The Local Tribute

In the wake of the New Year, when celebratory new hopes and retrospective sentiments abound, even fewer writers would turn to something trite and stale. Tirelessly glorified as Mumbai’s lifeline, Mumbai local trains are however as fresh and exciting to write about as life itself. Therefore I simply cannot resist this urge to put my two bits about the city’s “nursing angel” carrying tired minds, exhausted bodies and injured souls to safer havens.Gliding away like a serpent against the backdrop of a halted city- jammed roads waiting to be released the ubiquitous locals are a relief to many.

 Photograph by Harishankar Moosath

Mumbai’s locals are at its best an excellent psycho- socio profile of Mumbai city. It bears witness to the city’s rapid pace running day and night scarcely pausing to rest just like its citizens who appear overdosed on energy pills. Mumbai’s congestion extends well in the interiority of its local trains where four people are discomfortingly perched on a three seater while the fifth one shamelessly tries to rest his ass on the fourth man’s shoulder. The locals also reflect the city’s tired soul with at least a fourth of its passenger taking or trying to take a desperate nap reclining over the window frame or resting their heads over their consenting or helpless neighbour. Experienced travelers will tell you how they have come to identify the jerks of the moving train with the gentle rocking of the cradle in their infantile days caressing them into a sugary nap.

 Photograph by Harishankar Moosath

These spatial negotiations within the train reminds us of the congested pavements of Mumbai where the Jalebiwallah is sharing space with a cobbler on its underside whilst a wealthy merchant’s cloth shop forms the backdrop of the market. A Mercedes is parked adjacent to this queer juxtaposition where the family is munching street side pani purisunder its hood, adding a flavour of its own.

The trains do not simply serve as a vehicle of public transport but it often doubles as a shopping arcade for scarves, kitsch imitation jewellery , vegetables , books, ball point pens, fridge and mobile covers, pass holder, stationery collectibles , cleaning equipments , key chains, lingerie …you name it, you got it. However, this privilege is occasionally reserved only for the female counterparts of the journey. The spaces within the train host birthdays and anniversaries complete with all the balloons, ribbons and festoons. They become sites of religious meditations and recitations, the typical addas for discussions and discourses and during snail hours can be converted into your personal bedroom to stretch and unwind. The severe scarcity of suitable space coupled with the limited time on hand negotiates with train spaces to convert itself into a market, party hall, prayer room, study room, musical academy and a lot more.

The trains are fair representations of the demographics of its people. Everyone from TV starlets to fisherwomen, construction workers to Dhobis, professors and secretaries –all have spend a good share of their lives getting old in their daily journey to work .Gucci haughtily snarls across at a Street bag, Bhajans and Shloks are sung and Hanuman Chalisas recited interspersed with biblical hymns and prayers.

 Photograph by Harishankar Moosath

The city of Mumbai is notorious for its dadagiri and goondagiri. The struggle for power to acquire not just “a” seat but a seat closest to the window which guarantees good ventilation, a good view of the city and which is linear to the train’s movement is a living witness of people‘s struggles who will spare no chance to stub your toes and push their way to get their place. The relief of “Yes, I have a place” becomes closely tantamount to “Yes, I have a place in this city.” Besides teaching you life’s best lessons like how to enjoy the light squeezes and violent pushing as simulation of spa like conditions or how to gracefully make way for the fourth seater when you just began to enjoy the comfortable ride back home, train journeys sensitize you as well as de-sensitize you at the same time. They function as cathartic passages between work and home allowing you to release and explode between the push and pull of the ritualistic train exercise.

Nonetheless, the local trains are witness to some city’s darkest encounters with accidents, terror and violence. The “nursing angel” has wounded many of its passengers beyond repair. Unfortunate accidents, snarly brawls and mishaps have proved fatal costing several lives. In 2002, the rape of a minor girl in the train paralyzed Mumbai with fear and cringed her with disgust when five men aboard that train did not try to avert the rape. The city’s soul was punctured yet again with seven bombs blasted on trains plying on western line of the suburban railway network.  The attack on the local trains, which is every man’s vehicle of transport, has severely exploded people’s sense of safety. An abandoned forlorn bag –the carrier of explosives – if spotted even today, sends a shiver down people’s spine though it may be a genuine loss or misplacement.  People pray for nothing else but a safe ride back home, a promise that they will return to their beloved ones without the uncertainty of life that each day brings.

Call it city’s resilience or cold heartedness, the city continues to bubble with activity nonetheless. The local trains that run tirelessly make an iconic contribution to the city and its ebullience. After all, it is a city’s transportation that conjures the soul of the city –her high spiritedness, her mood, her attitude, her pace, her struggles and her unique identity. The local trains having acquired a nearly synonymic relationship with Mumbai has time and again captured the unique iconography of the city with their colossal body and serpentine gait conspicuously gliding far and wide across Mumbai.