04 January, 2016

The Harbor Line 1/8 - Monstrosity

Mumbai is not a city. It’s a monstrosity. Before I begin, let’s look into the need of this article. With a whooping 1,300 km2 of area inhabited by 19M people and 2M cars with 1,889 km of roads to run on. Just to put that into perspective, Mumbai is larger than Singapore, Maldives, and Macau combined; more populous than Sweden and UAE combined; and has (believe it or not) over a thousand cars for every kilometer’s stretch of road. That when only 10% of the city’s population owns a car. And hence, Mumbai Trains.

The Mumbai railway line extends in 3 major railway lines known as – 1. The Western Line also known as “The Black Dread”; 2. The Central Line also known as “Khopoli jayegi kya?”; and 3. The Harbour Line also known as “Which Line?” Together with only 427 km of tracks, they cater to 8M Mumbaikars every day.

I came to Mumbai in my mid-20s. Most people say that I was late. The best time to come here was 20 years ago. And that has been the case for the last 50 years. Mumbai was always a better place 20 years ago, with lesser people and more space. Mumbai has always attracted people to itself for passion or for pleasure. But no one who has come here has ever avoided the local train, except perhaps Barrack Obama (because he has Air Force One). But for lesser beings like me coming from Calcutta without a personal Boeing aircraft, I was subjected to the Harbour Line.

When I shifted here I met a girl who seemed to be impressed that I worked near Nariman Point. Even though most of us have never been there, the name does sound impressive to most Indians. She pulled out a map from her pocket (one of the things you can simply do in the 21st century) and asked me to show her my home on it. I took the opportunity to sit close to her, hold the phablet (another invention of the 21st century) together, and zoomed out of the map of Mumbai. That wasn’t enough though, I had to zoom out again. Then I swiped left to show her the suburb where I “lived.” In all honesty, I lived at my office. “Home” was only a place with a bed and a bathroom. Every other activity of mine was at a place where I could sit close to young girls and hold their hands at the pretext of holding oversized phones. But somehow, I saw a look on her face which I can dare to call a frown and that was the last I saw of her. Perhaps she was from Delhi.

On my first day here I took the advice of my boss and bought a monthly first class pass for the Harbour Line. Mumbai has a splendid system of tickets. A 2nd class ticket costs ₹10 one way, totaling to about ₹600 per month for to-and-fro journeys; while a 1st class counterpart of the same would cost as much as my rent. Well, to be fair I did spend a lot of my living time on the train, so perhaps rent was applicable. But the monthly pass costed only 10% of that, and still double of what I’d have paid in the 2nd class. This was a brilliant mechanism to match supply and demand using pricing, as my MBA knowledge told me. Even after paying millions of rupees to get that piece of paper which certified that I was now capable of handling a business, I couldn’t have created a better pricing system myself; to handle the entire business would be a long shot.

So here I was. In the 2nd largest city in India by the Arabian sea, where rains were like Zeus’ wrath and roads defeated their purpose – swift movement. I looked at the literal and metaphorical Harbour Line, took a deep breath in, and got on!