A (not-so) comprehensive guide to Mumbai local train travelling for newcomers.
Objective: At the end of the course you will have acquired the skills to ride and survive the Lifelines of Mumbai, or will flee away forever.
Pre-requisites: Common Sense (yes, a bit too much to ask for, but it is required)
Before the Journey.
Make sure you are mentally and physically prepared. Wearing an armored suit and helmet is recommended, but not necessary.
Buy a ticket. It is very easy. Each station has around ten ticket windows out of which seven are permanently closed, two will have “Lunch Break” at any given time of the day and the remaining one will have a short queue of approximately 158 people. Once you reach the counter, remember the staff is a big fan of Obama- they demand change. All the time. You can bypass this procedure by charging your way ahead of the queue and asking for Coupon booklet, the probability of availability of which is 0.0016 and if you get one, remember the Coupon Validating Machine is officially on the UNESCO list of endangered species. Alternately, you can be tech-savvy and buy the Smart Card and head to the corner where you see a person groping and pinching a touchscreen all over the place. This activity might give you some pleasure, but does not give a ticket.
Now that you have acquired a ticket, it is time to find your train. Locate an indicator board and search for train to your destination. There are not many options to get confused. You just need to know some letter codes- A, Ad, An, B, Ba, Bo, Bl, Bs, By, C, D, Di, G, K, Kp, M, N, S, St, T, Tl, V to name a few and remember that he train can be 9-car, 12-car or 15-car; Slow, Fast or Semi-Fast (occasionally Double Fast and no more Bada Fast) and that it can be on either Western, Central or Harbour (which is also Central but not quite Central) line. Once done, go to the appropriate platform. You will find several passengers striving hard to improve India’s medal tally at Olympics by practicing high-jump over fences between tracks and long jumps across open gutters. Resist the temptation to join the noble cause. Use the bridge. Look at the indicator boards on the platform. You will see names of several places lit up. Locate your destination. If it is lit up, your train will stop (if you are on Central line) or will not stop there (if you are on Western line). If nothing is lit up, it simply means rats ate up the wires.
Boarding the train.
Walk along the platform and smartly choose your position. If you are male, do not stop by near the large group of young women. There are better places in the city to flirt/chance maaro/ogle (discussion beyond the scope of this course). Also, do not stand in front of a pillar colored in funky red and yellow stripes. No, it is not a message from aliens nor location of an African dance party. Once the train is in sight, you can decide to don one of the following three roles-
1. Super Man: Hold your belongings close to your chest and jump right in before the train stops. It requires accurate calculation of velocity and your trajectory needs to be at an angle of tan-1 (0.1032) w.r.t the direction of motion of the train, failing to achieve so can result in you banging against a window instead of a door.
2. Mango Man: Like the aam aadmi of India, stay passive. Do not do anything. The crowd around you will drag you inside. Simple and easy. Remember to wriggle yourself out of the wave at the right time, lest you end up inside one of the reserved corners of daily gangs.
3. Fattu Man: Stay at the back of the platform. Watch the entire crowd make their way in. Watch the train depart without you. Repeat.
Inside the Train
If you tried strategy #1 to board, there is a 2.95% probability that you will manage to catch a seat. If so, yes it is an event worthy of updating your Facebook and Twitter status proclaiming the same. If ten people gather around you asking you to vacate the seat, do it. Resistance is futile, unless you want to experience being lifted, passed over several people and thrown out of the coach. If you have to stand, find a place that falls in the area of operation of the fan, which extends upto 2 inches from its perimeter. But this does not mean you stand in the middle of the door passage. Doing so will give you a first hand experience of how electrons and protons feel inside the Large Hadron Collider. If you are in the middle of a densely packed crowd and see a food item such or sweets passed to you, eat it. Consider it “Bonus level”. Do not doubt its origin or intention. They’ll find your lack of faith disturbing and appropriate action will be taken. If you are a keen observer, you will notice several men moving back and forth in suspicious patterns. No, they are not doing what you think. A majority of the crowd is straight.
There are protocols you need to strictly follow. If you are in a general second class compartment, if there are 3 passengers on a seat, you can make hand gesture along with use of the phrase “Boss, thoda…” and claim access to 3 inches worth of seat to rest your (half a) posterior on. However, doing the same in First Class will result in expulsion. If you are in the Ladies coach (No! If you are male, you cannot be in the Ladies coach) you have to verbally “reserve” a seat for yourself by asking every sitting passenger which station she is getting off and laying claim to that seat. Grabbing a seat reserved by others will result in an unacceptable level of noise pollution. Number of people allowed to stand at the door is fixed at 4 for First Class, 5 for second class, 6 and more for Virar locals in peak hours. Number of people allowed to sit on the long seat at the end of the coaches is fixed at 7 for non-peak hours, 8 for peak-hours, 9 and more for office hours when atleast 54% of the occupants are known to each other. These figures have been arrived at after years or optimization and are not variable.
Alighting from the Train
Like boarding, for alighting too you can choose to don one of the three roles, but with different outcomes. If you decide to use the Super Man approach and push your way through the crowd, you will be allowed to go ahead without warning until you reach the open door and eject yourself out even before the train has reached a platform. This can be done only once per lifetime. If you decide to be the Fattu Man and stay put in your place for too long, Newton’s First Law applies and you will find yourself inside the train until it reaches the yard at midnight. The Mango Man approach has the maximum probability of safe ejection. The wave will push you out, provided you start at the correct location. To avoid the catastrophe that the entire wave of crowd gets off but you do not move at all because you were in the wrong wave, always ask the row ahead of you “Bhaisahab, Dadar?” if you want to get off at Dadar.
Several finer points and a list of FAQs will be provided fr this course at a later date.
Appendix - Pain in the ass
If this course was too difficult to understand and you wish to have a less complicated solution, you need to be a movie star in which case a part of the coach will be vacated; or the heir to the Royal Family of India in which case you will be allowed to travel in First Class on Second Class ticket and train diverted to platform of your choice. For others, Bon Voyage!