It has been a while since I travelled by local trains and buses. Ten years perhaps. Ten years in a city like Mumbai is a very very long time. Things have changed drastically. The trains have also changed. Drastically. In the years I travelled by train, they were a dingy yellow and brown. The trains I see now when I pass on roads parallel to railway tracks are spiffy purple and have their destinations in electronic text format on the front. They look so sleek and graceful, and probably need the same amount of pushing and shoving, and stamping on toes skills to get a foothold on. I have lost all my Mumbai local train survival skills. Once upon a time I would jump into trains as they slowed down to stop at Churchgate station and grab window seats on the return home every evening. With stilettoes. Now of course, I would want the seat furthest from the window, what with folks randomly showering the ladies compartments with stones and resulting in eyesight being lost and such horrors.
None of my immediate friend circle travel by train too. We discussed this in hushed tones the other day. Just imagine, one moaned, we could have bumped into Rahul Gandhi. We could have shaken hands. We could have seen him jumping off the train. And if Rahul Gandhi can do it, why cant we? All we need to do is join up at a commando training course before hand. Change our diet to include more protein shakes and strengthening foods in order to push our way through the impenetrable flanks of women who solidify into a concrete wall in fast trains and become a door guarding mafia. Spend some time getting used to dark dingy smelly places like sewers etc, to be able to keep from barfing when the nose is crammed into an armpit, or some random beggar has used the ladies compartment as a public loo. Self defence to keep the druggies from cutting us up and taking our handbags and jumping off when the trains slow down between stations. It would also save us petrol. Given that every time I fill the tank up, I faint at the final amount that comes up on the machine and have to be splashed with water in order to sign on the charge slip, taking the train might be a good idea too. Then comes the issue of my world renowned clumsiness. I have been known to stumble and twist an ankle while just off the bed in the morning. I kid you not. This has happened. If there were awards being handed out for Ms Most likely to trip on the Red Carpet I would win it hands down, no contenders. Railway station overbridges therefore are contraptions I approach with a fear approaching panic. I have been known to remove my heels and walk down barefoot on one particularly precariously angled stairway on Dadar station (all the steps sloped downwards), and this was ten years ago when I was at my peak physical prime. Now it might be easier for me to just park my rump on the top step and have someone push me from the back.
Now Rahul Gandhi, in his detergent commercial white kurta pyjama can risk the encrusted layers of dirt on foot over bridges and such like, I might just have folks pelt stones and cart me off to an institution. Maybe I can just get myself on of them clear plastic raincoat kind of thingies to wear while doing the local train route and fold it and pack it up once I manage to extricate myself from the chaos that manifests itself outside every station. Also, would help immensely in protecting self from hands which move independent of their owners to suddenly touch random body parts. Maybe this is an idea which can be patented and marketed: Train travel Plastic overcoat. Arrive at work as crisp and sparkling clean as you were when you set out from home. Added benefit: administers low voltage shock to unsuspecting gropers. I can just see this getting sold out and long waitlists for orders to be fulfilled.
Seriously though. After his election campaign which had him go to thousands of villages, and break security cordons and do the grassroot reaching out thing with a fair amount of sincerity, Rahul Gandhi had got me admiring him grudgingly. When he hopped onto a local train during his recent Mumbai trip, I swooned and passed out with admiration. To me this is the equivalent of John Rambo, stitching up cuts with needle and thread in the midst of tropical jungle. It does take a fair amount of courage given that your grandmother and father have both died under very gruesome circumstances caused by security breaches. And for those who had their black flags handy, they can go fly them in their own backyards. Thats the best they can do, given that doing anything to improve the city is much beyond their capacity.
For starters they might read this. Especially the part which speaks about the fundamental right of the citizens of India to have the freedom to reside and settle in any part of India.