Monday, May 18, 2009

‘Local’ized pain, ‘local’ized pleasure

Life is on the rails. A break is when the train stops at a crossing. Observe people rushing into a Mumbai Local train, and one of the following, in isolation or otherwise, is what you may come to think of.

• There is money being distributed for free inside.
• It’s heaven in there, with plush furniture, a couple of air-conditioners whizzing away to freezing point, and rail-hostesses to attend to you.
• A million angels (good-looking ones, of course) are at wait.

Go in, and you realise that ‘rushing in’ was not worth the effort.
• There ain’t any money (and this ain’t due to recession, mind you).
• It’s far from heaven inside. A concept called the rail hostess was never born. The furniture is limited to basic, bare, back-breaking woodwork.
• Did someone say angels?!

While you are busy pondering over why this city (or the train) is the way it is, a fist punched into your groin brings you back to reality. The moral: Guard thy essentials, before thou shalt guard others’.

As time progresses, the sound of the rails grows on you. You shed the act of philantropy for a reason called ‘reaching office on time’, and you learn to casually and (apparently unknowingly) bash up a couple of ruffians for the most coveted place on the train, the footboard. This is when you learn to go beyond the journey. My classmates may pause, read the last sentence, and realise as to why I have underlined a part of it. In case you haven’t been able to place it, just continue to think beyond.

That’s how we have been taught to solve a problem. Think beyond it. Bypass it. (I would have called it ignorance!) Others may forgive the temporary derailment.
Three weeks into daily to and fro journey in this ‘wonder machine’, this traveller has gathered enough anecdotes to narrate. What follows is humour that was once pain. Humour that was observed amidst the blows dealt, punches received, and tramples borne under clenched teeth.

1) There was this kid with a suitcase, and there was his dad with a bigger suitcase. The train halted at Dadar. For non-Mumbaiites, Dadar is one station that is crowded when normal and best-not-described otherwise. As soon as the train halted, ‘the dad’ gets out, leaving the kid to himself. The fact to be noted here is that busy Mumbai even causes ‘the dad’ to forget his kid, momentarily, though. Shouts of ‘papa’ then reminded him that he had a son. Try as he might, he could not even see his son amidst the crowd and din, forget going in and pulling him out. Now, passengers travelling by the Mumbai local trains have this one appreciable quality. Innovation - on the feet, on the go, and the willingness to help one another. Other states in the country ought to learn from them. The kid’s bag was lifted (above all passengers’ heads) and changed hands till it reached the dad. Next, the kid was lifted in the same manner. He was passed on till he emerged from the top, while the dad was busy looking through the door! I got reminded of those thrash metal concerts where the vocalist hurled himself on to the crowd, and was passed around like a plaything before the exhausted audience decided to put the thing back on stage!

2) I alighted at Kurla, waiting to board another train to either Wadala or Dadar. After a long wait (an unusual one), the train arrived. Crowded beyond imagination, yes, but there was this relatively empty coach. Proud of my observation skills, I rushed in, when somebody tugged hard at my collar. As was routine in Mumbai, I landed a folded elbow on his tummy. This time, though, the consequence was a bit different. The guy wouldn’t let go of my collar! He then dragged me out. I missed the train, and was about to land another elbow, when I understood he was a railway inspector. I produced my tickets even before he asked for them. He never bothered to even bat an eyelid, let alone check my tickets. Instead, he asked me to show the ‘evidence of injury’. The coach was for the handicapped! My observation skills need a slight tweak, but then I have another year of MBA to go, to bridge the deficit.

I then convinced the inspector that it was purely by accident that I got into he-knew-where, and that I was bad at acting hurt or injured. I then told him about my doing an MBA, and of how I could not even imagine faking a handicap/injury. He then let go of my collar for no fee at all, only because I was doing an MBA. The degree finally got its due, though from a railway inspector.

3) This one is different. More than an anecdote, this is praise. Unlimited praise for a city that lives life on the rails. And quite literally too. People postpone their morning prayers to when they travel by train. The snooze that people lose when waking early in the morning gets compensated for during the journey. Stocks get evaluated. Bhajans are sung. A group of officers find the time apt to take a dig at its boss’ ancestors. Some just stand and stare. Others are on the lookout to offer help. The ‘entertainment gang’ plays a round of cards amidst the entire din. Lovers stare into each others’ eyes. Silent either to not add to the noise, or to reserve the talk and quarrel to post-wedding (if at all they decide to ‘convert the call’).

As for me, I realise:
a. I am done with my morning prayers, but my snooze has been pending for over a week.
b. As an intern, I could possibly afford to not bad-mouth my superiors.
c. The stocks were never mine.
d. There is no one to offer help to.
e. The last time I played cards was when they released a pack of 100 on wrestlers of the WWF!
f. I am single, single yet. There aren’t eyes to stare into. No girl, to speak or not to speak. And I apologise for borrowing from the ‘Bard Dude’ (that’s how he would be known, were he graduating from one of South Mumbai’s colleges).

4) The multitasking I referred to above, though appealing in principle, did turn out to be annoying during execution. I tried reading a copy of the Business Standard, while listening to Metallica. And, I had this chunk of luggage called a Dell Laptop. Portability apart, this is one irritating piece of baggage that can turn your already constrained train journey into a perpetual tug-o-war. Once it so happened that I entered the train, but my laptop didn’t. I had no option but to drag the entire system in, i.e. the bag with the laptop and two people (somehow) glued to either side of it. They took a dig at my ancestors, but that’s something I was prepared for as a trainee interning in sales!

Detour done, it’s back to the newspaper and the MP3 player. Reading a newspaper in a second class coach is a physical impossibility. Laptop on one hand and newspaper on the other made me look like Michael Jackson when he did one of his head-torso-and-rest-of-the-body-along-three-different-dimensions steps!

Meanwhile, Metallica seemed to have understood the state of affairs of my journey. The playlist had so perfect a correlation with what was happening...
1) Just as I got into the train, my MP3 Player said ENTER SANDMAN.
2) When a couple of people pushed me to a side, the song was SAD BUT TRUE.
3) Five minutes later, when I got a seat, my player told me, “NOTHING ELSE MATTERS”.

Too many anecdotes spoil the blog, and hence I believe a sequel could narrate the rest.