While on a Train

The Indian railways network is one of the largest rail networks in the world with highest number of employees as compared to any kind of organization in this world. Millions of people use this mode of transport for their day-to-day travel, it being the cheapest mode of travel for the people in a country where more than half the population just manage to survive.

The suburban rail networks in the cities of India are used for daily commute to work, just like in any other city in this world. Out of these networks, the Mumbai suburban rail network, carries the largest number of people to their work, and back home at the end of the day, everyday. Due to previous higher industrial growth, and the presence of one of the biggest film industry in this world(Bollywood), millions of people come to this city, with a hope to make it big. This large population influx from various small towns all over India, known and unknown, has led to an increase in the commuter density in the suburban trains. The load on the trains, and the crowd on them is ever increasing, resulting in less space for people to stand, leave alone seating. In a normal suburban metro train in other countries, the trains are quite empty, and hence there is not much interaction between commuters. They keep as much distance from each other as the train offers. Not in Mumbai. There is no distance between two people. This leads to heated body and some hot brains, which leads to heated arguments, fist fights, all kinds of swearing etc. People holding the ticket for second class regularly travels in first class, without the fear of the ticket examiner, who dares not board these crowded trains. People even fake disability by using plasters just to travel in and empty couch meant for disabled and cancer patients. For the women’s compartment, I would like to say that it’s just horribly packed.

But people on the Mumbai local trains have all kinds of attitudes. Some are kind and accommodating, understand other’s problems and adjust. Some just fake being new to town and try to extract some sympathy. Some go for the threatening language. Some even give it a communal colour to meet their demands. Some just climb the rooftops to stay away from this chaos inside and attain nirvana, or even pose the Jack-and-Rose-on-the-titanic-bow-spreading-arms pose. But they die a fiery death if they touch the overhead cables.

Mumbai Crowded Train

So there are all kinds of people and all kinds of incidents. I have blogged about some previously. Here are some more incidents which I have come across while travelling on a Mumbai suburban local.

  • I travel first class, since it is very difficult to even board the train in second class if you do not want to risk your life while boarding. The condition in first class is not that good either, but one manages to get pushed inside without much damage to vital organs. This incident occurred in a train on a particular afternoon, when normally people have enough room to read their newspapers in standing position, and people don’t mind if you do not keep your shoulder bags on the luggage rack. I was standing, as usual, since I don’t risk my life as I said. I had to stand for about three quarters of an hour before I could get a seat. Any by that time, I was just quarter an hour away from my destination, but still I blessed the person who offered the seat(in my heart, not through words). At the next station, a ticket examiner entered the compartment. Almost all the people had a valid tickets with them. I say almost, because three guys did not. They had a ticket to second class journey, but were travelling first class. The examiner immediately informed they have to pay a fine of 350 rs each, upon which they argued that they were first timers in the city and didn’t know what the classes were. Infact, they said that it was the day that they had landed in the city from Nepal. Which was a lie in itself since even though their faces had some resemblance to some distant Nepali relative, their language and their dialect was perfectly India. The argument would not hold good with the ticket examiner and he informed them that there were clearly written signs on the couches to declare it to be first class. He took them out of the couch at the next station, and I am sure he relaxed some rules, made some sacrifices on behalf of railways, and pocketed a small amount for himself as a negotiations. It left me wondering. Since these guys were sitting in the train even before I boarded it, while I and few other valid ticket holders were left standing, were we not cheated off our rights? I didn’t know what kind of reaction to have towards those “Nepali” guys who were offenders, but still would get away cheap. I say “would getaway” because there might be few ticket examiners who would not bend any rule to fill up their pockets. There might be. But then, what about me? Did I buy the pass at a very high price, just to save myself from embarrassment of being taken out of the couch by the examiner, once in a while?
  • This brings me to another incident. Same Mumbai suburban rail, different train. I was travelling and the train was hardly crowded because I was going in the direction opposite to the rush hour traffic. At one particular station, a man with his wife and mother boarded the train in first class. As the train started, the man noticed something amiss, and realised that he was in the first class. He panicked and tried to alight with his family. But that being dangerous, a young man standing next to them told them not to do so. Other people joined in and stopped them. By the time the train picked up speed. The young man who had stopped them turned out to be a ticket examiner. Seeing a genuine case of a person being in the wrong couch by mistake, he had shown some humanity and allowed them to travel. But now was the time to do his duties. He asked them to show their tickets, expecting a second class ticket. What he found out surprised him and the people around. These people were travelling without ticket, and the man was flashing a government ID card, expecting a free ride. That was a ticketless travel as per the rules, and with a sense of fairness, the examiner informed him that the ID card would not do, and if they did not have a second class ticket, they would have to pay fines equivalent to second class travel. More surprised came when the man refused and started and argument. The mans wife tried to calm him as she knew what was fair, but the mother joined with the son to fight back. The young ticket examiner requested the old women to stay calm, and also reduced the fine. He said that since it was his mistake showing consideration towards them, he was ready to let go the mother, but they had to pay the reduced fine for at least two people, to which they did not agree. He remained again that he was not charging the fine for first class but for the second class which is less. He also informed that when they get down at the next station, there would be waiting ticket examiners who would surely charge them full amount for first class and he would have no say in that. On the other hand he would be scolded for being lenient. But they did not pay up even after a few passengers asked them to do so. Finally they got down at the next station, which was my stop too. I saw that the other ticket examiners on the platform caught them and stared arguing with them. I was behind time, and had had enough drama for the day, so didn’t wait to see the results. But since the mother had got herself involved, I don’t think it ended soon.
  • Early in the morning as the train reaches Virar station, people jump in to it, to catch seats. Now people outside Mumbai might find it difficult to visualize how this can be accomplished, but it is a trick every Mumbaikar must master, if he wants a seat(when a train has some left). Once I had dared enough to catch a moving train and got myself a window seat. An achievement equivalent to some of the highest national awards. A person sat opposite me keeping some space between him and the window. One more person sat next to him and the third person tried to fit himself in, considering the carrying capacity of the seat being 3, but couldn’t find enough space. By this time the train had come to a complete halt, and a school going kid came in the coach. He sat opposite to me, next to his father who had “reserved” the seat for his son, and the man who was trying to fit himself on the seat, was left without any space at all to rest his bottoms upon. He had taken a huge risk by jumping in, and now he didn’t have a seat in the entire coach, while the people who had jumped in after him were seated. He was angry and tried to mumble few things, but found it to be a waste of time an energy, along with starting the day on a bad note. So he just moved away and stood near the door. After sometime, the man sitting in front of me said something to his son, and the son went to this man at the door and offered the seat. But the man refused with as smile and everything was normal. The son alighted after few stations and the seat was occupied by another man. What happened to the man standing at the door(well, I don’t mean he died or committed suicide or something), I can’t say, as the train was crowded in next few stations, and I couldn’t see him. Had the father been sensible enough to offer his own seat to the man and himself stand for a while till his son went, a small but awkward situation, which was a potential tense situation, would have been avoided. But a cool tempered man, against whom some injustice has been committed, did not allow the situation to be tense. By the way, if you come to Mumbai for the first time, and see that seats are reserved for some friend who is yet to come, while other people stand, don’t try to lecture about rights and morality and sensibility and such things. You will loose the battle. This is the law of Mumbai trains.
  • Life and death is a part of our living. And the trains contribute a lot in balancing the equation. There have been incidences of a child being delivered on a moving train. But the instances where people are killed in some way or the other with a train involved, far outnumber the birth instances. Everyday someone is mowed down, or fall from an overcrowded train. People choose trains for suicides though that doesn’t guarantee instant, painless death. In some instances, the pain is high but the death refuses. Terrorist find the trains to be soft target to carry out their acts and have succeeded many times due to our lax security measures. One incident which I remember, was when a person was electrocuted while travelling on rooftop. There have been lots of awareness drives regarding the dangers of travelling on rooftops. But youngsters continue to do so. During a ride back home on a particular night, the train approached a station and we heard a loud bang and a big flash of light, lit up the entire area momentarily. At first I thought it was a bomb and my heart skipped a beat. But within seconds a burning smell engulfed the compartment, and we knew what it was. Two men, sitting on the roof were electrocuted by 25,000 volts of current carried by overhead wires. People rushed to see the burning men. I do not have the stomach for these kind of scenes and also did not want to spoil my appetite. Hence I remained on my seat. But there were people who took this opportunity to enter a short film contest on mobile.While as if an Irony of fate, while those men were passing to other life, the automated announcement system in the train was blurting out the prerecorded warning,”Overhead wires are charged with 25,000 volts of electricity. Do not travel on the roof tops as it is dangerous  to your life”. Within 20 minutes the corpse’s were taken away, and our onwards journey to the destination began again. The dead men were forgotten in no time.

That’s life. Life on a Mumbai Suburban Train.


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