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Amit Sehgal |
November 17, 2003 17:19 IST
I'll be holding one bag, you hold one. He'll make a grab for the doorway; I'll push him from behind. You just cling to me. Don't, I repeat, DON'T let even a breath of air come between us or...," he repeated for umpteenth time, stressing the word 'don't'.
Even after these explicit decisions, he continued to eye me suspiciously. There was no missing the threat in his eyes lest I disobey him. I glanced around nonchalantly, as if what I was about to do was an every day affair. I hoped I looked confident because I was trembling inside. I was not the least bit ready for my first journey in one of Mumbai's famed local trains.
If you guessed by now that I was an out-of-towner, you'd be absolutely right. I had just landed at Mumbai Central station (where many outstation trains disgorge their passengers), along with a friend for an interview. A buddy from my school days, who had by now become a full-fledged Mumbaite, was there to receive us. True to his changed loyalties, any suggestion of taking a cab or some other decent means of transportation was brushed aside with an adamant NO-NO. And reinforced with 'If you have not travelled in a Mumbai local, you have not visited Mumbai, you have not lived, you don't have any adventure spirit...' and so on. Finally, we conceded.
It requires skill, technique and persistence to get in and out of a Mumbai local train, we were informed. There was a blissful time when just standing in the waiting crowd automatically got you on the train; the flow of the crowd ensured it. But those were the good old days. Now, one needed to force one's way through the people jammed against the entrance of the compartment; the direction you took depended on whether you needed to get in or out or a compartment.
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My friend was bracing us for the ordeal. With all that strategising and the instructions, I thought I was ready and charged for those few precious moments that would ensure all three of us boarded the same compartment of the same train.
What ensued did not match my wildest imagination! As soon as the train stopped, all hell broke loose. People went berserk. Their civic sense vanished in thin air as they charged towards the train like a starving man would towards food or a ravenous tiger towards its prey.
I don't have any recollection of what happened after that. The next thing I remember is hearing someone scream in agony, only to realise it was me. Someone was standing on my foot. Now I was really angry; my Punjabi blood was boiling. I tried to turn to face the person who was inflicting such pain on me, only to realise I was also being poked in my abdomen. Besides, someone was pulling at my bag. Others were pulling my arms. Everyone was behaving as if mangling me would lead them to nirvana. But I was in the compartment!
If it had not been for the discomfort, I would have thought I was some kind of VVIP, surrounded by people whose sole objective seemed to be to touch me. Suddenly I realised, much to my horror, that of the many souls breathing on me, none were the two familiar faces I was supposed to be with. It took real effort to spot them, crowded in a corner. They were smiling serenely at me.
After pushing, shoving, twisting and turning -- it took a ride in a Mumbai train to make me realise how supple the human body could be -- and lots of grunts, growls, angry glares, frowns and compliments that I can't mention here, I was finally reunited with my friends, only to be met with stern 'See, I told you' looks. The ominous warnings and instructions were repeated, with an occasional 'If you don't...' thrown in for good measure. We were ready to get off.
The train started slowing down and we doubled our efforts to reach the compartment's door. Within seconds, the train halted at Vikhroli station. Again, two seemingly immovable forces -- people wanting to get out of the train and people wanting to get in -- tested their immense strength against each other. Crushed between their aspirations was poor me. I had no realisation as to what I was doing or where I was going.
I held on to my bag for dear life and frantically looked for my anchors, my friends whom I was supposed to 'stick to'. I could not see them. I was entering some kind of a trance. Someone calling my name in a sharp voice brought me back to reality. I found myself perched on top of a few people -- God knows I was not trying to fly out of the compartment! -- desperately waving my arms in all directions. I did not know whether I was being pushed out of the compartment or into it.
Then, a miracle happened. A blessed soul took pity on me and guessed -- I still thank God that he guessed correctly! -- that I was trying to get out. He somehow caught hold of my shirt or hand or bag (not that I care or remember!) and pulled me out of the compartment.
Seconds later, I found myself standing breathless on the platform. My hair and clothes were dishevelled, but I was beaming. Still holding on to my bag, I raised both my hands in the air in victory. Everyone was staring at me curiously but I did not care. They had no clue how proud I was of myself. I had successfully accomplished my first journey on one of Mumbai's local trains.
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