It’s an old saying, “When in Rome do as the Romans do and when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere“. My visit to Mumbai, hence could not have been considered complete without a ride in the Local Trains or ‘Mumbai Local’, as they call them – the lifeline that helps this city commutes.
I was in Mumbai for a friend’s wedding with a few days of local travel kept aside for myself before participating in his Muslim wedding ceremony, which was a first for me.
Instead of lodging myself in a budget hotel, I stayed at my Aunt’s place and decided to explore the sights and sounds of Mumbai on foot, in a taxi and the local trains.
I decided to start my day of exploration from the Gateway of India and thus boarded the train from Andheri to Churchgate station in the morning hours that day. It is said to be one of the busiest routes on the North to South direction on the Western line.
Even though you may rarely see a Ticket-checker boarding the crowded locals and checking your tickets, don’t ever travel ticket-less on a Mumbai local, because if you do get caught, you would end up paying a fine and with the nominal costs of the tickets, getting penalised isn’t worth it.
I am a Delhi-ite, so crowds, claustrophobic as they may seem – do not deter me. Though I wanted to be brave and board the general compartment, I got swayed towards Women’s compartment and there I was, having survived the pulls and pushes, safely, with all limbs intact inside the train for my observational and introspective journey ahead.
Local trains in Mumbai, I pondered, are perhaps the best place to learn life’s lessons, provided you are willing to be curious, observant and patient.
From learning to find your way amidst a crowd of strangers, to breaking our comfort barriers and bonding with strangers – ‘adjustment’ is integral to our survival in relationships, work and life; and that’s the first lesson on display in a Mumbai local.
The rich and the poor, the old and the young, the businessman or a roadside vendor – all use the local trains to commute here, its a lesson in being grounded, of placing comfort over and above an ego-boosting, time-wasting ride in the car. I saw some who prefer to catch up on their sleep, while many start chatting with each other as if they have known each other through thick and thin. They greet each other, some smile while some get a shoulder to lean on and cry. People break barriers, amidst strangers, we find solace.
There are discussions happening all around you, that unknowingly update you on the political situation of the country, the windfall in the stock-markets, the latest twist in a TV Serial or give you a wisdom-filled advice on how to best handle your cranky boss at work or your mother-in-law.
Then there are those who eke their livelihood entertaining people, singing songs or selling curios on these locals. In the women’s compartment, I saw Marathi women selling earrings, bindis, bangles and more; and along with them came lessons in bargaining from the women they were showing their wares to.
The Mumbai local has the potential to teach you as much as you are willing to learn. All you need is a spirit to share, care and… not stare – I write that because Mumbai locals are considered very safe for women at any given time of the day or night.
May be, I thought to myself that it is because the wheels of the Mumbai local trains that keep moving, a journey on them is integral to understanding Mumbai, the city that never sleeps.