Thursday, June 18, 2009

An Ode to Mumbai Local Trains

We Mumbaikars (I may be in Tamland married in Malluland but I sure am a Mumbaikar and will remain so, all my life) spend a lot of time discussing the 3:26 Virar Fast, the 5:44 Borivili Double Fast, the 10:26 Kurla Harbour local, 11:09 Dombivili Fast, because, to a large extent, our life depends on these local suburban trains. Don't ever mention the word peak hour. On the suburban trains, every hour is peak hour, including ek challis ki last local from Churchgate. The activity at the Churchgate and Victoria (Chatrapati Shivaji) Terminus stations, with a fully packed train arriving or leaving every two minutes, amazes me. The sea of humanity outside Dadar station every evening could be frightening. But it shows what the trains mean to us.

The experience of traveling in a Mumbai local can range from exhilarating, frustrating and occasionally frightening. There are times, with each train carrying more than five thousand passengers rather than the intended fifteen hundred when I wondered how I got into the crowded coaches and how I managed to get out. But then you miss out a lot of Mumbai life if you do not travel by the suburban trains.

I learnt a lot about life in the city from the trains. During peak hours, there was hardly any difference between the first class and the second class coaches. Even with millions travelling, almost everyone possessed a ticket or a pass. Unmindful of discomfort, the passengers chatted, gossiped, played cards and sang bhajans. I learnt a lot from their chatter. I got the latest twist in the Ambani power struggle and received tips on how to make rasam and appam from the South Indian lady passengers. The most heated discussions invariably took place during the elections or a cricket match when the fortunes of the parties or the teams were debated. And if you are a regular viewer of the K-serials and if you’ve missed the previous evening’s telecast, there’s no better place to catch up than the local trains.

Part of the education of commuting was rushing in first and trying to grab the window seat. The seat can accommodate three passengers comfortably but a fourth one invariably nudges and tries to squeeze in. Well, all you can do is glare at her and mutter something and hope she would away. But typically, you would get into the same situation the next day. saying - zaara adjust kar lo!

Commuting at leisure can lead to rumination. I used to wonder at the romance of station names like Cotton Green, King's Circle, Sandhurst Road, Santa Cruz and the harshness of desi station names like Chinchpokli or Ghatkopar. I remember hearing fashionable Christian girls pronouncing Kandivili as "Candyville" rhyming with Pleasantville, a New York suburb. Speaking of girls, it was the general belief that girls on the Western Railway were prettier and more fashionably dressed than the ones commuting by the Central. Don't ask me why! But then watching the Ladies Specials on both the Railways made one forget about glamour; the women pushed and barged in with a ferocity which would put male commuters to shame. Did anyone say weaker sex? For the timid, getting into and off a Mumbai train is close to a life altering experience. Engulfed in a sea of humanity, the hapless commuter just flows with the tide. Getting off crowded trains will redefine the meaning of personal space for you. The rides are so crowded that people even take the train in the opposite direction to one of the ends of the lines -- just so they can try and get a seat when the train turns around!

So what are the rules of commuting? The unwritten ones are :

1. No baggage Rule : There's just no space and in rush hours, either you get in sans the luggage or stay out!

2. Getting Off Rule : Stand near the door, atleast one stop away from your destination in empty compartments and in case your station is among the next three upcoming ones, do not even venture near a seat.
It is common for passengers near to tap each other’s shoulders asking for their destination. These people aren’t (usually) serial stalkers; they’re looking to position themselves for the 10-second window during which they can exit.

3. Seat Reservation Rule :
If you want to sit, stand in between the 3-seaters and ask the seated passengers 'Kaha uttarna hai' (Where do you want to alight?) If their destination is before yours, you point to yourself, then to him/her. A head bob from the seated party seals the deal, and your bum will soon be riding in style.

4. Helping-Hand Rule : You must, with the aid of your fellow passengers, scoop a passenger running towards the doorway
.Everyone works together to get you on the train before it departs.

5. Sharing Rule :
Newspapers are public goods in the Mumbai trains. If you don’t like people reading over your shoulder, then catch up on the latest Satyam development at your breakfast table. If you are reading newspaper in the train, you need to share it with atleast 3 of your co-passengers.

In Mumbai, local trains are the heart and soul of the city. It breathes life into Mumbai at the break of dawn and cradles the city to sleep, if only for a few hours. It truely is the lifeline. No other city, I know of, has such a plethora of people inter-mingling at one place and sharing moments of their lives together, even if it only is for a few hours.


  1. great post! I did a similar one about Kolkata public buses but definitely not as detailed as yours!

  2. Very detailed and vivid! :)

  3. dint read the whole post...will read at leisure. But did read the rules. Being non-mumbai-ite, it shud help me if in case I need to travel by the locals. :)

  4. couldn't have put it better myself!
    Described my daily commuting life in the best possible way! :)

  5. lovely post dewdrop....yeah mumbai trains are just awesome...they never fail to surprize me!!!

  6. DD,

    OMG! You took me back by nearly half a century. We used to get a day in Mumbai during our half yearly term breaks to & fro journey from Pune to Delhi by NDA special. We used to make the best of this by visiting places in Mumbai by locals. It was crowded those days and I can well imagine what it must be now. And what you say about learning is so very true.

    Take care

  7. I distinctly remember my first experience . I was in Mumbai for a day . The first few trains just went by me . I was too scared to do anything . Eventually I managed to get in , thanks to my friends . :)

  8. Hmmm.... interesting.

    I've seen those in indian flicks. I think they are so Indian! :)

    "Jab we met"... the train scene and all... one of my fave movies :)

  9. Very interesting post! I've never travelled in a mumbai local, but u made me experience it here..What a vivid discription!

    Next time I go to mumbai, I'll try and catch a glimple of life@the mumbai local myself!

    Take care and keep writing!

  10. that was quite fascinating and enthralling ,you described the emotions in the perfect manner.

  11. yep! you have captured the essence beautifully!!

  12. @ Roshni Mitra Chintalapati : Will check that one up... in fact, Kolkata is one fascinating city.

    @ Qi : Thanks

    @ PURN!MA : Sure. In fact there are a lot many aspects I have not captured in here. Like the fact that there are a set of friends in a Mumbaikar's life who are local train friends.

    @ Shaunak : I loved your train posts as well! :)

    @ Life 24*7 : Thanks... waise, aapke comments toh post ho rahe hain!

    @ i am what i am : Thanks... Surprise - In what way? I would like to know! :)

    @ Jack : That's a learning... didn't know life was aS crowded and hectic as today... thanks for that!

    @ Kislay : Ha Ha... not for the faint-hearted, my friend!

    @ WarmSunshine : Yeah... Jab We Met has long distance trains...but this is a whole new world... You must try them out sometime.

    @ akanksha : Sure do!

    @ I'll try 2 be truthful : Thanks!

    @ eye-in-sty-in : Thanks :)

  13. You transported me back to my local train days. Everyday i travelled between Andheri and Malad and my life revolved around train schedules. Very well narrated.

  14. lol...Perfectly described...the rules were lol'able... :D

    But this will sure scare those who haven't been so far in a mumbai local train ...

    But yeah this was so close to THAT EXP :)

  15. lovely post...reminded me of the good old day...being a mumbaikar trapped in hyderabad, I sure miss my daily commute by train here...7.53 churchgate local from andheri...sigh those were the days...

    the best thing I like abt the trains though is how people will help someone running to catch up into a comapartment...wonderful stuff...

  16. very good post dewdrop on mumbaI locals.

  17. Yes i have experienced the life of the Local Trains there.Its too hard to survive.

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  18. Beautiful post
    honest yet funny
    just made me respect my daily journey

  19. it is hilariously put up

    no better way to describe the lifeline of mumbai

  20. hey very lovely post. i am the author of the Mumbai local train blog and wonder how i never came across your post. very well written! following your blog right away to read more such interesting posts :)