Every day I have 2 ½ hours of the most unusual entertainment. I travel by train – Borivli to Churchgate and back.
Last week, I was hurtling down the overbridge as usual, when I saw the 8.36 Churchgate fast pulling in. Double damn, I thought, no seat today. As any seasoned peak hour traveller knows, you’ve got to take your position BEFORE the train arrives and then adroitly lunge in and grab a seat BEFORE the train grinds to a halt. So you can guess what my chances were.
But wait a minute… there was a whole section, including a luscious window seat lying absolutely empty. Hallelujah! There is a God, I exulted as I made a triumphant dash for it.
A woman’s hysterical shriek stopped me mid-air. As I turned to her, she screwed up her nose and pointed to the floor near my coveted seat. Some poor (pathetic, perverse!) creature had emptied the contents of its bowels between the seats. I mentally kicked myself for my premature euphoria. 13 years of travelling and I still hadn’t learned, there’s no such thing as a free window seat.
I glumly settled for an uncomfortable 4th seat, casting unclean looks at my ‘saviour’. (I had to blame someone for my discomfort, right!) Strangely enough, it turned out to be a good vantage point to watch the drama which followed.
Ms. Saviour began relishing her role of rescuing people from ‘shit street’. At every station, it was déjà vu. Eyes would pop on seeing the empty window, women would swarm in, Ms. Saviour would screech, they’d recoil as if they’d been stung. Then they’d press a handkerchief to their nose and squeeze between other sweaty bodies.
One woman bravely announced, ‘We should pull the chain. Get the Railways to come and clean this.” Newbie traveller, I thought with a smothered snort. As if the Railways gave a shit about our genteel sensibilities. As long as the trains reached on time who cared how the sardines within it travelled. The other women too hissed their disapproval and Ms. Chain Puller melted from view.
Some stations later, I discovered the women caught on faster. They did the brisk mental math: crowded train + seemingly vacant space = definitely chee chee. So no herd-like lunging, they’d only peer in to check the extent of the damage.
Finally, one woman who’d been battling with the decision, gingerly squatted on the edge of the 4th seat. A chorus of gasps followed at her audacity. She quickly pulled out her prayer book and transported herself to another consciousness.
Another woman looked at the mound warily, in case it unexpectedly lurched forward, and squeezed in next to Ms. Prayer Book. A third braveheart fished out an old newspaper from her bag, gritted her teeth and placed it over the odious stuff. Obscured from vision now, another two women slid into the opposite seat.
On the other side, some college students began a game of Antakshari. Ms. Saviour, her rescue mission aborted, pulled out her knitting. Someone started grumbling about her maid. As I got ready to get off, I heard a woman quip, ‘We’re lucky it wasn’t someone with loose motions.’
Ah, how I love the spirit of Mumbai.