It was a tired evening when I boarded the 6:27 Kalyan* ‘Ladies Special’* local train from the Dadar* platform.
Dadar is the topmost bane of my existence. Though there are others, Dadar definitely tops the list.
I have to take two trains when traveling to work, I change them at Dadar. I personally feel that it is one of the most overcrowded places which I have encountered in my life and I must encounter this every working day. Platform 1-2 is a narrow strip of cement-concrete where a total of two trains can stop on either side.
Whenever a train stops, it becomes a fine example of the population explosion in my country. The platform starts resembling Sauron’s army* from Lord Of The Rings* as a swarm of fellow homo sapiens, most of them zombified from a rough day at work, alight and start trudging onward, while those of us waiting for the train lunge at the doors with a gleam in our eyes, with little concern for dear life, as a sudden zest possesses our frazzled souls – for we can finally reach home sweet home in another hour or two.
If two trains stop at a time, or especially if trains get delayed/cancelled, it becomes madness. The situation escalates to an almost dangerous level. There is frantic tangle of people and limbs everywhere and one can imagine that the conditions are decently ripe for a stampede. Sometimes railway police intervention is needed to regulate the crowds (I have seen this happen on a couple of occasions during train cancellations, which is not an uncommon occurrence during rains).
During peak hours, it is also likely that you’ll get a full body massage when two or three of them decide to sandwich you, so as to allow a fourth person to slowly squeeze to wherever they want to go. Often you’ll be left amazed at how much contortion your body can take and the flexibility of your limbs. You will find yourselves twisting your hands, feet, stomach and back in ways that may leave a seasoned yogi impressed.
You will also be left baffled at the capacity of the train bogie. Just when you thought that oxygen levels are steadily dropping and there is no space left as such to even accommodate a small infant – somehow ten people manage to squeeze in at the next station using the body contortion techniques described above and share the remaining oxygen.
I am digressing though. Coming back to my present condition; on a good day, one is able to get a seat four stations down the line and for me it was such a lucky day. I got a seat at Ghatkopar*.
I glanced around, it was the usual. A couple of people who have likely formed life-long bonds over the common hurdles faced everyday with such travel, talking to each other.
A good major chunk of the rest, sitting or standing had their faces glued to the smart phones (movies, Facebook, WhatsApp, Candy Crush) or ear plugs in their ears with music in their head ( I personally believe that is a better cell phone interaction than social media, where most of the consumption is mindless rather than mindful). One cannot be judgmental here. Train journeys are long and daunting, often with your equally irritated co-passenger pushing you, poking you with their elbows, handbags etc. and any distraction is welcome.
It was a very usual scene indeed. And I was contemplating taking out my cell, sticking in the ear phones and starting a track, when I noticed the middle aged lady next to me doing something interesting. She was translating phrases from a foreign language book to English in a notebook of her own. Upon some peering in the book, I saw ‘francais’ written somewhere.
How wonderful to see a middle aged lady working with a new language, I thought. The book was colorful and simple looking, it was unlike any foreign language learning book I had seen. I was unsure about whether she would find it nosy or invasive, but nevertheless I enquired, ‘Are you learning a foreign language?’
She smiled, ‘Oh no, not really. This is my kid’s homework, I am helping with it.’
She then went on to tell me that her child is in the sixth grade and they are being taught these languages as part of their curriculum. I was completely unaware of this. In my time we had options between Hindi & Sanskrit, it was a limited choice. This change seemed to be for the better.
While Sanskrit is said to be the mother of all languages and comes with a rich heritage, one does not end up pursuing it beyond school as nobody speaks in Sanskrit anymore. A language like French may give the student an advantage while traveling overseas, while being a wonderful language to learn.
I commented that it’s nice that she is also picking up the same and learning something new. Even if she was doing it for her child, she was translating the phrases quite well and was inevitably learning. She nodded, all smiles. This small talk continued for about 5 minutes. She went back to her ‘homework’ and I, instead of plugging in my mobile, took out a Paulo Coelho book I had with me– Like the Flowing River, a cheap printed copy bought from a local bookstall. Two-three stations later, it was her stop.
As she got up from her seat, she smiled a good bye. But it was what she said next that surprised me.
She said ‘Thank you.’
As I smiled back, I also blinked.
Thank you for what? I wondered.
That I talked to her? That I asked her what she was doing? That somebody, completely unknown to her, a stranger who had no other thing common than the fact she was sharing the same train, took an interest in her life?
I have always noticed that when dogs or cats encounter a new of their kind in their neighbourhood, there are more often than not, two responses. They either hiss or growl at the intruder, or they sniff, rub noses (or sniff butts) in a sort of greeting. I have also noticed, when ants walk in a line and bump into an ant coming from an opposite direction, there is a momentary interaction, which also looks like a sort of greeting. More often than not, there is a response. The stranger is acknowledged.
We, as an advanced species, have learned quite well the art of indifference to our fellow being.
While we could do without the hissing and growling, I wondered if more of us humans also need the acknowledgement. A ‘hello’ from a fellow stranger. A ‘how are you’ from someone you meet on the street. A simple smile or a ‘what are you doing’ from the person next to us.
An unexpected conversation might just add some color to the grey monotonous life of the 9 to 5 (9:30-7/ 10 to 7/11 to 9 etc.) office goer.
And perhaps the dependence on smart phones to fill the empty spaces in our lives can be lessened.
Authors Notes –
Hope you enjoyed the read. I would love to hear from you in comments! Till next time.
- Kalyan, Dadar, Ghatkopar – Railway Stations in Mumbai, on the Central Line
- ‘Ladies Special’ – Local train only for ladies, they run at specific timings
- Sauron’s Army – Huge, badass army – http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Sauron%27s_army
- Lord of the Rings – Movie Triology – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings_(film_series)
- Paulo Coelho – International best selling author – http://paulocoelhoblog.com/
- Like The Flowing River – Book http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/587666.Like_the_Flowing_River