Any of you who have followed my blog for a while will know I like talking about public transport – maybe because I spend so much of my time on it – maybe I’m just weird.
Yes I know, I hear you, why not take OLA share? However, trains get you places faster, are considerably cheaper for the daily commute, plus I get car sick, hate AC set to Arctic and am socially awkward (not to mention the time OLA share took two hours for a twenty minute journey). So happily each day I plug my headphones in, bury my head in a book if there’s space, another person’s armpit if not, and chalo on the train.
See how I refrained from calling not one single OLA driver a moron in that paragraph? The other day however, I did not have the same self restraint when it came to the Mumbai local. After yet another irritating experience on the train I let rant on social media, requesting some good retorts I can give back in perfect Hindi to the aunty train mafia. The response was overwhelming. Many people gave their sympathy, offered support, were shocked, angry, etc. I even had a friend who works in radio ask if I would come and do an interview on the subject!
I was taken aback as really the experience, whilst annoying, hadn’t left me especially deeply traumatised. Then a thought struck me -others, less thick skinned than myself might have been.
What if you were a young girl going to college for the first time and you found yourself having to do daily death defying leaps onto the approaching train (necessary if you want any chance of not being trodden on, elbowed and having your slippers kicked off as you try to enter)? What if you were just starting in a job and taking your first train and dared to take a seat ‘reserved’ for another lady by her friends in ‘their’ carriage?
What if you were so very, very ill you couldn’t fight your way onto the train to get a seat that day, so asked, very politely mind, to take the ‘fourth seat’ and got brazenly ignored, then shouted at, for trying not to fall off the zero cm of space that no one had bothered to shift even a tiny bit to give you? And then got gossiped about in front of your face by the ladies you have to see every day on your morning commute, while they all pass cake around thinking it is all very funny like the time they trod on you while you were on your hands and knees in the train doorway trying to retrieve your shoe from the edge of the platform (again). Hilarious.
Ok well that last bit was me. I’m over it now. So far all sounds a bit like a school bus with a bully problem? Over lunch at work I heard much worse stories – a friend who had her glasses broken, yet more shoe losses, purse thefts, cat fights, people not being allowed by others to board trains or get off trains, people being pushed off moving trains, people screaming for their lives as they hang out of moving carriages whilst others refuse to go inside further, old ladies being dragged along the platform by their dupattas and one lady of 55 died in Borivali jumping off a moving train, being dragged underneath it. The very worst story by far was of a lady who sadly passed away. She was beaten up by a (female) train gang after refusing to give up her seat – she had given birth only a few days previous. No one was caught.
So every rush hour traveler knows as a rule, the ladies carriage is worse than the mens, never to take the Virar train (unless you are going to Virar) and where to stand if you want to have any chance in hell of getting off at your stop. Most commuters, including myself generally know how to fight through the whole experience. But what ****SHOCK**** if we stopped fighting for a minute and decided to help each other through this daily assault course? Fighting to get on a train happens even when there is plenty of space and plenty of time before a train leaves. Why? Is it really the highlight of these people’s days that they got a morning seat on the local train, risking their own and other’s lives to do so? Why do civilised ladies suddenly become animals, all over 30 square cm of plastic seat?
It struck me that the local train is like a microcosm for the world. People claim their territory and try to keep it from newcomers by forming gangs. In 2008 the state of Maharastra saw violent attacks on migrants from North India. We all know about the ongoing clashes in Kashmir. I look at my country of origin and see the anti-migrant aftermath of the Brexit vote- and lets not even start on what is happening in America! There is a lot of talk internationally about ‘the great evil’ of economic migrants and how we need armies and walls to keep them out (along with the refugees). This talk makes me both angry and befuddled. If you travel a great distance and suffer a great hardship to be able to work, then you are likely to do just that when you get there. More hard working people in the community + more money in the local economy = better infrastructure and welfare, all with the added bonus of cultural diversity, which can lead to the better understanding of each other so we can all live in blissful harmony. In theory. Of course it depends on the honesty and competence of who is in charge and the influence of the media on popular opinion. I think though it is safe to say that in most cases, if these migrants get wherever they are headed and find nothing, they are more than likely to go somewhere else – because they want to work! Anyone who argues they are here to take your job – I second the guy above (replace English with whatever applicable language). Conclusion, territorial behaviour and isolationism = bad, migration and diversity = good. Anyone in charge who tells you otherwise is more than likely blaming migrants for their own shortcomings in governance and/or trying to control using fear.
I digress. So back to the radio. Initially I dismissed the request as rather funny and no thanks, not a chance, no way in hell basically. Whilst a lot of people would jump at the chance to be live on the airwaves, I work behind the scenes in production for a reason – I’m actually pretty shy. Then I learnt about the motives for asking me on the show – noble ones of generally getting people to be nicer to each other and making the train a safer place for all, so I agreed. Especially after I had read the inspirational article of this lady who stood up to train bullies and recalled once being brave enough to go on BBC Radio 2 to speak up in defence of squatters.
However, the night before I got cold feet when I heard it was to do with a film release Atithi in London (Guest iin London). There is a saying in India ‘atithi devo bhava‘ which translates as ‘guest is god.’ It rings well as Indian culture is renowned for its wonderful hospitality (and tendency to feed guests as many biscuits and cups of chai as possible). I didn’t want to give the impression that I felt that as a foreigner, I was a guest and should be treated as such, as god – after all I live here, work here, have family here, pay tax here and consider Mumbai my home (as much as any other migrant). The producer assured me this would not be the case and I took the plunge.
The interview was with the very sweet and down-to earth RJ Archana, someone who is genuinely trying to make a difference in the world. In amongst sharing train stories we talked about how we are all equal on the train- and not in a ‘some are more equal than others’ kind of way! Everyone should look out for each other and bullying should not be tolerated – especially in the case of grown men and women who should know better! We should extend the ‘guest is god’ mentality outside of our homes and to all the strangers we meet every day, on every train, from every state, from every country. Being nice to each other on the local train maybe a far cry from achieving universal equality and world peace, but it’s a good start.
You can watch a video which includes some of the edited interview here.
You can see RJ Archana preparing for her very own trip on a Mumbai local train here.
And you can listen to her show Mon-Sat 7am-11am on Radio City.
10 thoughts on “Mumbai Public Transport (yes again!), being on the radio & why trains are a metaphor for the world.”
I love this piece. Imagine, I’m not even brave enough to get on the Mumbai train and I consider myself a super experienced traveller, woman of the world and long term Mumbai resident!
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Denegrating natives place all the time…
Wait for rise in nationalism to show your place….
Jacob, my intention in this article is not to denigrate anyone but to encourage human beings to be nicer to other human beings. I love India and all its people, many of whom I’m proud to call family and friends. I stand for the national anthem because I respect this beautiful country. I work here, pay taxes here and through my work as a writer, ngo volunteer and participant in social change initiatives here I aim to generally try and make the world a better place. My interpretation of Nationalism is having pride in a progressive, multicultural society in a country that is doing its best to lead the world to a future of peace, sustainability, education and end to poverty. One day I hope all countries can unite together with globalism replacing nationalism in the greater cause of creating a bright future for all our children on this planet. Please do share your interpretation of nationalism? I’m happy to engage in intelligent debate, but threats, racism and xenophobia will never be tolerated on this blog.
I don’t know as to what I said that makes you write this way.
So talking about nationalism in India, it’s about connecting to your (forgotten)roots and culture. It’s about giving importance to traditions and getting a sense of identity as an Indian. Unlike in the west where people are rejecting anything foreign, India has flourished with it’s multi cultural,multi ethnic, multiple languages, multi religiousness. India with it’s ancient concept of ‘guest is God’ and ‘world is one big family’ has been the promoter of these. If anything is happening it’s in the west that Indians are living in fear say US, Australia (attacks on student), and parts of Europe (eg.ireland).
Look who’s talking about globalization. Which countrymen voted for Brexit? You are a bit disillusional. West doing is all protectionism and going backwards with it. Countries like China and India are pushing for globalization on big platforms. You re working in India and doing other thing that means India is on the path of open market/movement and at the same time things like hospitality , and ancient values exist(explain above).
Btw half the problems existing in subcontinent are given by filthy and greedy colonial britishers. Problems like division on caste and religion, poverty, making people feel inferior of themselves, looting enormous wealth and so on. When I say ‘show your place’ means india will teach you about nationalism/muticulturalism. Calling with names (at end) is way one can judge others. I don’t care about the views of an Outsider with low
awareness about India. I have seen average westerners all they do is bash India for all it’s problems but won’t look at their own messed up countries.
Uk is messed up I agree. I also agree that colonial Britain caused a lot of atrocities. I voted against Brexit and against the awful and greedy Tory government. I’ve left the country of my birth. I wrote an article a while back speaking out against the racism one of my Indian friends experienced in uk. I can’t change what the west did in the past but as an individual I can do my best to fight to change things for better in the future. I try to do this through writing, film making and events I work on. India has taught me many things and as part of a multicultural family and living in a multicultural community in a different country. I’m no expert on Indian culture but what I’ve learnt so far I’ve tried to interpret and share so the rest of the world can understand and respect the wonderful culture of India and learn the valuable lessons that it can teach. I try to challenge stereotypes and perceptions and fight against discrimination. In which case surely we want the same things? Not all people in the west are bad and I hope more positive change can happen. I don’t think I’m delusional and that I am fighting a lost cause. If we give up hope and we give up fighting then the world will remain the same. In india society is moving forwards and is progressive. In the west things are moving backwards. I hope for a future where things can change globally for the better.
This is one of those ‘sigh…’ moments where yes.. India can bring out the best (and worst!). The bigger issue for me is the lack of investment in infrastructure and a much expanded public transportation system that would make the fight for 30 cm irrelevant…
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Indeed! Though I feel positive about improvement seeing the speed the new metro line is going up. Still it is a pressing issue – we wait with baited breath to see the black money collected from demonetization turn into rails and trains!
Something regarding your post…
Not sure how this relates to my post? If there is a plot in the Western media to malign India as an independent writer this is something I will most certainly investigate and do my best to expose and fight against. Mainstream media are controlled largely by corporations and governments and mostly they are motivated by capitalism and using fear to control people, spreading racism and xenophobia in some cases. As a writer it is my intention to make people think differently and encourage peace and understanding between people of different cultures, races and faiths.