No Pain. No Gain. Just Insane.

No Pain. No Gain. Just Insane.

Mumbai Local Train Station...


My handbag clings to me tight. I'm not sure what is it I'm guarding, my bag or me.

At 38 degree Celsius the train station is bustling with Friday evening frenzy. Countless commuters move restlessly across its six platforms, aging bridges and shaky stairs. Blending and separating under the fading sun, commuters stir noisily with constant train arrivals and departures, and frequent brawls. They are desperate to make it to someplace else. 

It's the final moment before my train will take me away from this chaos to the other. To get home soon I must smartly 1) get into the train and, 2) get out of it. My first destination will be the first class women’s compartment. I always think that journeys with women in a more expensive class should be safe. The truth is far from it out here. There are over fifty women waiting at each of the three boarding spots, and their exasperation and aggression cannot be ignored.

My train arrives at the right time. Like a mammoth that is a tad beat and demoralized, it rolls in slowly, holding  within it thousands of commuters like pack of flies. It looks doomed to the wrath of its tiny prey. Oh... incase you don't know, Mumbai local trains have sliding doors, ones that slide shut only when there are speed jerks. Otherwise, all entry and exit points are open, and if you want, you can simply jump out midway if you don't like your journey.

The momentum of the train falls on a screeching note and our compartment rolls past its usual spot. The women who had positioned themselves strategically with a sort of geometric precision are aghast, but determined to make it in first, they chase it  fiercely. Some commuters are desperate to get off the moving train, and decide to jump onto the platform, into a crowd full of sweaty flesh and bloody rage.

The women waiting with me run for one of the three entry-exit points of the compartment. Just as I make a dash for the least crowded one, I realize that most are running in that direction! Panting from the fear of having to brave through this collective aggression, I prefer to follow these supercharged women. While I run behind them and follow the slowing train, I peep into the dark compartment that is full of women and vendors. It reminds me of a jar of pickled jalapenos that soak in salty air.

The train comes to a complete halt and the countdown to its departure begins. We have about 30 seconds for all of us to get in, only after fifty more women have muscled their way out. The meticulously pleated saris, ornate scarves, overflowing handbags, pregnant bellies and confused-to-tears children are grabbed hastily for the final ascent. In between this cannibalistic cacophony, descending commuters push their way out through two kinds of people: those guarding their spots at the compartment's doors, and those waiting to get in. Feminine shrieks, swears, and punches happen as per norm. The way out of a Mumbai train is a fierce battle, after-all, everything is fair in love, war and in the survival between.

Despite aches and fear, I stay put on the platform, and smile at fellow commuters, push them delicately, and feign helplessness while apologizing profusely. Somehow no one is amused by my over-the-top efforts to get in with dignity.

While women still gush out, I'm lost in the crowd with more women joining in from behind. I give up courtesies and push in with all might. I pray, recite mantras and feel my mouth go dry. The female flab lurking loose all about has cushioned me tight in this tussle, with my hair and body at the mercy of the crowd. One punch and I'll be done physically for the day and psychologically for a month. Frail hands, fragile bangles, metal watches, painted nails, studded wedding rings, and whatever we women can't have enough of has sunken into my bony flesh, pushing me to push further. The clock is ticking and the suspense is building. Will I get in, or will I watch it go? If not in, in a matter of seconds, it will not be better on any other.

Still on the Platform

The train has whistled loud and clear. Flustered and weakened by the colossal power of panting bodies leaning on me, I gasp for fresh air and wish for an open-jeep midnight jungle safari instead. One woman, who had probably just woken up, has still to get off, and at this crucial point of our entry, she is severely rebuked. My hands tremble as I watch her struggle and waste the remaining seconds left for us to board. Her bony face looks leaner and teeth are clenched wild. Well, she'll be purged in time. Her exit sees women push inside in the least 'lady-like' manner.

The Train is MOVING.

One foot over the other, that's how I'm going home. One hand holds the handle, and the other grips my bag, as I'm locked and scattered between bodies and breaths. There's no room to turn my foot or my body. Sweat is the only free matter to speed down my non-revolting body. Not a finger can I raise to stop the free-flowing vagabond! Salty waterfalls emerge from neighbouring skins kissing, rubbing and pecking at each other in the heat of the moment.

Deep necklines revealing tired muscle, and jazzy gadgets asking for attention, there's enough distraction for the time being. Despite the commotion, there are a few fighting over space, bad-mouthing their mothers-in-law, divulging details of their first kiss. It's kind of funny how minds and mouths work when nothing else does. As more bodies align with mine, I feel a sense of disconnection with my own. I'm not that hand, I'm this hand, I remind myself. I'm fully with me only at home. My body, mind, privacy and thoughts return like lost friends.

Winners are those who get home on time, prepare the long-awaited family meal, meet their domestic commitments and retire only when sleep fills their eyes. The day's commitments and obligations are sacrosanct, met with stopwatch-type precision, from sunrise to sunset.

Thousands of old, young, peppy, frail and sick journey to reconnect with life and love, and forsake their nearest ones, their body and their space, for hours daily. Many lives are lived inside trains. That's why the bread and time earned in cities like Mumbai are so precious, so divine. My commute was a battle no less, and gave me innumerable stories that I've lost on my way out. Here was that one moment etched in my heart, a moment of less than a minute that one lives every day, magnified, not dramatized for you.

Author: Madhur Prashant
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1 comment

Well written, good job. Keep writing.

Preeti Nigam

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