07:34 AM. The city rests, but its heart, the vast “Local” system, begins pumping people across the seven islands and its numerous suburbs. I stand at the Marine Lines Station backpack in hand, ready for a day’s journey on the Mumbai Suburban Railway, second only to the NYC subway system in terms of volume.
07:41 AM. The first thing to do is buy a ticket. I head to the second floor of the Station and stand in a line at the ticket counter. In front of me are three others, a fisherwoman with her day’s catch, a middle-aged male office worker and a small girl with the requisite two braids, a red ribbon and the Indian blue uniform (dark frock with a light colored shirt underneath). I wait patiently in line as flies buzz around the fish and consequently fill the open-aired room. The ticket process is relatively easy. The old weary man asks for ID and a Rs. 1000 ($17.00) and with it I get to ride the entire suburban network for an entire month, as many times as I want for as long as I want. Want to know something even better? Its for the First Class berths, the best Mumbai has to offer.
7:52 AM. I still hold my head in disbelief. How is train travel in India so cheap? Not knowing the answer, I make my way down the steps, avoiding two sleeping stray dogs and a pool of flies surrounding a makeshift pile of garbage. As I make my way to the platform I see a swath of people running in different directions. Having heard that many a people have fallen off the station in these crowds, I make a beeline for the center of the platform putting my backpack across my chest instead of my back to avoid the ever-present pickpocketer.
7:55 A.M. I have no idea which train to take as trains arrive and go constantly. I make out some broken Marathi asking for which train to board. People in India are extremely hospitable, to the point that the second person I asked said that he would help me up on the train and pointing to the direction of where I have to go to work, Matunga Road. As I would later find out, platforms 1 and 3 are for northbound trains; platforms 2 and 4 are for Southbound Trains. Furthermore, platforms 1 and 2 are “slow” lines where trains stop at every station along the line whereas platforms 3 and 4 are “fast” lines where express trains only stop at high visibility stations (Dadar, Andheri, Bandra etc.) My new friend, Salil explains that the “fast” train won’t stop at Matunga Road…
7:59 A.M. I missed the train. I was standing in front of a Ladies’ Only Bogey and hence I am resigned to wait next to a “chaiwallah”, or a Tea Seller.
8:00 A.M. I’m kind of thirsty. I buy a cup of chai from him for Rs. 7. That’s literally $0.11, a dime and a penny. I think all I’m going to drink is chai for two months…
8:02 A.M. The next train arrives and I jump on board. The train is filled with people heading to work and I manage to find a seat on the inside of a bench with a view outside. The fans are blowing overhead but it is still extremely stuffy and the back of my shirt is as damp as a washcloth. I stare at the ground and then stare outside as the train lets out a bugle-like horn and begins picking up speed. The wind ruffles my hair and I look out as we leave behind the platform and I look ahead through the bristled bars of the window.
8:14 A.M. A beggar makes his way through our bogey. I’ve heard many horror stories of not giving to the destitute but the generosity of my fellow brethren amazes me. 9 of the 10 sitting in my row take a couple of coins out of their wallets and put them in the blind man’s quivering hands. I can’t help but take out my spare change and drop them in his “cup”.
8:19 A.M. We reach Dadar, a junction for two of the lines. A drunkard comes on board dancing down the crowded aisle, shouting and yelling. My fellow commuters give me a blank look. I can’t help but stare but as soon as he looks at me, I force my gaze downward not seeking any unnecessary attention.
8:22 A.M. I am here. Matunga Road. The station looks exactly the same as Marine Lines, only it has a different name. As I make my way up the bridge I look back on my first experience up the “Local”.
Here I am, 10 days later. Still riding the “Local” and even though it’s a little dirty and overcrowded its growing on me. Its people and its story offer a unique muse upon which I cannot help but fall in love with. I cannot think of a more wonderful way to spend one summer, immersing myself in a culture so foreign yet so fascinating.
Useful Links for Mumbai:
A surprisingly well-written overview of the Mumbai Suburban Railway System, even though it’s from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai_Suburban_Railway
M-Indicator is a terrific app that can be used to track trains coming and going. It is available for Android and iOS.
Plan your route with http://transportformumbai.com/mumbai_local_train.php
~ Paarth Shah '16
© 2014 Princeton Traveler