There are two ways to tell a story : the long, dramatic, raise your eyebrows , change the tone of your voice way. Or tell it like a short, terse Public Address announcement. Today I’ll tell you the same story in both the ways.
It all began with my return trip from Pune where I was visiting early this week. Since the road trip is not particularly safe in the early monsoon, my brother suggested I return to Mumbai by train. The Pragati Express left on time and I settled down in the seat to read my Vogue and eat my sandwiches.
No sooner had I turned the first page than Mr. Red Striped Conductor with his huge belly, came along to check our tickets. The passenger next to me flashed his pass and I showed my Driver’s Licence . The problem arose with my co-passenger , a middle aged lady who had forgotten her original form of identification. For a good five minutes or so there was an argument over my head with Mr. Red Strip leaning so close over me that I could feel his bristly, unshaven beard even though he was a good two inches away from me. What he was trying to do was extract ( extort?) some money from the poor lady who was getting quite flustered at paying twice for the same journey. Luckily, Mr. Red Stripe spied another ‘offender’ and quickly turned to nab him before he exited the compartment.
All was well till the train came down the hills to Karjat. I didn’t realise anything was amiss till Lady without ID told me that this would delay us by two hours. Well, there was nothing we could do about it, I said and continued reading my magazine while thinking up strategies to help her avoid paying the fine.
Eventually, the train chugged off the platform and sped down towards Mumbai. All of a sudden it came to a halt. “Kalyan”, I thought as there was the usual rush to the door with passengers leaving with their luggage. But after ten minutes the train still remained on the station! There was a lot of movement going on and I just dismissed it as the usual Indian Tamasha that happens when one person does something and everyone else blindly follows suit.
Before I knew it, the train emptied out and there were just 10 of us in the compartment. A young girl told me that the train had stopped and the station was DIVA. All the people who had got off were regular office goers who had jumped into a local train so as not to get late for work. Lady without ID had in the meanwhile contacted her husband and had asked him to get along her ID proof to Dadar station so that she could show it to Mr. Red Stripe. Lady without ID was willing to take the local and got off the train.
I took my bag to the vestibule and was wondering whether I should exit when I realised that I didn’t have a clue as to where I was. My iPhone battery was slowly getting discharged so I didn’t want to risk going on GPS and figuring out my bearings. In the meanwhile, I kept imagining the worst ( was it a hold up? a terrorist attack?) and kept WhatsApping my daughters who WhatsApped back – “I’ll get you an Uber/OLA just get off mum!”
From my view point, everyone was making their way to the local train platform via the tracks and I had no idea where the overbridge was. Besides, by now I had heard that alighting at DIVA wasn’t a good idea as taxis and even rickshaws ( autos as they are called) refused to ply outside the municipal area. Which meant that the only option I really had of getting out of the place was to take a local train.
Just then Lady without the ID came back and said that she’d wait with me in the train and get off at Dadar. By this time the ice had truly broken and we began to feel a kinship with the other couple stranded in the compartment. Before we could settle down, Mr. Red Stripe charged into the compartment and grabbed his bag.
“Where are you going?” I asked him stupidly.
“This train is not going to move, so I’m getting off.”
“So do you think we should get off ?”
“Not unless you want to wait here for four hours!”
By this time the compartment was already getting hot as the air conditionning had been shut off. With the open compartment door, the stench of urine from the attached toilet was already making its way into our breathing space and a strange looking man appeared inside, looking around for things to take away.
I took quick decision to get off and both the Lady without ID and I made our way to the top of the platform where we saw an overbridge going towards the local train tracks. Just then the PA system announced that our train had been cancelled.
My adventure in a Mumbai Local
Even though I had a light bag, the three packets of biscuits began to weigh heavily as I climbed up and I was getting nervous about getting into a Mumbai local. The last time I’d ever travelled by local train was way back in time when I’d accompanied Anna Shetty to her Mahim Centre for the open selection examination for her post graduate studies. That was a short trip on a Sunday morning when the trains are EMPTY. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
I waited at the platform which was unusually crowded with passengers from the Pragati and Karwar waiting to jump on to the train along with seasoned Mumbai commuters.
Now regular train commuters will tell you about the bonhomie and camaraderie that exists between them. Groups of ladies who sing hymns, cut vegetables, share gossip and generally have an enjoyable experience to and from their place of work. But equally there are stories of aggressive women. Those who turn away trouble makers. Those who nab thieves and do all kinds of heroic things. I was apprehensive about what I’d face especially since the distance between the foot board and the platform has seen many a passenger slip in and lose an arm or a leg.
Luckily, I managed to get in and a young girl let me take her place so that I could hold on to something as the train moved. She was getting off at the next station. I was literally two feet away from the entrance and could see the tracks speeding past. There was a slight scuffle behind me and a big, hug woman tugging a big bag asked me if I was getting off and if I wasn’t if I could let her go.
“Who’s stopping you ?” I asked and squashed myself further into my bag so that she could get off.
I had no idea how far it was to Mumbai and was willing to stand the few stations. It began to rain and the ladies standing at the entrance shut the doors to keep it out. This made it dark and stuffy . I had visions of being pushed out in the exit rush at the next station. So I pushed myself inside . I found a place next to Lady without ID who helped me inside the crowded compartment.
We chatted a bit . I looked around. I was amazed that despite being a First Class compartment, it was not even fit for luggage!
It was still early morning and the ladies were dressed for work. Most of them had their ear phones in place and were busy fiddling with their touch screens. They came in all shapes ,sizes and ages- some better dressed than the others. They sat in companionable silence getting off peacefully when their stops came. Often they signalled to a lady standing, so that she could take their place on the hard bench. Their day was just beginning but they all looked tired even before they went to work!
Now the short version :
The derailment at CST made my long distance journey into a local train one!
Train off the track
It seemed that the Udyan Express had derailed early in the morning at CST station itself. The Customer Service offered by the Indian Railways, the lifeline of India, completely shocked me.
- Over bridges are poorly maintained and Senior Citizens , differently abled or disabled persons find them hard to negotiate.
- The Railways do not take on any responsibility for long distance train passengers. They abandon them with as much alacrity as they do their trains.
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