Tuesday, April 28, 2009

C 08:08 12 F

Genre: Mumbai

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.

27 comments:

  1. shitt!!! u made me so emtional after reading this man!!! 8.08 fast has been an inseperable part of my life too for 4 years.. i wil always miss it yaar!!! :(

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  2. Awesome...the last para is indeed emotional...my coll days also about to end...no experience like
    "C 08:08 12 F" for me at Baroda but will miss the great 4 years of coll life...

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  3. nicely written karan...u made me recollect the similar experiences on C 09:01 12 F at Goregaon in the mornings as well as the Bo 17:32 12 F and Bo 17:47 12 F at Dadar in the evenings...alas here in Philadelphia, there isnt much train travel to look forward to...local train travel is something one really misses once one leaves mumbai

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  4. Nice one!! A small technical correction - the looong seat is officially meant for only 7 people!

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  5. @Ice Maiden

    Yeah, I knew you would be the one who will relate the most to it! :)

    Still, I bet you didn't know the concept of "Signal Kaka", the relevance of "Naya hai ya juna?" and probably never got free samosas and jalebis, isn't it? ;)

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  6. @Abhishek
    @Adil

    Yes, this is one of the most memorable things about living in Mumbai... once you are out of Mumbai, you never get a taste of this! Sigh!

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  7. @Akshay

    I think you don't know this unwritten rule- in peak hours, the looong seat is meant for SEVEN people if it is Andheri local, EIGHT if it is Borivali local and NINE if it is Virar local!

    Btw, in Malad local, I have even endured TEN people regularly sitting on that loong seat! :D

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  8. Of course I know the rule....thats why I wrote "officially" meant for 7 people :)

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  9. ofc i knew d concept of signal kaka..ofc no ladies stand on d 3rd platform to see if d local is coming.. bt we get a signal anyway..

    as for d samosas n jalebis.. i got a lot of them too.. sab mila hai.. cake pastry roti-sabzi mithai...etc etc.. n along wid all dat antakshari sessions too.. thoughi was never a part of any group as such.. i had fun observing d people... :)

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  10. Wonderful and heart-warming to read. This is one narrative that truly brings out the sense of community involved in the Mumbai EMUs. I've travelled on them in the past, but merely as a disinterested, passive observer of the crowds, and they just appeared to be hundreds of ordinary people going about their daily life. Your post was a real eye-opener to the special sense of belonging and togetherness that characterises the crowd on (I presume) every Mumbai local.

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  11. [From Mobile]

    Read the article and was just short of crying.

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  12. [from GTalk]

    nice blog boss....especially the last line
    reminded me of how i travelled all these years..
    my car is now empty with no one to have for company while comin back.

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  13. @Ice Maiden

    cake, pastry, roti, sabzi?? :O
    Girl, you had access to SOME variety!

    And yes, the Antakshari sessions are confined to Ladies coach only! Btw, the 2nd coach in 08:08 has the famous "Bhajan Mandal" :)

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  14. @Manish

    Yes, the sense of belonging exists on ALL local trains. It's just that the outsiders never realise it. You need to travel in the same coach in the same train for months to be able to relate to this!

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  15. @Shreyas

    Come on dude, it's not like that! You will always have company with you.. if not me and Akshat, atleast Devanshi is gonna be there na.. so why worry!

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  16. [Via IRFCA Mailing List]

    Your blog reminded me of my college days when I used to travel from Vileparle to Kharghar by the Andheri-Belapur train every morning. This train used to be a moving college(without any lectures !!) as hoards of students across Bombay used
    to take this train to reach their colleges in New Bombay. The 3 hrs to & fro journey used to be the most exciting part of my life in those 4 years, which used to also allow me to do some rail fanning session through a window seat on WR & CR. It used to be a daily picnic for me.

    Why last time ? I guess it should be the end of the beginning !!

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  17. @Pushkar

    Last time because it is the end of college days for me! Now I have to travel to Dadar only to give my Final Exams and the timing for that is 14:30 hours, so I would not be taking my regular 08:08am Churchgate Fast anymore! Moreover, in August I shall be re-locating to USA for my Higher Studies, so chances that I shall take the 08:08 again are pretty slim! :-(

    Btw, when I was alighting at Dadar yesterday and told the passengers of the regular "gang" that this is my last journey in this train, an elderly gentleman actually told me- " Aage bhi kabhi kabhi aate rehna is train me!" (Do keep coming into this train even after your college ends!). This kind of attachment develops with complete strangers over a period of time only in Mumbai's locals!

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  18. [From IRFCA Mailing List]

    No, Karan! Not only in Mumbai! It's a bit off topic but there was a similar event on the Deccan Queen and even in the far off Blue Mountains of NSW.

    My paternal grandparents moved to the Blue Mountains of NSW from Sydney
    in 1963. My grandfather continued to work in Sydney and he paid for a "
    permanent seat reservation" on one of the business trains. So there was
    a lot of attachment between strangers: mammoth card games, chess games,knitting circles and so on. What brought these strangers together was simply the shared daily journey.

    On my first holiday journey I was to meet my grandfather on his train:
    but I boarded an earlier train by mistake, alighted at the first
    available intermediate station to join the fast correct train but the
    carriage was crowded. I stood in a corridor. Later I was asked, " Are
    you Reg Lacey's grandson? He was expecting you at Sydney but was worried
    when you did not arrive," and then I was taken to my grandfather's seat.

    BTW, these business trains had unusual names, " The Fish" and " The Chips": very off topic , so if anyone would like an explanation, contact me off list.

    Best wishes to Karan for success in your exams and further studies.
    I'll miss your mails from Mumbai.

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  19. [From IRFCA Mailing List]

    This attachment is seen at many places not just Mumbai!! A morning local to a
    major city from surrounding villages is also a perfect place to witness this
    bond. The endless chattering, cards etc do make up for a special bond and is
    felt more when parting!!

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  20. [From IRFCA Mailing List]

    I've lived in Mumbai, Chennai and at both these cities the suburban locals were the only preferred means of transport for my commutation for work and back. And I don't remember seeing this lap providing generosity among the commuters. But if this is actually
    prevalent, then it cannot be termed as funny. That's gross. Oh my gosh! I just cannot even think of myself sitting on someone's lap nor allowing
    somebody sit on my lap. No way brother!!!! Would rather give up my seat and travel standing no matter how long or uncomfortable it may be...

    On a different note, feeling a bit unhappy to miss your absence after
    you leave for US to further your studies. IRFCA loses one active member
    from the Mumbai region. Your frequent updates from the Mumbai region
    were quite informative and trip reports were interesting too. Any way
    pal, wishing you all the best.

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  21. @Manoj Sir and John Lacey Sir,

    Thank you so much for all those kind words!

    Let me assure you, I am not going off-IRFCA or out of Mumbai right away. Not so soon!

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  22. wow... u hav some fans!!! niccceee... :)

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  23. Shirish Paranjape, IRFCAMay 1, 2009 at 7:54 AM

    Dear Karan

    Nicely written!

    I hope you will do at least one more journey on C 8:08F with sweets and samosas once your results are out.

    Shirish, IRFCA

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  24. hey amazing build-up at the end to drive home the fact that trains have become an inseparable part of our lives to come everyday to college. n now they'r just gonna be any other train meant to catch at any other time. not the one.. which we ran across the bridge n platforms to catch..hehe

    no matter how bad sometimes its been in that awful crowd..i'm still gonna cherish it forever cz i'm proud to be a mumbaiite in all its drudgery and splendour!

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  25. @Shirish

    I so much want to do that!!!

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  26. @Jagged Edge

    Exactly! They might be crowded, dirty and noisy, yet we are gonna remember the local trains of Mumbai forever, even after we leave Mumbai, for the service that they have provided us day and night, through rain and sunshine [and not to forget, the once-in-a-lifetime experience we had, remember? :) ]

    Btw, you never had a "fixed train, fixed coach" routine na? Or were you a regular in the 08:19 Thane-CST Slow?

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  27. Lovely lovely post.. I could feel the whole thing as I read it here.. Man awesome :)

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