Hello BMC Friends, Western Railways Se Kuch Seekh Lo


Hello BMC Friends, Western Railways Se Kuch Seekh Lo

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Mumbaikars, it’s that time of the year again when we make the residents of Venice feel insecure. Rains last longer than the promises made by our politicians, we run out of places to dry clothes, Tata Sky starts predicting the weather, and road travel feels like an Essel World ride. Life starts to revolve around travel – minus the #wanderlust – as your boss expects you to show up to work, regardless of whether you live in Andheri or the Amazon.

As it started pouring heavily from Sunday night well into Monday morning, office WhatsApp groups started buzzing with queries about whether trains were functional. Much to the sadness of me and my colleagues, the replies from all quarters of the city, through the hours, were the same – trains were on time. Maybe 10-odd minutes late, but still adhering to Indian Stretchable Time. And still ferrying millions of Mumbaikars through the deluge. It seemed as unbelievable a feat as Russia knocking Spain out in the World Cup.

While I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get leave, I was mighty impressed with the Western Railways. To test the claim in flesh, I headed to the station and was shocked beyond belief. The 8.17 am Borivali local was at the platform by 8.17 am. That doesn’t happen even on a regular day, but it seems the Western Railways were on a mission to prove a point.

Of course, it wasn’t all wonderland, but then we are in Mumbai. Some trains were delayed, a few cancelled, some routes temporarily disabled but most routes and most trains worked most of the time, and it is more than one can ask for when you’re up against nature’s fury and BMC’s incompetence.  

In Mumbai, when the trains stop, life stops.

Timely announcements were being made, heavy-duty pumps chugging water out, and food packets were being provided to stranded passengers on long-distance trains. Unlike Mumbai’s municipal corporation body, Western Railways had gotten their shit together on the big day this year, showed up and gotten on with it. Behaving like the city’s 3 am best friend, they were there when their city needed them the most. The BMC, meanwhile, has been busy with more productive jobs like making excuses and filing cases over radio jockeys for making rap song parodies.

The local is Mumbai’s lifeline, after all. Our humble trains allow the average Mumbaikar to cover the Virar-Churchgate 58-kilometre distance for a meagre ₹20. To cover that distance by an Uber during the monsoon, you’ll have to break a fixed deposit or sell an organ on the black market. Besides, the car might break down anywhere, leaving you with no option but to swim your way to your destination. But the trusty local is always accommodating, even when people are stuffed in like the veggies in the famous grilled sandwich you get outside Mithibai College.

When trains stop working, the entire pressure shifts onto roadways. And it’s hardly right to shame the Western Express Highway, which gets embarrassed of the fact that its name includes the word Express. With a combination of flooding and traffic, cars move slower than a case in an Indian court. The flooding warrants certain roads to just shut down as Milan Subway sticks to its yearly tradition of making it to WhatsApp forwards as Mumbai’s Venice.  

In Mumbai, when the trains stop, life stops. There is panic as lakhs of people are left stranded and no one knows how to move around. “If trains are not working, surely no other mode of transport is working,” the Mumbaikar ponders – and that is usually the case.

But the local train has once again proved to be Mumbai’s saviour as the city saw rainfall in excess of 100 mm on both Monday and Tuesday.

So let’s quit being like our parents, and complaining about that one time the Western Railways got it wrong and our train was late. Because then we often forget how alarmingly often they get it right, day after day, year after year, on a network that is more complex than Ranbir Kapoor’s family tree.

Thank You, Western Railways. We’ll go back to the crotchetiness soon, but for today, we are grateful for the workhorse that you are.