You may find the Mumbai local train network complex and meandering, but this web that runs through the city is the city’s lifeline and an integral part of its identity. Since these local trains are a huge part of an ordinary Mumbaikar’s life, and millions of people travel on them every day, there are bound to be stories that come out of these journeys. In the midst of the chaos, and the fight for foot space, ephemeral bonds are formed and forgotten. Clearly, there is a lot more to these train journeys than meets the eye.
One phenomenon that is quite typical of local train travelling is train friendships as commuters who choose to regularly travel by the same train become closely acquainted with fellow passengers. The goings-on in a first class compartment in a harbour line train that starts at 9.42 from Goregaon is a good example of these train friendships. A group of 20 people, who board the train from Santacruz sit together and engage in card games, political discussions and even celebrate each other’s birthdays, all while commuting to work. “It’s been years that we are travelling together and now we know each other so well that we are like a family,” says Bhupesh Prakapati, who is the leader of the group. Age is not a barrier, as the youngest in the group is 23 and the oldest is 68. The youngsters in the group usually forfeit their seats so that older members can sit.
A card game
Apparently, group members believe that it is Nitin, a member who has been commuting on the same line for over 25 years, is the one who keeps the group active by starting politically charged discussions. “He is the only one who supports the Opposition, and so we have heated discussions at times,” says Mohammad Kata-wala. Nitin responds to the comment by saying, “At least one person in the group should take an opposing stance, or else it’s no fun.”
Apart from the friendly banter, group members also enjoy bringing munchies and sweets for everyone. “It is almost an everyday activity, and nowadays we have planned to have breakfast and dinner outings in the group,” says Yash. Recently, the group celebrated Ketan’s birthday. “It was a surprise for us. It was a sweet gesture. Because of all of them, we never get tired of this 45-minute journey,” gushes Yash.
Elders get a chance to sit as youngsters choose to stan
Another group that makes their journey a fun-filled trip is a group of dabbawalas, who board a Churchgate bound train from Virar. The energetic members enjoy playing Marathi songs on Manjeeras. “We put Shivaji Maharaj’s picture on the window and sing bhajans. Other passengers also join us sometimes,” says Tukaram Sapkale.
A fellow commuter’s birthday is celebrated
While some crib about the pitiable conditions of local train travelling, there are many who make the most of their arduous journeys. They are the ones who make the city what it is, resilient, vibrant and unstoppable.