The week that was  #MondayMusings #chattyblogs

The week that was #MondayMusings #chattyblogs

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?


21 thoughts on “The week that was #MondayMusings #chattyblogs

  1. So true about working from home and feeling lonesome, Lata. While I admire the flexibility it gives me, I miss adult conversations, one-on-one interactions with people. Ever since the Metro came to our side of town I have taken it more frequently and am privy to some of the Mumbai local experience you speak of. The 4th seat rule applies here too 😀 I love people watching too while everyone else is reading on their Kindle or listening to songs. I mentally write stories about them too! Which comes in handy when I am cooking up new ones for the blog.

    Delightful piece on the local travel experience. Was right there with you as you spoke of the situations.

  2. I loved this little litany of the infamous mumbai locals and was nodding my head as I read for I had realised all of this while I had commuted briefly via them on a stay in mumbai a few years back. I was most amused by the business like query for the availability of the seat and booking it till the person got off. I too preferred to stand on the door and watch the landscape speed by and ofcourse for some breeze.
    A mumbai local is also a scene of loads of economic activities – some of the vendors have the most ingenious ways to sell and display their products – they are quite efficient in setting up inside the train and dismantling just as quickly.

  3. I love how you described your experiences, Lata! Yes, I am used to the Mumbai local and it is definitely a different Universe. I remember thinking years ago, I could simply keep traveling to and fro and watching people and writing about them. Yes, working from home has its advantages, but it can also get quite lonely. All the best!

  4. 25 years ago, when I was a college student, I used to love train travel. I, too, used to doze off on getting in at Vashi and then wake up at Masjid…all fresh and happy. Now, it’s a different story. I haven’t travelled in a train in ages and after reading about all the things that happen there, I am sceptical about using it as a means of transport. I would rather use the BEST bus, or the Metro Link. But, I could so visualise the varied scenarios you have narrated here, Lata! Perfect! 🙂

  5. Quite an interesting travel you have had. I’ve heard so many tales and watched a few documentaries about Mumbai locals and the experience it offers and yours pretty much covered all those points. I visited Mumbai in 2016 and we did take the local once. Since it was almost night, there wasn’t much crowd and we did manage to get a seat. I guess we were lucky!

    As much as public transports are convenient, with Bangalore traffic everything goes upside-down. Since I stay pretty close to where I work, I take autos daily. I have a few regular drivers who know me well and pick and drop me. I have no patience for public transport otherwise. While I was young and not working, I have taken them plenty of times. I’d never forget that.

  6. Our Bombay trains are legendary! They are literally the quickest way to get around the Maximum City.
    You’ve just shared a wonderful slice of an experience with people who may have heard about them but never travelled in them.
    Great post, Lata!:)

  7. Oh I’ve done this commute in Mumbai – Chembur to VT. You brought it all back so wonderfully. That fourth seat lol! I know what it’s like being home all the time with only kids for company as they go about their day. I enjoy going out most days because I don’t have to do it everyday.

  8. I loved reading this account of travel by the Mumbai local trains. I have never been to Mumbai but have heard a lot about its lifeline – the local trains. The account about listening and imagining who is the person on the other side of the phone call made me giggle. And the fight for the fourth seat, the adjustment seat was the best, especially whether one can fit in the space available. A reader with a huge mass can identify well with this 😀

    1. Haha Thanks Anamika. It is same for me and the fourth seat. Nowadays, I am travelling in second class and lets say the experience is fun.

  9. I have travelled a lot in Mumbai locals and buses during my school and college years. I used to love people watching back then. That fourth seat is so true where the person only has some room to rest their bum. 🙂 Then all those ladies selling bindis and trinkets and women passing time by browsing through them. Now in Bangalore, I hardly ever take public transport. I drive to most places or take cabs and traffic is hardly something that one enjoys watching. Your part about missing meeting people is what I feel as well. Working from home is sort of lonesome. I miss the human contact bit but the commutes here are so harsh.

    1. Thanks Rachna. I missed writing about the sellers. I buy my bindis and hair clips only from these sellers. Earlier I used to travel by the Ladies special train. It had all kinds of sellers selling beauty products, dress materials, kids toys, scarves, home-made samosas and puran polis. It was fun then, but the crowd has gone crazy nowadays.

  10. I used to travel Mumbai local only from South to North on weekends when I had to meet my cousins . Briefly I did it on weekday mornings but since it was against traffic I managed to enjoy it . Also this was 40 years ago! Two years ago my Pune Mumbai train stopped at Kalyan and I had to jump into a local…. believe me it was quite a different experience at rush hour going north to south.
    But I love the way you’ve described the conversations and the seating arrangements. Our Mumbai locals have a life of their own.

    1. Sunita, 40 years ago and now is so different. When I started commuting 20 years ago, life was much simple. I could get a seat after a few stations. But, now it is a standing trip and very crowded. I also plan a lot before boarding a train if I am travelling with my sons. Mumbai locals is a culture in itself.

  11. Oh goodness, you brought back memories of catching the train. I did it for 5 years on a consistent basis as I studied at Xavier’s and travelled from New Bombay. Luckily though, I almost always got a seat. I hated the Western line when I caught that a couple of times. It was way more crowded. I’m sure the harbour line is just as crowded nowadays. Back then, I’d listen to music on my walkman or sleep. I’d do things differently now as I think it would be great writing material! 😀

    1. Haha. It is indeed great writing material. Harbour is still not as crowded and whenever I travel by harbour, I get a seat and the commute is bearable. Though there are lot of changes,
      they still remain essentially the same.

  12. Oh woww, it does sound like a whole different world. I have heard so much about it. Loved the tussle for the fourth seat… Sounds like an early morning adventure. But 2 hours one way 😱 I am exhausted just by the thought of travelling so much for work.

    1. Thanks Rajlakshmi. We did have an office nearby but commercials made the company consolidate the offices closer for better management and cost benefits. Thankfully, I do not have to commute everyday. And whenever you visit Mumbai, experience the train once. We see many foreign tourists also on the train trying to understand the chaos.

  13. Yes, I use public transport. It can be great fun. I live on an island so I get to ride on the bus over the river and look at the water. Then I ride it to downtown Buffalo and I watch the city scene and the people and the buildings. It never bores me. I am fascinated by the people and, sometimes, there are events and other activities. Cities are fascinating places from inside a bus.

    1. Wow Alice! How is it living on an island? In your few lines, I could imagine you sitting near a bus window looking out and the sun on your face. Since, I have always lived in Mumbai, I find it difficult to stay in a village for long.

  14. I have been to Mumbai a few times and traveled in the local train only Once, with a friend that too when the train was fairly empty. I must say, that the spirit of people in Mumbai commuting in local trains daily is marvelous and astonishes me. Hats off to people who do it every day of their lives. 🙂

    1. Thanks Rashi. I wouldn’t say the crowded train is to be experienced. But, the train itself like you said, is so complex with lot going on. We make lifelong friends also. I have seen the ladies helping each other a lot. When I was pregnant, there would always be someone helping me with a seat, my bags. Its the people who make life bearable in the train.

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