When I successfully completed my XII standard I thought my disastrous affair with Mumbai’s local trains had come to an abrupt but welcome end. It is truly unfortunate that 5 years on, the leech that is the local train has clawed its way back into my life. With a schedule to keep and by sheer compulsion, I’m forced to deal with this abomination on a twice daily basis.
It’s peculiar how humans have the tendency to emulate lower intelligence creatures when put into certain situations. The trains are one of those situations where even the nicest, Dalai Lama-esque person could suddenly turn into a nuisance and an embarrassment to the human race and just as swiftly change back to his crimson robe wearing ways once he disembarks. In general, most people turn into rats on the train – they’re selfish, repugnant and you will get a fatal disease when bitten by one of them. While fending off such rodents on my commute to and from work, I’ve learnt a few tips and tricks that could make your next local train journey just a little less uncomfortable and just a little more awkward for your immediate neighbours.
1. The Elbow Rule – The train is a bean bag and its passengers are the beans; that makes you a bean too. If you’ve ever looked inside a bean bag you would have noticed that none of the beans have any personal space, they’re all just squanched up together and it’s the same in the train. The elbow rule advises that when walking on the platform and boarding or alighting a train, you should jostle with your palms joined at the belly and your elbows extended outwards making sure you prod or poke as many people as possible. This will ensure that you are not able to listen to the thoughts of the man pressed up against you and that you do not smell of another man’s sweat when you disembark the train.
2. The Goalkeeper Rule – The goal keeper rule is similar to The Elbow Rule (See point 1) but it is more effective for ascending and descending staircases at the station. The rule basically states that just like a goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation, you must make yourself look as big as possible when climbing steps in order to not have another mans bum in your face and to be able to see your own feet. Making yourself big involves walking with your shoulders as broad as possible, taking wide steps, and keeping your arms away from your body. Taking this rule to the extreme by flapping your arms violently, stomping and making gargling sounds will give the other commuters the impression that you are mental and thereby earn you a lot more space. It is not advisable to follow this rule on the train or on the platform as you could easily be thrown onto the tracks by a disgruntled traveller.
3. The Oil Spill – One morning I was on an unsurprisingly overcrowded train and when I debarked I found my white shirt was tainted by patches. The usual sweat patches on the armpits and back and a baffling one on my forearm. Then I realized that it wasn’t a sweat patch but rather an oil patch from the stubby little fellow in front of me whose head looked like America would raid it for oil next. I like to call them the Oil Spills. Watch out for these guys if you do not want weird patches on your clothes. An easy trick when you encounter an Oil Spill is to piss then off to the extent where they choose to rear their coconut oil harbouring head elsewhere, this can be achieved by jostling, kneeing, kicking and burping. Be warned though, should the Oil Spill get aggravated, he could explode into a ball of flames.
4. The Easy Peasy don’t you Sneezy Law – This one’s pretty simple. Everyone on the train is devoid of morals, principles, values and brains in general, so it is advisable to not piss anyone off. Entry onto the train is not height selective so it is possible that you may be caught behind a shorter person who is not an Oil Spill (See point 3) and whose hair is doing a thing of its own. A wayward hair from such a head could find its way to your nostrils and induce a sneeze. Sneezing on someone could piss said person off so try not doing it.
5. The Ledis Law – Trains have a dedicated compartment for ladies or as they are referred to in train jargon – Ledis log, but sometimes the stray lady does find her way into the general compartment. When faced with such a situation common sense would suggest that you treat the lady respectfully and avoid any awkward and unsocial behaviour. Common sense however is not very prominent in train brains so ignore yours. Ledis log have a reserved place on the train, hell they even have a whole special train for themselves, but they’ve failed to take advantage of it so treat the lady as you would anyone else. More often than not she’s going to be rough around the edges and might even be more vulgar than most men. To determine this – check for a basket of fish on her head, fish ladies are sewage mouthed.
6. The Ben Affleck – Every white Caucasian male is Ben Affleck (for reference watch Role Models). You might find a tourist Ben Affleck or hippy Ben Affleck in the train with you. This guy is your test dummy, oblivious to train etiquette and rodent behaviour, you can use this object as a barrier or as cushioning. Lean, prod, push and pull, these fools had no clue what they were in for when they boarded the train so give them the lot.
7. The Quadbod Doorway (intuitive) rule – There is an unspoken understanding between regular train commuters that a one-time traveller will never be able to comprehend. For instance, did you know it is kosher for one overhead handle to be held by three different individuals at the same time, irrespective of the intensity of pain caused due to fingers being crushed? Similarly, the Quadbod Doorway rule, as the name suggests, states that the doorway in any train – overcrowded or otherwise, must be occupied by four bodies; no more and no less. Even if there are only nine people in the bogey, four must be in each of the doorways. Defying this rule is not punishable by law but it is advised to comply with it if you do not wish to attract unwanted attention.
8. The Khar to Dadar Super Slow – This is not a rule or law or guideline to follow. It is a warning. There exist a handful of unstated tourist special local trains. Like the 8:31 am Churchgate slow that I sometimes board, the tourist special Super Slow trains make it a point to stop at every station for 5 minutes and an additional stop for 10 minutes between two stations for the local train enthusiasts to inhale that uniquely disgusting odour of a smooth, nostril infiltrating blend of faeces and sewage that lines the entire network. This along with the opportunity to take in the sight of slum dwellers laying shit bricks on the track and washing their clothes in Mumbai’s flush water that is the Mahim Creek fuses the Mumbai local’s role as a commuter’s transport and a tour guide. If you are going to use the local trains regularly, identify these undisclosed Super Slows and avoid availing of their service to increase your life expectancy by around 15 years.
9. The Baby Bag manoeuvre – For those who carry backpacks on the train the baby bag manoeuvre is an essential technique to ensure your baggage does not get broken into and stays with you through your local train journey. While wearing your backpack on your front side might be frowned upon by fashionistas, it is the only way you can keep an eye on it when you are one of 400 passengers in a bogey designed to fit only 50. Mastering the slick, seamlessly smooth transition from back to front and timing it to perfection could result in you retaining your fashion respect as well as your bag. Look out for the numerous instances of this manoeuvre, often synchronised to the second at any busy station.
10. The Will He Won’t He Game for the overly sadistic – This is a special game I came up with while I waited at Dadar platform one day. It has a few requirements and it could have very dire consequences if you are not subtle enough in your actions. The main requirement is to be possibly the most sadistic person in the world, to be over the age of 18 and to have a wee bit of free time. The game is simple; you stand at a platform of your choice, at a station of your choice – preferably a crowded one. Wait for a train to arrive and stand close to the door giving people the impression that you want to board it. Now as the train comes to a halt you start pushing and pulling people all around you pretending like you are struggling to get into the train, but actually you are in the exact same place. Do this and prevent people behind you from boarding the train just for a few laughs and once the train is on its way you can leave the station and drive back home in the comfort of your devil-mobile. You can also play this game whilst on the train, preventing people from disembarking or boarding the train. Be aware that there is the possibility of getting the crap beaten out of you, being forcefully pushed onto the train or being trampled by a stampede of exiting travellers.
Disclaimer: These rules, laws and guidelines have been framed based on my personal experiences in order to ensure that you can have a safe and comfortable journey on the Mumbai local train. The train has the inexplicable ability of turning well-mannered gentlemen and elegant ladies into right ol’ dickheads so it is good to have a few helpers in dealing with them. Following any or all of the above points could result in a severe bashing in of your face, head, groin area or any other body part for that matter. Read and execute at your own risk.