-year-old’s wrath was only in the offing. 

Worst was the young 20-something girl on my right. The delicate darling kept making weird noises, which to my ear had some sexual undertones to it. Every time someone unintentionally rubbed against her, due to the jam-packed situation, she gave out a repelling ouch, ufffff, ouch, uhhhhhh, ouch, hmmm, ouch. Fortunately, I managed to drag myself to the edge of the gate.   

Why, why, why on earth did I make that salty chicken curry today? I questioned to myself. 
With each station, the explainable urgency to escape the mayhem and chaotic populous of women increased. Four more stations, four more station…. I pleaded to my mind. (The feeling of being in Nagra’s shoes now intensified… just this goal, just this goal… again I was drifting)

Just then, to stop me from drifting, I heard a cellphone ring the never-to-be-forgotten Nokia tune (sounds like tananana tananana tananana na). The tune started filling the air, driving me nuts… almost. But worst was when I felt myself being thrown outside the train. Am I going to die now. I turned to my right to see a woman digging inside her bag. The elbow of her hand was constantly hitting my back, throwing me ahead and almost outside the train. I stared at her, for behaving obnoxiously. She apologised, but claimed to have been looking for her cellphone, that was ringing perpetually. “It is an urgent call,” she said.
I showed some false concern, and held my hand hard to the pole of the train, so that I wouldn’t fall. One more station, one more… I felt more like Nagra now. The monotonous Nokia tune continued. For some strange reason, the woman could not find her cellphone amidst all the unwanted accessories in her bag. Her elbow kept hitting me, while she continued digging for it. “Can you please stop that phone?” I grumbled, audibly. She ignored my mumbling and went on foraging for her phone; this time, however she was careful about not dashing her elbow against me.
Finally, just seconds before the train halted at my station, the woman managed to find  her phone. She showed it off like she had got hold of a world cup trophy or something. The Nokia tune, however kept buzzing. “My phone is switched off,” she said, half-amused. I was extremely annoyed. She had kept me at the edge of life and death for almost half the journey and now she claimed that her cellphone was switched off. (The Nokia tune continued in the backdrop) When the train halted, I got down angrily and glared at her for one last time. She put her head down in embarrassment.  
In no time, the train whizzed pass the station. I scampered up the flight of stairs, towards the taxi stand below the bridge. I was already half-and-hour late to work. In the taxi, I was mulling about how I had come out alive, when I heard the Nokia tune again. This time, it was coming from my bag.  

P.S. My brother had changed the ring tone on my cellphone, to get back at me for force feeding him the salty chicken curry. Like I said, Why, why, why on earth did I make that salty chicken curry today?