Monday, December 10, 2007

Near-Death Experiences in Bombay

I was in Bombay this past weekend and being the “when in Bombay, do as the Bombayites do” types, Friday evening found me at Dadar railway station trying to board a local suburban train in the direction of the evening returning-from-work rush. I’m not new to Bombay or the experience of traveling in such trains -- which incidentally can almost be considered an X-treme sport. But this time I not only had the disadvantage of having to fight the evening crowd but was also handicapped by a rather cumbersome travel bag that I was lugging around.

The train comes in, I grab onto the pole in the middle of the doorway with my right hand and try to squeeze myself into the compartment (already occupied by about a gazillion sweaty individuals). My bag is in my left hand trailing behind me.

There’s an old Spanish saying, “Donde comen seis, comen siete”. (Or something like that.) It translates to “Where six can eat, seven can eat.” This might seem like good logic. But I found out that evening, that “where a gazillion can fit, a gazillion plus one can’t always”! So the train starts moving, and I find that my only physical contact with it is my outstretched hand holding onto the bar in the middle of the doorway and about three toes of my right foot that have managed to find about three square inches of free space somewhere on the foot board. (I always knew real estate in Bombay was ridiculously hard to come by, but I was finding out just how bad it really was!)

“This won’t do,” I think to myself. “I’ll just take the next train. And if that’s too crowded, then the one after that, or the one after that...” Death by falling out of a train was never on my list of “Cool Ways to Die”. So I crane my neck around and what do you know -- suburban trains in Bombay can accelerate! And how! We were already moving too fast for me to get off under the best of conditions, and certainly not jumping backwards and with a heavy bag in hand. So much for Plan A.

That’s when exactly two thoughts hit my mind.

The first was -- “Think of something clever to say to these people around you. Last words are always important.”

The second was -- “Ummm, one hand’s keeping you alive and the other is holding onto your [very important] bag! What if someone reaches into your pocket right in front of your eyes, removes your wallet, takes out all the cash and the cards, waves them in front of you, stuffs them in his pocket and then puts your wallet back in! Which hand do you use to punch him?”

The people of Bombay are a good lot though. The guy in front me yells out to some people in front of him, something about “the person behind him being as good as off the train” and “what the hell were they doing not moving forward and giving us some space?” and were they “waiting for him to fall and die before they moved?” It was an impressive display from him, I must admit and people did inch forward and I managed to move from my three square inch hovel to a relatively decent one room house -- enough space to keep both my feet and somehow rest the bag on top of them. I was still by no means safe -- too close to the door, but at least not outside it any more). I had no idea when the next station even came (the platform was on the other side).

The station after that one, however, was on my side of the train. I got pushed out and then pushed back in again and was now living in a (comparatively) luxurious one bedroom apartment! I was just planning my house warming party when I realized it was time for me to alight. I used the good old “float-and-drift-with-the-tide” algorithm there and managed to escape alive, carried more by the crowd than by my own feet.

That is Bombay. And I love it.


veda said...

I too have memories of the general compartment in Mumbai locals, though mine are more olfactory in nature (my nose, even helped up with 6" stilletoes, may never see more than 5 ft from the ground). Forget moisturizer, you could probably make a fortune selling deodorant.

Arnold said...

veda:- Au contraire, my vertically challenged friend, selling "deodorant" in Bombay would be a complete flop! Like you well know from your delightfully fragrant experiences traveling on the trains there, no one uses deo, no one wants deo, no one buys deo, no one even cares about deo!

You could just stand there selling it and they'll pass you by looking at you as if you were mad.

Siddharth said...

Nice post!

Siddhu said...


Funny post; funnier comment. :D

Mulling Over My Thoughts said...

deodrants for the locals???
maybe the railway authorities oughta add that to the assortment of additional services they might offer huh???
maybe impose a 2% deodrant cess... that oughta be one of the issues the commuters oughta strive for!
(atleast the vertically challenged commuters!!!)

Sarika said...

This post touched a raw nerve man! :P I spend half my salary on avoiding crowded trains traveling in cabs.

It's much much worse with the men's compartments though. Few times that I'm thankful for my chromosomes :P

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