Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Local anaesthesia- part 1

Luxury is for the human mind a bastard adopted from the street- we all lend it our own unique name and implication. For the gourmets, it is pampering the stomach, for the art collectors, it's pleasing the eye, and for some like me, it is relieving the legs of their arduous task of transporting my restless energy on its jaunts across town. And hence, propelled by the power of the pound, I have allowed myself the gratitude of taking cabs wherever I go in Bombay, blissful in the thought of avoiding Bombay's crowded local trains. It's a luxury that has taken a long time coming though- having endured 6-odd years of a daily 3-hr full-body massage provided by the Mumbai Suburban Railways have left me with more than a backache. Its been a thoroughly enjoyable journey though, replete with its moments, and my experiences can only seem entertaining in hindsight. So heres the first part of a threatise.

For the uninitiated, the aforementioned massage services are run on 3 lines, Western, Central and Harbour- me being the proud client of the latter-est. There is a clear status divide between the three: we Harbour boys were a bit late in catching the train bandwagon, and hence our trains are the least frequent. Counter-intuitively, our infrastructure is also the worst- saddled with no fast trains and with tracks running through slum-dwellers' bedrooms, we often have been mocked at by the others: "Harbour line pe paan thunko toh gaadi ruk jaata hai" (translated as "Its enough to spit on the tracks when in a Harbour line train to halt, who needs heavy rains or signal failures?") But we are always better off than the horrid Central line, what with its majority clientele of abusive fishwives. The Western line (some parts of it, atleast) is generally accepted as the most cultivated- after you alight, people are polite enough to allow you to climb the stairs on your own- the Central line has no such luxuries. The general quality of women is another driver for the Western line's popularity- repressed Central adolescents regularly take Western-line guilt trips to remind themselves that abusive fishwives are not a good representation of the average Bbay lady.

So lets focus back onto the product- the massage. Its a winner, this one. For starters, it is delivered dynamically, on the go, unconsciously, perfectly positioned to make efficient use of your travel time, and thus fits in handsomely in Bombay's breakneck pace. In fact, "Journey is the destination" was adopted as a slogan by the Railways once. (It was however removed a few days later after customers started stoning rail offices, mistaking the tagline as a lame attempt to pacify them on the matter of train delays). Secondly, and most enchantingly, it is delivered by the clients to the clients, much like a network marketing concept, wow! Such an arrangement upholds India's status as the world's largest democracy, giving customers the power in their hands (and legs and head and shoulders) to customize their own experience.

The dynamics of it all are also very fascinating. It usually starts with waiting for the train to arrive, and the waiting usually starts when its expected time of arrival and you can't see the train anywhere in the distance. Certain self-driven members of the crowd usually act as the harbingers of fate- straining their neck and their binocular-ly organized eyes, they provide free regular updates to the rest. A few minutes later, there is the unmistakeable murmur as you brace for the most important part of the journey: getting into the train- many a self-proclaimed-street-smart Delhi novice has underestimated this step and paid a heavy price.

So you roll up the sleeves, hide the cellphone in the innards of your clothing, lift whatever luggage you are carrying onto the top of your head and take a deep breath. (The deep breath serves two purposes- it destresses you and it saves your life, since there is very little chance you are going to get any air once you are inside.) It is also important to choose the right entry position, the right gambit. Mumbai locals have no doors to their exits, so its a free-for-all, with the exception of a rather inconvenient steel rod right in the bloody middle of the exit. After above mentioned Delhi novices learn after a few attempts to give themselves a chance of getting in, the rod presents their next nemesis, and they often end up smacked right against the rod, with no room for movement and no sensation in certain body parts. You thus endevaour to choose 1 of the 2 sides of the entry to make your way in.

And before you know it, the train has chugged onto the platform, and there are people spewing out of the moving train in dozens and thirteens, headed right towards you. Which is very unnerving, as many of them will drop right onto your right toe, thereby spilling the pickle from their tiffin box conveniently onto your shirt pocket. But you shrug it off, not letting it divert your attention from catching the train. And as the train finally grinds to a stop, there emerges an even greater exodus of humans in every size, shape and mood, falling off like grains from a leaking sack.

Everything after that can be simply described as going with the flow- a concerted wave of pressure from people behind you propels you with lightning quick speed into the compartment. The crowd also rationally takes care of your seating preferences- if there are free seats inside, you will be taken right to them. The massage then continues unabated throughout the journey- you only have to steer clear of the all-encompassing-in-its-midst Kurla-exiting flow and you have gained full value for your money.

And then its time to hop off. Alighting from the Mumbai local is as simple as staying in- again, you simply go with the flow. If you are in a Central line train and alight at Kurla, and the flow is headed to the bus depot at Kurla's stations east-side exit, thereby interfering with your plans of catching the Harbour line train to Vashi, you dont fret. You simply follow the flow to the bus depot, and latch onto the next flow originating from there to your preferred destination. Its simple ergonomics, you see.

So before you realize it, you have been released from the pressure cooker- clothes rumpled, confidence eroded, de-de-odorized but positive about life- after all, you have successfully completed another day of reaching office! And you say to yourself, "Wow, there weren't any bomb explosions either! Life is indeed beautiful." :-)

p.s: This initially was meant as a comprehensive essay on the local train services of Bombay. Midway through the piece however, it struck the author that there was more to it than he had envisaged- as the memories came tumbling back much like men from a Dadar local, he realized that this journey was worth more than 1 Harbour-line trip down memory lane. Watch this space for the trilogy!


Anonymous said...

Sexy Sumit - I love your writing - Irfy x

Anonymous said...

Sumit - saw you in the news today - keep pumping those weights. Good blog.

Anonymous said...

Sumit - can we have some non-Bbay stories as well. I would like to feature in some of your London antics! Think it would make funny reading.

Marc Lewis

Anonymous said...

Great blog sumit - cant wait to see you in the summer,

Lizzie, x

Anonymous said...

i love an intellectual man, tickle me with your prose xx

Anonymous said...

Sumo - not bad for a 1 am writing! Well done - proves that you do actually have some talent :P
Also I agree with Marc re non-bbay blogs..will provide diversity to the group :)


Jane Doe said...


This brings back sooooo many memories. I got back to our dear old "massage on the move" very recently. Can't say I missed it though.It's still the same and the whole experience has probably become more, er,colourful for the way people express themselves- no hold barred :)

Great post. Welcome back :)

Anonymous said...

u know in 20 odd years in the city i just used the railways a couple of the only thing I ever remember abt it was u mentioning ur detours through those different railway lines for u know when u almost missed ur train to the IIM ...that shud be a fun post no?:D

Atticus said...

@Kirky and Marc: Thanks guys for increasing the comments count on my blog- you guys have made me realize the importance of comment moderation :P

Yes defo London shenanigans are going to be revealed soon!

@Jyona: Yeah thanks for the suggestion, Ill try to write on more diverse topics :)

@Jane Doe: Nice to be back :) Pray elaborate on these new "no-holds-barred" expressions? ;)

@A: hahaha, you sure have a pungent, incriminating wit! but you sure will agree that almost-missing my IIM train has been among the less entertaining of my moments :)))

Ro Ro Ro a Boat said...

Dude, sexy write-up... great title..

Priya said...

Nice and funny.... I dont know, if it is just me, but this blog seems different from the earlier one's... slight change in the writing style.. very witty... loove it...

Priya Menon

Atticus said...

@Ora: Thanks for dropping by :-)

@Priya: Interesting comment- can yuo pls elaborate more? is the change good or bad? could be due to the unconscious influence of some books Ive read since my last post..thanks!

Anonymous said...

Very humorous, lively and entertaining. I loved the part where you described the train journey - Attiya

Aditya said...

is the trliogy going to have anything specific on borivli station....
a topic i presume the author has very detailed knowledge on!

awesome blog...loved it!

Anonymous said...

Wow Sumit, you're a great guy.

- your line manager

nayan said...

Its like Proust with parathas.

Nayan Sthanakiya

Anonymous said...

I should digg your article so other folks can look at it, really helpful, I had a tough time finding the results searching on the web, thanks.

- Thomas