Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Mumbai Local

Travelling in overcrowded suburban trains of Bombay forces you to learn many skills. Reading a broadsheet newspaper such as The Times of India holding onto an overhead strap with one hand in a swaying train compartment where people are packed in like sardines, is one of them.

There is a certain time-tested method of doing this and like all skills, can be elevated to the realm of fine art with constant practice.

The trick is to go against the natural cross fold of the newspaper and fold it vertically in the middle. Run your thumbs pressed together along the vertical fold and make a knife-edge crease. Read the front page one half at a time. Now, fold the right half of the front-page backwards so that the left side of Page 2 and the right side of Page 3 are exposed. Read them. Now fold the entire paper inside out, so that...

I know I am losing you, but you get the drift. When you consider that you have to undertake these dextrous moves making sure you don’t elbow the guy on your right in the ribs and at the same time stay balanced so that you don’t sway into the guy on your left, you will have a general idea about the complexity involved.

Doing the crossword doubles the complexity because you have a new factor here which is the pen. Your left hand is holding onto the overhead strap and your right hand is holding both the newspaper and the pen and to fill in 8 Across or 17 Down you have to momentarily let go of the overhead strap and this is a moment fraught with more tension than the climax of a Hitchcock movie.

Once you have mastered the broadsheet and the crossword, reading the tabloid on the return journey home, is far less complex. Same way, once the tabloid has been conquered, reading a magazine or a paperback in such crowded spaces becomes a piece of cake. I remember reading the four books that constitute the famed Alexandria Quartet of Lawrence Durrell, in conditions of aforementioned intimacy.

These days I have far more time than I ever had had in Bombay and I hardly read anything.

There is a lesson in it somewhere waiting to be learned.


Ideasmith said...

:-) That was a humourous piece and anyone who has travelled in Mumbai trains will empathise with it. I really think the trains capture the real essence of Mumbai in how its commuters travel in the worst possible conditions and find ways to adapt and evolve and continue their usual lives.

My first thought when I read this piece was the Sprite ad showing a guy in a crowded train compartment. Seen it?

The general compartment certainly is more crowded than the ladies but's devoid of such dangers as talon-like nails, strange things poking out of handbags and that ultimate horror...spike-heeled shoes!!

Rada said...

Unlike Spock in the Twilight Zone, I have never dared to venture where no man has ever gone before, like the Ladies compartment in a Mumbai local!

But I believe you when you talk about the dangers lurking within! :-)

Thanks for the comment.

Rakesh Pherwani said...

Reading a broadsheet newspaper in the local trains, during peak hours is a dare-devilry that can only be performed by skilled professionals. I have been successful in reading just novels and magazines. As for the ladies compartment, it would be best referred to as the 'war zone'.

Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

Hi,nice post. I was reminded of a news story I read of people in Japanese trains, who read entire books on their cellphones. I wonder if Bombay locals (pun intended) see a lot of these Nokia Novels as well? :-)

Liked the last line as well. Lesson to be learned: "Strange people and strong odors add greatly to your reading habit"???

Rada said...


That is what is so admirable about Mumbai commuters: they read everything from Christian prayer books to heavy philosophical tomes in such crowded confines! I am so much in awe of these guys!

BP & SK,

Closed confines, forced intimacy and body odour as a spur to one's reading habit? LOL! That is what the management gurus would call "out of the box" thinking!

Thank you for visiting..

Hemant Vyas said...

Good Observations Rada. I remeber most of my days in the local. Best education for all. As they say you cant find a DUM or square headed folk who has travelled about 3-5 years in Mumbai Locals. It grooms people to be smart patient tolerant sharing and be persistent. As regards the "Lajwanti Express" I would like to reserve my chosen words for your years only!

narendra shenoy said...

Great post! Very well written. I've done my bit of train traveling and I could really relate to the excellently described "newspaper management" techniques.

Vidya said...

Well you dont want to go to the ladies compartment and face those elbow knocks

ruSh.Me said...

Newspaper is the thing of the past now..the new Fad is Texting!!! All sorts of Cellphones, PDA, N's and the E's and the Motos... all of them floating just above the Handle strap!! Make sure not to Knock others Elbow Out!!

PICK become PISS, GAS turns out ASS... and many similar mishaps!!

the Handfree's Dangling in Sweat-Thick air..I just wonder, how come the Tiny Organism from Others , don't get a place on ur Earphone and then in ur body~!!! YUCKSSssss!

But its a Way of Life, U can't Avoid!!

Rada said...

"Lajwanti Express"! That's a good one!

Thank you for the comment. This post seems to have attracted a lot of comments. I feel so flattered!

Elbow knocks? ELBOW KNOCKS? Wow!,
Perhaps I am a bit behind the times! Newspaper reading or "texting", I think it still shows the enterprising spirit of the Mumbai commuter!

Thiruvengadam said...

You have very well captured the scenes of Mumbai locals. It brings back vivid memories of bygone days of commuting by mumbai suburban trains. Can't forget the sight of commutators holding on to their newspapers with a pen in hand engrossed in the daily crossword. Even I used to make that habit. It made travelling so easy ... taking off all your attention from the mad rush, pushes & nudges, smell of sweat on & so forth....


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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.