As a working from home mother (a.k.a a working housewife for the womenfolk), sometimes, I tend to get too cut off from the rest of the world. I spend hours working on the laptop just getting up for survival activities like eating, bathing, etc. And the only company I have got are the children who keep coming in and going out of the house as per their school, tuition, play schedules. Isolation hits you like a brick.
So, it was a good change when I had to trek in the 4 hour to and fro commute to my office. And the four hours is on a good day. Let me tell you, when one gets into a Mumbai local, you are entering a different city or country with its own rules and laws. It is the big serpent that dashes through the city throughout the day, north to south, south to north.
I start my journey from the extreme north of the city to the south and then, when the twains meet, I change to a train to take me to the north again. Someone finally thought of changing the north to south pattern and added some horizontal lines with a metro or subway or tube or whatever which finally made the twains meet at a more practical location.
You can imagine my life if the public transport sounds exciting for me. People are generally bored with it and spend the whole trip with their eyes closed or with earphones plugged in. I do neither. Of course, I catch up on some shut eye because 2 hours one way, phew. But, with blaring advertisements for Pan Masala, I have not yet got used to sleeping peacefully. In my earlier avatar as a working from office mother, I could sleep as soon as I got a seat, wake up just before my station. I have lost my expertise in it.
Now, it is the time to observe life passing by. I love to stand at the door of the local train to get some good breeze. One can observe phone conversations and try to imagine who is at the other end. A husband if she is complaining, mono-syllables if it is the in-laws, concern and care if it is parents, yap-yap for friends and soft whisperings with lot of smiles for boyfriends and fiances.
Then enters the eunuch. She comes in and touches everyone’s head as a blessing. In return, many people offer her money. Taboos and superstitions are still attached to them and their blessings are considered holy.
The railways made the seats long enough to seat three people comfortably. But, as a side-story, this gave rise to the fourth seat. A fourth seat is when the three others will squeeze in and let a fourth person sit on a half of a seat. It sounds trivial, but major battles have been fought for the fourth seat. Ask any Mumbaikar.
The next rule is to ‘claim’ a seat. Means, you ask the seated people where they are getting off. In case, they are getting off before you, you can stake a claim to their seat. The seat thus becomes prime property and is passed on to the next generation of seaters. But, this seating has another rule. A new person who has just been endowed with a seat, can only sit on the fourth seat, because everyone will shift towards the window. So, before claiming the prime property, also mentally calculate if you will be able to fit in after all the shifting takes place. Because, it may so happen, that after the shift, there is no fourth seat. All that waiting, for nothing. And it is at this moment when the train will decide to take a halt between the stations, let other trains pass by and wait out its turn.
When disembarking from the train, there are some unspoken rules to as to which side of the door one should be standing. God forbid if you are standing on the wrong side to get off the train. But, then it is Mumbai and we will adjust with the spirit in us.
It is a place to hone our survival skills, fighting skills, nuanced debating skills. After all this excitement, once I reach office, life slows down again to the mundane tasks of getting paper for the printer, taking a tea break, water-cooler moments, watching the latest fashion trends. It slows down the heartbeat and gets me ready to concentrate till it is time to go back. Then the whole process starts again.
Do you use public transport? Do you think of it as trouble or fun or fodder for your stories?