16 January, 2016

The Harbor Line 2/8 - Changing Times and Changing Trains

It’s easy to lose yourself in a chain of thoughts sitting in a long ride on a local train in Mumbai.

That really doesn’t happen often. Because often, you’re not sitting.

‘They tell me it used to be different earlier. I heard stories of travelers having fun along the way. They used to sing bhajans, play cards, talk… now it’s very different.’

I was listening to a stranger about 10 years my senior. We’d fallen into conversation somehow when I shared my observation that people in trains seldom spoke to one-another. Most people were glued to their “smart” phones. A lot of screens showed WhatApp and Candy Crush during the 90 minute journeys. Some would plug the phones to their earphones and close their eyes, preferring to stay alone in the crowd. Some would fire up Kindles and tablets and read through the time. In that scenario I don’t exactly remember how I’d come to talk to this middle-aged man who came to Mumbai, just like me, for his own start-up and had stayed ever since. He couldn’t have come more than 5 years ago. How can I say that? He waited till the train stopped at CST to get up from his seat.

But coming back to the issue here, it’s a strange sight in these local trains. Often, you don’t find a single head looking up; not even to ogle at the girls. Personally I find the ladies compartment extremely welcoming to look at. Mumbai girls are a different kind of hot… but more on that later. I shouldn’t keep digressing from the topic. Indeed smart phones have provided with the extraordinary comfort of not being bored at any point of the day, especially during everyday long train journeys. But somehow it feels inhuman to see so many people looking down into their phones. People are kind and respond well if asked a question and no one seems bothered by one-another. Mumbaikars bear their pains diligently, I grant them that. But if indeed Mumbai once led a life when you could befriend a stranger over a train ride, or have an interesting conversation with a peer in a 90-minute long journey; then it has clearly lost that culture. And I consider myself unlucky to not have been a part of that culture.

Mumbai railways have often been called “the Lifeline of Mumbai”. Even their website heralds the words. I guess it is from a time before the phones, when they truly represented the life of Mumbai. Now it’s different. The Mumbaikar I see looks serious. A lot of travel involves earphones, tablets, and candy crush. The life has gone out of the lifeline.

Much like Brad Pitt’s iconic movie, there are rules in the train.

1st RULE: There are no rules while getting on and off the train, it’s a no-holds-barred situation.
2nd RULE: There are NO rules while getting on and off the train.
3rd RULE: If you’re the last one leaving the train (in the way hours of the night), switch off the lights and fans
4th RULE: If you’re sitting, you cannot mind the standing guy’s ass in your face
5th RULE: 3 people to a seat. No more, and never any less
6th RULE: Get up on when the train stops at the station prior to yours, so that you make it to the gate by the time yours comes
7th RULE: If you forgot an umbrella on the seat, you should forget it
8th RULE: If you’re new in Mumbai, you HAVE TO ride

But this was just what I saw in the first class of the trains. An amateur’s view from the most neglected train line in a compartment that makes up for 2/9th of the train and used by an even lesser proportion. Statistically, my observation can be accounted for as an aberration or a minority at best. The culture might be different for the other classes. This was just the first class. Let’s keep the better one for later.