Suburban Mumbai (Bombay) train is legendary in its own way. Travelling by this train is a lifetime experience, but it is not for faint-hearted. This is the train that ferries hundreds of thousands of people from one place to the other on a daily basis. The train where doors never shut close, and many travel with their bodies half hanging out. The train has one or two First Class compartments, and rest is all Third Class. Compared to some famous speedy trains around the world, the Mumbai train moves like an elephant. Nevertheless, the journey in this train could provide a unique surfing experience on giant waves of Human Ocean.

A Journey in Third Class, while I was visiting Mumbai in summer of 2000, happened accidentally. On one occasion, we were to go to a cultural event. Jayant and Meera, my relatives but more like friends, were with me. Jayant would never let me spend any money. We reached Borivali station from where we were to embark upon the train. We needed to buy tickets for Churchgate station. I tried, but Jayant pushed me away from the ticket window. Jayant came back with Third Class tickets. My Rupees remained in my pocket, and I could not use it. I told myself that this Third Class journey might become memorable.

I remembered my youth. While going to college, I used to travel this train. I would run on the platform along with the train, jump into the compartment before people disembarked, and claim a window seat.  The pleasure of securing a window seat was like winning a lottery ticket. The breeze through the window was considered priceless.

“Don’t jump, today is Saturday, and it is afternoon; we should get place to sit,” Jayant was telling me.

When train was approaching the platform, I did feel like running, reliving my youth, but Jayant’s words stopped me in my track. We three got in. We found one window seat. Jayant and Meera honored me, and allowed me to sit near the window. The window seat was not facing the right direction, and the window was of a smaller size. I remembered larger size windows from years ago.

“Meera, this window has metal screen attached to it from outside! The air passages have become smaller, and it sure is going to be harder for the breeze to get in!”

Meera laughed, and said, “Big Brother, that metal screen is for your protection. If there is some difficulty outside, the screen will shield you!”

“Why this window is small? It means less breeze…” I continued further while wiping sweat with a small towel that I carried with me.

“All windows in this train are of this size, including the First Class ones,” Jayant answered this time.

“Jayant, if we were travelling by First Class, it would have been more comfortable some other ways, would it not?” I gave chance to Jayant to defend his buying Third Class tickets for us.

“Not at all, hardly any difference. Yes, you spend three times more money, and you get cushioned seats. The compartment may look greener in color. People there may speak a bit more English. Otherwise, it is one and the same thing,” Jayant started advocating the virtues of Third Class.  
“Would it not be less crowded?”  
“Not much difference. There also is equal rush. Yes, when people swear there, they do it in English, wearing cleaner and nicer clothes!”  
“You would sweat less there, would not you?” I was still sweating.

“Sweat? Same amount of sweat there. Yes, you do smell variety of different perfumes mixed with human sweat. That combination could prove fatal though! I know people suffering from severe headaches inhaling the air out of perfumed sweat!” Jayant sure was doing a good job narrating the benefits of the Third Class travel.

This train was a local train, stopping at each station. Ever so slowly, we were moving towards our destination. We started our journey at Borivali station, and we wanted to get off at the Churchgate station, the last station. The compartment was getting packed with humanity, squeezing out any free space and movement. If a graph were plotted, Bell Curve theory would suggest a slow start, reaching the peak, and then the decline. There was not to be any Bell Curve here! Through my prized window, I even tried to count the number of embarking and disembarking people on several stations. It seemed as if everyone was embarking upon a journey searching for the same thing, and nobody had attained the fulfillment yet!

There was hardly any breeze through the window, the crowd was getting larger and thicker, and I found myself dozing for a while. I started thinking, “What would be the destination of each of these mortals? What must have been going through each mind? If I could, I would ask each one, ‘Where are you from? Where are you going? What do you plan to do today?’ There would be so many life-stories here, some with hopes, and some sure with despairs.”

When my eyes opened, I saw some kind of commotion going on. A woman with a baby in her arms was trying to keep her balance while standing in front of us. The man accompanying the woman was watching from few feet away, carrying their belongings. Jayant immediately got up, and gave his seat to the woman. Between Meera and me, we had new passengers now, a woman with a child in her lap. I glanced, and I saw the smiling eyes of the little one.

Eventually the train came to a halt at Churchgate station, and Meera inquired,  
“Ashwinbhai, hope you did not have to go through too much trouble!” “No, Meera, this journey was memorable. I met LIFE once more!” The smile emanating from the eyes of that child was still in front of me!

 

 

 

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