By Tanvi Dhulia Nov. 26, 2017
I realised being polite in a local train is as effective as the guys who are hired to clean spit off the windows. So now I’m breaking bad.
could be Rani Mukherjee from Black, and I’d still know I’m at a train station in Mumbai from the smell alone. Every morning, lakhs of miserable, sweaty, smelly bodies proceed to enter those tiny compartments and externalise their worst impulses, and I move one step closer to finally buying myself that rugby apparel I always wanted.
At 5’4”, I’m about the average height for an Indian woman, but size gives me no advantage in this royal rumble. There is always a group of huge women blocking the entrance to the train, because “Malad/Dadar pe utarna hai”. I attempt to charge at them with all my strength, but just as I’m about to gain footing, an aunty-ji will flick her wrist and take me out of the race. The aunty will then continue to stare at me unflinchingly as I pick myself up off the floor, and all my dreams of ever making it home come crashing down.
Getting into a train is simply the beginning of the trial; something as harmless as stepping on a person’s toe can kick off a shit storm. Initially I would meekly accept my fate, and nurse my toe, counting down to the beautiful moment I could leave this godforsaken train. But the pacifist in me died a hundred deaths within the first month of train travel. Now I’m the kind of bitch who’ll whip around and snap at anyone who’s complaining about being uncomfortable with, “Everyone’s uncomfortable!”. My death stare, flared nostrils and mouth clenching in slo-mo, is enough to bring any woman with a fish basket to her knees.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m breaking bad. The crowds cower when they meet my cold glare. There are aunties who comment something along the lines of, “ladkiyan aise thode na karti hai,” but fuck ‘em.
It took a while but I eventually realised that being polite to people in a local train is about as effective as the guys who are hired to clean spit hanging off the windows. I could make an oath to do an hour-and-a-half of yoga every morning before setting out on my journey, but the moment someone drops a bit of bhel on me, I will turn into Satan’s spawn. Now, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m breaking bad. The crowds cower when they meet my cold glare. There are aunties who comment something along the lines of, “ladkiyan aise thode na karti hai,” but fuck ‘em.
One morning I channeled my inner Uma Thurman from Kill Bill when I successfully leapt into the compartment and slammed straight into another woman, knocking the wind out of her. When she recovered from the mild trauma, she turned to me and said, “Relax.” Her audacious response triggered two mental calculations: One: How do I kill a woman in a train without using my hands or legs? (It was rush hour.) And two: How was she so goddamn chill, and why was I so angry?
I unclenched, and stared at her. In that brief second, it hit me. It’s not her fault. It’s not mine either. The city is bursting at its seams, and the transport system is barely managing to keep it together. All we want is to get home. She and me. Sometimes we’re good, sometime’s we’re bad, but we both know there’s only one way to handle the commute if you don’t want to change your DNA and become someone you never want to be. A whole lot of patience. Also, it helps to remind yourself that no matter how bad it seems, it could always be worse. At least we don’t share our train network with packs of feral dogs like Russia, or have a special fetish for rubbing against someone in the train like Japan (or maybe scratch that last one). Whatever it took, in the end, I didn’t kill her.
Somewhere deep in the heart of the Mumbai local, there is a lesson in humility. But sadly none of us have the time to learn it when we’re balancing on one leg and trying to avoid getting sucked into someone’s armpits for the third time in a day.