C 08:08 12 F
This glowing sign greets me every morning as I enter the crowded precincts of Malad station. As I make my way to Platform 4 crawling in a sea of humanity on the Foot-Over Bridge, the Firozpur "Bullock Cart" Express invariably passes from below. Making my way through the hordes of office-going ladies occupying the front end of the platform, I reach my pre-designated place. Between the two pillars painted red-and-yellow signifying the First Class coach, there is a point where the digits "74" are marked on the track (I don't know why). This is the exact position that I have assigned myself. The indicator shows it is still five minutes to go. Slowly the crowd keeps on building and all around me I can see familiar faces turning up, all sincerely occupying the same position everyday. Suddenly someone shouts- "Peeche ho jaao!" (Move back!). With a ear-deafening hoot of horn, a Virar-Churchgate Fast local speeds past at merely two feet from where I am standing at the edge of the platform, the hooligans hanging at the door screaming like mad. On the opposite platform, a gentleman popularly known as "Signal Kaka" keeps a lookout for the incoming train. The moment he spots it, he jumps across to our side, thereby signaling the arrival to the hundreds of others waiting eagerly. Suddenly there is frenzy all over the platform. The ones standing behind put an open question that anyone standing in the first row is free to answer- "Naya hai ki juna?" (Is it the new one or old one?). The answer will decide today's strategy. As the train slowly pulls into the platform, the "experts" standing in the first row signal with their hands to the motorman if he is pulling in too slow, too fast or just right. Finally, as the first door of the First Class coach comes near, I blindly jump in alongwith dozens of others, everyone pushing each other into the coach. Instinctively I turn left and deposit myself somewhere in the centre of the long seat meant for eight passengers. Within a few seconds, one after the other, men of all sizes come charging in, completely filling up the entire place. The unlucky ones who do not get a seat are now assigned the job of neatly arranging everyone's bags onto the Luggage Rack above. However, the most unlucky ones are the "oversmart" passengers who board the train from Kandivali yard itself hoping to get a good seat- all of them are first politely asked to vacate the seats, failing which, subjected to choicest abuses, followed by a good thrashing and eventually pushed out of the coach!
As the train picks up speed, the eclectic mix of co-passengers which includes businessmen, traders, stock-brokers, lawyers, doctors (myself being the only student in the "gang") forget their professional duties for an hour and let loose the kid inside them- joking, fighting, pulling each other's legs and once a week even throwing in a treat of delicacies ranging from samosa to jalebi, distributed free to all passengers in the vicinity - making the journey in the super-dense packed crowd a lot more tolerable. As Bandra approaches, following the unwritten rule in existence since years, everyone who had "caught" a seat from Malad gives the seat to the ones standing earlier thereby ensuring everyone gets to sit for atleast half the journey. Finally, at Dadar, I get off alongwith a majority of the crowd in the coach as the train speeds off towards Churchgate.
This has been my daily routine for the past four years. It sounds mechanical, it is executed to clockwork perfection every day yet there is a hidden emotion, a feeling of belongingness, an attachment behind this exercise that makes me teary-eyed as I get off at Dadar today for THE LAST TIME from the 08:08 am Malad-Churchgate 12-Coach Fast.