Is Mumbai Ready for the AC Local?


Is Mumbai Ready for the AC Local?

Illustration: Palak Bansal

It’s finally here. If anyone deserves an air-conditioned local train, it is Mumbaikars, who brave the city’s hot-and-humid weather, rowdies swinging outside the train’s gates, and little children singing “Pardesi, pardesi” accompanied to the tune of jangling stones. The air-conditioned local will likely mitigate the daily rigours of the commute.

During the summer, Mumbaikars first take a bath at home, and then another one in the ten-minute walk to the station. Then, 100 of such freshly showered folks pack themselves like obedient sardines, into a jam-packed coach, and everyone has the exact same thought: “Why don’t people use deodorants yaar?”

Even though it is clear that Mumbai deserves the AC local, but are Mumbaikars ready for it? For one, as the fans give way to air-cooling vents, city folk will lose one of their favourite train rituals of giving life to non-functioning fans by poking it with a pen and then breaking into a loud applause at their achievement.

A non-functioning fan is still a moral victory, because fans and lights are entirely missing or stolen in many cases. In India, we treat public property the same way we treat women: With utter disdain and ready material for abduction. Even pens at banks and glasses in temples have to be chained so that we don’t just walk away with them. Jeeps and BEST buses exist only so that they can be burnt during a political protest. The speed at which we can ruin a new metro coach or a swanky premise with paan stains would put Michael Schumacher to shame. Just ask the Tejas Express.

Millions of people travel by the Mumbai local every day, and many of them have placed their hope in the AC train. Hopefully, Mumbaikars will manage to not fuck it up.

But the challenge for Mumbaikars extends beyond the habitual; it is rooted in the domain of physics. You see, as a species, Mumbaikars are used to boarding the local even before it has stopped. It’s the only way you can get a seat. A person who waits for the train to stop and everyone to get down first before boarding it in a shocking display of manners, is either new to the city or a loser. This is a city where people actually queuing up to board the train is front-page news.

With the AC local, however, the doors will be shut, and no one will be able to jump in haste and injure people around them. This is a great loss to the city’s cultural life. After all, how will Mumbai recreate the movie 300 every morning at Borivali station?

With the doors being closed, there will be a cap on the number of people that can be stuffed inside a coach. This goes against the very ethos of what the Mumbai local is all about. No matter how many people are already in a train, there is always room for more, as the daily commuter will tell you with, “Arré pura train khaali hai”, before stamping on your feet and making his way through.

But the worst hit will be the people for whom the only spot of Mumbai real estate that they can afford to own, if only for a short while, is the door. So many of us protect and stand at the door of the local every single day, for years, either by choice or because we have none. A lot of of these people also lose their lives every year, but in Mumbai, the price of a human life is cheap.

There are other up sides to this too. The card-playing uncle group, the bhajan-singing devotee, the kung-fu vegetable cutter, and the Romeo will now have a cooler environment to continue with their pursuits. Hopefully, the cool air will also help keep tempers in check so every morning doesn’t end up being like Arnab Goswami’s show, with people angrily shouting all the time and making no sense whatsoever.

Millions of people travel by the Mumbai local every day, and many of them have placed their hope in the AC train. Hopefully, Mumbaikars will manage to not fuck it up. After all, a commute in Mumbai can be summed up in a railway announcement we are all too familiar with: Agla station: Frustration. Next station: Frustration. Pudhil station: Frustration.