Mumbai is famously called the “Sapno ki Nagari” -City of Dreams in India. It can easily be compared to both New York and Hollywood. The lifeline of Mumbai is Mumbai local trains. Mumbai locals have the incredible ability to accommodate not just millions of people but maybe millions of businesses, personalities, occupations, and even social initiatives. Believe me, I’m not exaggerating.
Foreigners visiting this lightning city feel amazed to see the superpowers of Mumbai local trains and either fall in love with this dreamland or give up on this insanely adventurous ride. I have left Mumbai 15 years back but still, the memories of Mumbai local trains make my adrenaline levels high. I remember spending almost two hours every day in the crowded local, jumping swiftly into the arriving local even before it stopped to catch the window seat. Your senses have to be super sharp to get in. Getting the window seat is like acquiring a king’s throne. Less successful people could manage to get the fourth seat or nine-seat. The fourth seat is the end seat where half of your bottom stays unsupported and if the other three people on your bench are not slim enough then you just pretend to sit putting the entire pressure on your knees trying not to fall down. If it is an end-to-end seat then 9 people try to sit in a seven-seater bench crushing the thighs of people next to you. Mumbaikars (people from Mumbai) know how to share even the small happiness in life. I loved peeking into people’s houses that we could see through the windows. Especially in the evening as the lights turned on in these tiny suburban apartments close to the train tracks, ladies of the house used to get the dinner ready. Watching that always made me homesick and missed my home more.
These Mumbai locals have inspired and helped millions of people earn daily bread. Mumbai locals are like the magical cities from those fantasy novels. They are not just means of commute but a shopping mall, a food court, a fish market, a men’s club, a women’s kitty, a venue for baby showers or bridal showers, a napping station, a meeting room, a singing class or anything else. and it can play several other functions. A city on wheels. Isn’t it unbelievable?
Other than commute, fun, and shopping, Mumbai local train can also be called an educational institution as it is a place of business of “Mumbai Dabbawalas”. For those who don’t know who Mumbai Dabbawalas are, they are a very small unique community of 5000 dressed-in-white heroes who deliver homemade fresh food made by mothers and wives to the husbands, fathers, and children in these special metal containers even before it cools down. Due to their amazing organization, hard work, and dedication, almost 200,000 Mumbaikars (People from Mumbai) enjoy homemade food six days a week. Their amazing management style surprised even Price Charles when he first visited Mumbai and made them friends with the Prince. Some of these dabbawalas even attended the royal wedding. Now, these mostly self-taught dabbawalas go as guest lecturers and help build business case studies for the topmost business schools throughout the world. Many national and international business students go and spend time with these dabbawalas to learn from these Models of Service Excellence or underappreciated superheroes. So you can imagine why Mumbai is called as city of dreams. I feel sad that the current pandemic situation has adversely affected these hard-working people as most people work from home.
Mumbai trains are so impartial that not just good people use Mumbai locals to fulfill their dreams but you would be surprised that even beggars become millionaires here just by begging on the platform or on the train. Unfortunately, Pickpocketers, human traffickers, perverts all take advantage of Mumbai local trains. But then there are many everyday superheroes like Mumbai Railway police and fellow passengers who step up when such incidents happen. Mumbai is the first city in the world to start “Ladies special” local trains to protect women from the perverts and make their daily commute a little easier. Unlike regular Mumbai local trains, all the compartments in Ladies special train are reserved only for women. I remember my commute in ladies' compartments when I was in college. Ladies or men who commute every day become lifelong friends irrespective of age. During hour-long journey every day, we used to share standing space, offer seats to pregnant/old ladies, carry stuff for each other. I used to shop for dress fabrics, accessories, and beauty products from the roaming vendor. Some small entrepreneurs used to come with delicious homemade cakes, or famous Mumbai chaat, fried appetizers, and fruit salads. Transgenders who didn’t and possibly don’t have access to many jobs also could earn their livelihood in these trains. Many women, I believe still buy vegetables and even fish on the trains and get them ready for dinner while standing. Their balancing skills are amazing. My mother, when she was working used to take singing classes on the train. All these little things made life easier for both men and women who enjoy some social moments even in that crowded space. You can think of it as a magical sponge that keeps absorbing more of everything every day, both good and bad. I don’t know if I can handle that adventure of getting on a crowded Mumbai local at peak hours now but I can’t wait for this pandemic to get over and visit Mumbai local trains one more time.