The Mumbai Local Microcosm

Guest post by Barnaby Haszard Morris:

I’m standing on the busy Mumbai Local around noon, politely refusing repeated offers of a seat, and I’m trying to avoid this filthy body of water as it courses around me. It sits up one end of the carriage for a while, forming a shallow pool between the doors, then suddenly we hit a corner and the water’s shooting over my feet again. If I stand with my heels flat and my toes slightly raised, the water doesn’t reach over the threshold of my chappal soles each time it streams past.

I look at the shoes of the guy next to me – immaculately polished black leather, to match his expensive-looking pants and shirt – and I’m simply glad to be wearing shoes that didn’t cost me a fortune. He’s talking on a mobile phone, like a number of other guys in this carriage. Notice that I said ‘a’ mobile phone, for it is merely one of several. He has the one pressed against his right ear, then two more – which look to this Nokia user like Android phones – bundled in his left hand. The bag hoisted over his shoulder looks heavy. His glance darts between their screens, as if expecting an alert at any moment, while he talks constantly into the one against his ear.

Lots of people are talking constantly in this carriage. One group of men, clearly strangers, are debating in Hindi over whether we are going to Victoria Terminus (VT) or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) – which are of course different names for one place, the busiest railway station in the world. Another person talking constantly is this young hipster with his arm around his girl. (Yes, there are women in this carriage, but only a few.) This guy just will not stop talking into his girl’s ear. He’s jabbering on and on and ON and on without pause, an ear-to-ear grin fixed throughout. He was already talking when I got on at Vikhroli, and he’s still going by the time we reach VT/CST. The girl doesn’t seem to mind a bit. I’m guessing she’s enjoying the attention.

My hearing switches focus to the call of the latest moth-eaten wandering vendor to dart up and down the carriage. (The water doesn’t seem to bother him.) Each vendor has their own particular – and often peculiar – method of calling out their offering, and this guy keeps saying what sounds to me a lot like “black magics”, over and over again. When he goes past me, I realise that he is in fact yelling “mathematics”, unless he considers his stack of mathematical formulae books to be an extension of the dark arts. Having swept up and down the steadily less packed walkway a couple of times, he darts out the doors as they’re hauled open at the next station, presumably to sell his “black magics” to the next carriage.

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