After so many months, much to the relief of lakhs of commuters, the local trains in Mumbai have started running once again. It was the end of March 2020, when India went into lockdown and the local trains had to stop running, they were started eventually for essential services, but it was opened full-fledged for everyone from 1st February, 2021.
On the same day, a particular picture of a man bowing in front of the local train before boarding it, went viral. Indeed, this is how valued the local trains are here. It is much of a lifeline in the city of dreams, for millions who chase their ambitions each day, commuting to and from work. The viral picture reminded me of my own association with these local trains.
When I used to commute to work by the local trains here, I had myriad experiences, a few great friendships, and a lot many lessons to learn. Since I had migrated from a different city, my initial few days were spent in figuring out how these trains work (I mean not about their running on tracks). I could not distinguish between the first class and the second class compartments. I would pay for the first class tickets and board the very crowded second class compartments. I was not used to the crowd and on one such day, when I boarded an utterly crowded train to meet my husband for an evening date later, I ended up misplacing my clutch bag (which had all my cash, not cards and my phone thankfully). On another such day, I almost fell off from a running train and bruised myself badly. In a few weeks, I learnt how to distinguish the first class compartments and boarded those, but there were more surprises – the seats were never ever empty. People acted like they were broader than they were actually. (I guess this is what people referred to as first class prudery). Eventually, I became more comfortable with the commute, standing for an hour reading a book all the while, with all the background noise and din.
The best part about commuting on these trains was however about all the lovely friends that I made in the next few months. My friends’ circle in the trains began to grow and I became a part of a big group of women commuters. They loved to talk, they talked a lot about their work, homes, family members, the problems, the sorrows and the joys. The commute time of an hour became too less suddenly, and I could hardly read my books any more. I looked forward to meeting my train friends everyday.
Another interesting aspect of the Mumbai locals is the huge number of vendors who sell their goods on these trains. From junk jewellery to fresh fruits, homemade cakes to rice crispies and sweets to stoles, you will come across all kinds of hawkers here. During my commute days, I would often pamper myself to retail therapy by buying junk jewellery.
If you ever visit Mumbai, you should certainly enjoy a ride on the local trains, for they are an inseparable part of the city that never sleeps. Since I am a stay-at-home-mom right now, all occupied with my little family, and also due to the pandemic restrictions, I miss out on the train commute, waiting at the station and of course chatting away with the friends out there. Though the pandemic is not over yet, life is resuming back to the old normal once again all around us, so perhaps in the days ahead of us, soon, the city will see better days!