(NB: I felt as though my daily commute deserved a post rather than just a passing mention, because I'm really just so fascinated by public transport here. I'm a born-again commuter. Don't you roll your eyes at me, yes, you, you know who I'm talking to.)
It was Monday morning, the 8th of January, about six days after I moved to Bombay and about five days since I had not been drinking. "Oh no," I said, furry-mouthed and pounding head(ed?), "I have to go to work today." Going to work wasn't my problem. Not even the raging hangover and the fact that I felt I was going to spew if I moved more than an inch a minute was a problem. The problem was, for the first time since I was nineteen and started to drive, I was going to have to take public transportation. And in a city that still felt very new and strange.
The DTC buses that plied to and from college were fairly easy. I had broken into them by first taking a chartered bus--for a slightly more expensive ticket, you were ensured a place to sit and gaze dreamily out the window till your stop came. But those didn't leave in time for my morning class, and so, I had to start catching the dreaded 534s, the ones that went from right outside my house in East Delhi all the way to Mehrauli, usually lilting to the side with the weight of passengers. There are about two seats reserved for women, if you were lucky, men were sitting on them and you could order them off, but more often than not, they were filled with hostile-eyed, sharp-elbowed ladies, who had fought tooth and nail for the privelege, and so you had to surrender your sheltered ass and the rest of your virginal body to the crowd of men packed tightly in the aisles, holding on to your backpack worn back to front to protect your chest, and submitting to the man behind you, who perhaps didn't have to stand quite so close to your jeans.
I learnt how to drive as fast as I could, spending my meagre allowance on auto fare just wasn't cutting it, and as soon as I was able I drove to college and then, yeah, I never looked back since. I've been forced to use my legs (which in the past I claimed laconically were "only for the accelerator or decoration.") ever since I moved here, been a pedestrian with slightly grumbling ease, and even learnt to carry a chunni for auto hair so I don't look completely dishevelled. But the trains! And the horror stories that went with them of the teeming crowds and the smell and the everything! All of me just balked.
I wanna go home now, my head whined as the auto dropped me off at the station. It was 9.30 in the morning and I had never seen so many people just moving, upwards and downwards, there's really no way to describe that kind of throng, until you've seen it for yourself, like lemmings, like rats, packed with all sorts of animal metaphors. I paid off the impatient auto guy and attached myself to the upward moving throng, feeling myself swept along till the ticket counter and then swept along to getting a month's pass made, at a friend's advice, so I wouldn't have to do this every day. (Minor edit: My command over the English language is going to the dogs, I have managed to write everyday for every day, misplaced an apostrophe in my notifylist alert and yesterday while referring to my hair I said, "They get really curly." Aaaaaaargh. Somebody shoot me NOW. I've become one of those people I hate.) And then, ohmygod, trying to figure out the code on the little red indicator boards, I pulled out all the research I had conducted and managed to get on a first class ladies compartment, empty except for three other passengers. "This is the train to _, right?" I asked, knees trembling, and the nine-year-old schoolgirls giggled at my fear and nodded.
When my stop came and I got off, I was all aglow with the Glory that was I. Look at me, all commuter-y! On the way home, I even daringly hopped on to a fast train, something they had told me not to do till I was a little more familiar with things. I rocked at this, even if my hands smelt of stale metal that trains do to you and my body was a little sore from dodging the incoming mass of women to get off.
It's been, what? A little over a week now? And the local trains still haven't gotten old. I've figured out where to stand for the compartment to stop right in front of me--the green and yellow striped pillars on each station. I've figured out what it means when someone taps you on the shoulder and makes question marks with her hands--they want to know when you're going to get off. ANNNNNNNNND, I even figured out how to get off without being bruised, by nimbly and ably, jumping off right before the train has pulled to a complete stop. Yay, me!
Anyway, so the social conscience story, also known as the Dude-I-Wish-I-Wasn't-Such-A-Wuss story. So, I'm on the train the other day, yeah? And lalalala, I'm minding my own business, as is everyone else, I've got my iPod on and Dave Mathews is whispering sweet nothings into my ears and then suddenly, this really large woman starts screaming. Naturally, we all turn and look at her, and I even turn down Dave. "Who let them in?" she screeches, "Who? Do they think it's their father's railroad? Look at how shameless they are, they even got on to the first class compartment!" The objects of her ire are two young women with their small children, chilling like the rest of us in the partition between the rows of seats. The college girls snicker, the other women roll their eyes.
At the next stop, the large woman gets up and makes them get off. "I should send you straight to the police station," she says, and then to the rest of us, "Girls nowadays have no shame! You should have stopped them from getting on! They only get on here to steal from us." My stomach has by this time twisted into knots, I'm so upset, but I have no balls to tell her to let it go--especially when the families do disembark and a couple of other women join in the chorus. "You're right, everyone should make sure these people don't get on to our compartments." I look out of the window, hating myself for being such a coward, and so, here I am confessing it all to you.
Melodrama, action, adventure, who would drive when you can see all that, eh?