Lambi Judai Over. I’m Ready for Rush Hour in the Mumbai Local


Lambi Judai Over. I’m Ready for Rush Hour in the Mumbai Local

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

As a Mumbaikar accustomed to taking the local train daily, I have done my fair share of bitching. Trains are never on time, there’s no place to sit, heck there’s no place to stand, the stations are crowded, coaches dirty, and every few months I have to fix my spectacles. Which is why, when the lockdown was announced and everyone was expected to work from home, I thought “good riddance”. I don’t need the Mumbai local and the fake spirit of Mumbai that I try to convince myself exists, romanticising misery day in and day out.

However, I had not factored in what life without the Mumbai local would be like. The negatives were all there in front of me, but I had never tried to count the positives. As every Indian mom says, “Abhi koi value nahi hai, main jaungi na, tab pata chalega!” And this is exactly how I felt a few months into the lockdown.

For one, Mumbai is an extremely expensive city to move around in. My beloved local allows me to move from Borivali to Churchgate for 15 rupees. That’s a distance of roughly 40 kilometres. To cover the same distance by an Uber or Ola, you’ll need a loan from the International Monetary Fund. And if you dare to take the bus, it’ll have to be a backpacking trip lasting seven days and eight nights. But the humble train takes an hour and just 15 bucks to get you there. Day after day, a train every two minutes… or more.

When people could no longer see each other in person, everyone took to Zoom calls. When they couldn’t play sports, they started playing Ludo online. And when trains were non-functional, everyone took to the roads. On any given day, there were more cars on Western Express Highway and SV Road, than there are people in New Zealand.

And when trains were non-functional, everyone took to the roads.

All the “train public” had no option but to travel by road, preferring private vehicles in this age of social distancing. The pandemic of clogged roads loomed large. Pollution soared and one really didn’t need to travel to Delhi for smoggy Tuesdays. It is only then, that I realised that local trains are not only ferrying millions of people, but are also an environmentally sound way to travel. Looking at all you Uber-hurling woke folks.

Just like you introspect when your ex leaves you, I asked myself, “If they run a train every two minutes and trains run all day, what more can I do? The problem isn’t the train, it’s me. And that there are too many people like me. The withdrawal symptoms kicked in pretty quickly when I had to turn to other forms of transport for a few months, be it cars, cabs, or buses. My glasses were in place but I can’t say the same about my back, courtesy potholes. I was truly missing my Mumbai local.

I have missed being bounced around the coach like a helpless table tennis ball. I have missed acting as a makeshift coolie just by standing closest to the window between two seats. I have missed asking people to “adjust” so I can be the fourth person on a set meant for three. And I miss that voice that reminds me, “Agla station Andheri.” It feels like at least something in my life is going in the right direction.

I submit that the Mumbai local is the best, and I am glad it’s ferrying commuters again. It feels like normalcy is back on tracks. Yes, the local may not be perfect but it is exactly what the average Mumbaikar needs – it’s sasta, sundar, and tikau.