Mumbai’s suburban trains are critical to the transport infrastructure of this elongated peninsula. Roads clog and traffic doesn’t move; the trains clog but keep racing along. Here’s a story about how clogged exactly the trains get, from G. Ganesh, one of my IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) classmates who was visiting Mumbai. (He clarifies he’s never actually lived there, or he’d never have made the mistakes he did.)
From Gopalan Ganesh:
Two or three years ago, at the invitation of our IIMA classmates Pyare Lal and R.Subramaniam (“RS”), I spent a couple of days at the N.L. Dalmia Institute campus at Mira Road.
I was staying with relatives in Santa Cruz West. Usually, I took an auto-rickshaw to Bandra station, then went to platform #4 for the Fast Train to Virar, and got off at Mira Road. Going against the traffic both ways, it was reasonably smooth, both ways, and I usually even got a place to sit. Pyare and RS had advised me to travel only First Class, given the crowds and pick pockets.
On this ill-fated day, I decided to go to Andheri station because in the journey towards Mira Road, Andheri came after Bandra. I thought, why not shorten my journey. What a stupid decision!
I went to platform #4 in Andheri, and got into the first train that showed up. This was my second (and bigger) mistake. It was a Borivali Local Train. I was in fact wondering why so many people got in with me, unlike the fast train to Virar.
People kept pouring in at every station from there on. When I’d gotten in at Andheri, I only had standing room and now the squeeze was on. I was getting increasingly uncomfortable. By this time, I realized my mistake and was anticipating Borivali with great apprehension.
The train reached that madhouse soon enough, and there was this mad rush of commuters into the First Class compartment, like a swarm of bees. I was trying to get off, but instead got dragged right in and very nearly crushed in the stampede. The train, having reached its terminus, started back toward Churchgate. I was getting the @#$% squeezed out of me.
I shouted out in my best Mumbai English+Hindi combination that I was a professor, and had to go to Mira Road for a lecture starting at 9 am, that I was new to Mumbai and had got onto the wrong train.
Enter my hero. This big burly guy who was on the footboard heard my pathetic
pleas, and shouted to the rest of them to let me through to the footboard area. Once I made it there, he told me to be ready. He formed a physical arch at the next station allowing me to extrude through.
I literally danced for joy on the platform, before going to the correct platform and reaching Mira Road an hour or so later. I must have looked like I was run over by a road roller, or I’d seen a ghost during the day time. Pyare Lal, RS and the Dalmia Institute students had a good laugh.
Mumbai commuters, given their daily hell, are very helpful and courteous.