Train Tales

Posted December 2nd, 2003 by Deepa and filed in Personal
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Every Mumbaikar worth his salt has a few vignettes about the local train travel. Without further ado here is a bunch of travel tales I remember.

There was the beggar child who taught us the value of inflation about 7 years back. As a rule, I never give alms to beggars and definitely not to children who beg. The lady beside me did not possibly have that rule so when a grubby child begged her for alms, she carefully removed a 25 paisa coin and put that in her begging bowl. The child fished the coin out of his bowl and gravely inspected it for a few seconds. Then he replaced the coin in the bowl and brought out another coin and offered it to the lady. It was a 10 paisa coin, Before the lady could respond, the urchin said an unemotional ,”rakh lo” and went off. Nobody around knew what to say at that moment.

Standing at the railway platform you can always differentiate between the veteran travelers and the novices. As soon as the train is seen entering the platform, the veteran ladies loose their lethargy and adopt aggressive postures. The sari pallu or the the dupatta gets efficiently tucked to one side, the handbag is firmly clasped, there is a quick check to see whether the necklace/chain that they are wearing is shoved inside the dress/blouse and if necessary it is held on to. The eyes dart here and there quickly to check for any potential pick-pocketeers and then zero in on the train door not resting till they have got in and find a place to park both the feet. Once that’s done, the quickly scan the train for any possible seat…The rule is 4 to a seat.. It doesn’t matter if the previous three incumbents are obscenely fat but if there are only three, they shamelessly squeeze in for the 4 th seat.

Sometimes I have got the chance to teach a virgin train traveler the ropes…It is always fun to see the horror on their faces when they see their first crowded train and it is remarkable to see the ease with the become pro travelers after a few days. The first person that I taught about train travel was a school friend called Somila. To my horror, despite being a Bombayite she had never traveled in a local train till her 8 th standard.

Priyanka and I decided to immediately rectify that. As 14 year olds we were not exactly pros ourselves so we made the mistake of going towards Churchgate in the peak morning traffic and trying to get down at Charni road station. We calmly bundled her into the train at Bombay Central Station, despite her shrieks at seeing the crowd and even managed to push our way to the opposite side. Getting down was another story altogether. We told Somila to stick behind us and just come with the flow. However after getting down at Charni road we turned behind to see that there was no Somila. All we could see was her bag jutting out of the crowd and weak cries from inside. So we pulled at the bag till Somila emerged and yelled at her to push her way out before the train started. But Madam was waiting for a clear path ,which clearly was not going to emerge. So Priyanka asked the ladies to just throw her out of the train…Thankfully the amused ladies obliged and just as the train started to move Somila landed with a thud on the platform. What I have never forgotten was how she got up from the sprawling position. With both her hands still on the platform she gave her head a little toss and flicked her hair behind and then remarked “Mera hairstyle ekdum bigad gaya hoga.” . We burst out laughing. We retuned back home by cab. Somila paid.

Eunuchs in train always frightened me. Admittedly they are still not my favorite co-passengers but they are not always a nuisance. Sometimes they are ready to fight for you. The people I really dread on trains are the infamous fisherwomen. Enrage them slightly and you get the full knowledge of all the latest abuses in their vocabulary. A lady next to me learnt this the hard way…Dressed to the hilt, she boarded the train only to find the entire central area occupied by a couple of fisherwomen with huge baskets and the whole compartment reeking of fish. Not exactly comfortable traveling…this lady gave a couple of irritated glances at the fisherwomen and then committed the cardinal sin : she wrinkled her nose. That was enough to infuriate our friendly fisherwomen. They showered so many abuses on the poor lady that she was almost shrinking in the corner. The abuses ranged from how the rich folks can eat the fish but can’t bear the fishy smell to the comments on the size of her heels and the nature of her entire family.

That was when the eunuch in the compartment decided to join the melee. In strident voices she started yelling at the fisherwomen, quickly took the spotlight away from the frightened lady. Soon there was a yelling match with both the parties enjoying themselves thoroughly, the rest of the public had an enjoyable drama to while away the tedious journey and the person who started the whole proceedings managed to get down at her station calmly while the fight in the train continued.