The Suburban Ordeal

Few of my previous posts were dedicated to the Mumbai Suburban Commuter Trains or “Local” as they are referred to in Mumbai. One of them highlights the snobbish “high class passenger” behavior by “the elite” travelling in the first class compartment, observed time and again. While another one discusses ticketless travels, the everyday grind to catch a seat and life and death on Mumbai Local. A very recent one deals with the undesirable events of sweaty individuals in a sardine packed Mumbai Local.


(Photo Credit : Deshpande Chirag Blog)

Very recently, I had a personal experience of a very different kind. An experience when you feel at your most vulnerable and when the “Local” comes to your help.

I had gone to work a bit feverish. I assumed that if I relaxed a bit at work, I would be fine. But it doesn’t always happen your way. My fever kept climbing to a point that I felt the shivers setting in. I had the thermometer with me and measured myself to 1010 F, at which point I decided to leave for the day.

But I had delayed my departure too long and was at the mercy of the peak hour Mumbai Suburban Crowd. I had calculated that around the time that I reached Andheri, I would be able to catch any of the three trains which originate from Andheri for my destination, Virar. But once I reached the station, the temptation to catch the first train to my home overcame all logic and calculations. I parked myself, standing near the doorway with just one person shielding me from the outside environment, in an overpacked Virar local starting from Andheri. No place to keep the bag either, I kept it on the train floor, pinned between my legs. Once people boarded at the next station, any hopes of retrieving my bag, or the contents thereof, were lost. My bag was totally pinned to the ground. And so were my hands, my legs, my head(pinned by a hand trying to access the holding straps above). There was no scope for movement.

And thus my journey continued, on the slow chugging local, towards Borivali where the first signs of some relief were expected. But fate wouldn’t have any of it. Just approaching Borivali, a bottleneck for the Mumbai Suburban train system, the train halted for some time, which felt like indefinite.  The rains had taken a break and the weather was humid and uncomfortable, unless the train moves. I felt my fever increasing, my body heating up from the inside. Few more minutes and I feared that if the train didn’t move soon, I would faint.

As if fate rewarded me a wish, few minutes later I felt it kick in. My legs started feeling wobbly. My head started spinning. I diverted my entire remaining strength towards two causes. One keeping a tight grip on the grab handles above and second trying to keep my eyes open. Moments later I felt I wouldn’t be able to pass through this alone, so in whatever decibels of voice my throat could produce after loss of all the strength, I requested my fellow traveller standing in front of me to help me as I was about to faint. Between the periods of losing sense and coming back, I saw that the man had registered my plight but was speechless and inaction had taken over him. Others standing around too turned towards me(as much as they could) and quickly analyzed the situation. Summoning another burst of strength, I informed one of them that there was a bottle of water in my bag and that the bag was on the floor pinned between my legs. One of them made a futile attempt to retrieve it. I thought that it was all over and I would pass out standing, supported by other bodies inside a Suburban Local..

As if by magic, a water bottle appeared from nowhere. Cold mineral water, seal intact. The person next to me opened the cap and asked me to drink a sip at a time. Even in my condition, I made sure that I didn’t  touch the mouth of the bottle as the owner of the bottle may feel it unhygenic later on. I poured some down my throat and bid some time. I felt some strength returning to my legs. I poured down some more, closed the bottle cap and gave it back to be passed on to its owner with a feeble “thanks” in the general direction of the origin of the bottle. Within seconds, all my strength was back, my head stable and I felt ready to endure the journey some more.

All this happened within a span of about one and half minute. But for me it seemed like a very very long time.

Years earlier, I, along with few other people in the train, had helped an elderly man in a similar situation. As the saying goes, The good you do comes back to you.

But it takes a Mumbai Local journey for one to realize.


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