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.