Even though I have now realized that I much prefer life in small towns and the unhurried pace of life, Mumbai, for some reason exercises a deep fascination for me. I spent two years there as a student, and even though I went there convinced that I would intensely dislike it and not be able to cope with it, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the place.
One of the things which really defined Mumbai for me was the local trains. I know travelling in them was sweaty, tiring, sometimes even dangerous, but I absolutely loved it. In fact, whenever I felt rather low, a journey on the local trains would perk me up a lot.
When I reflect on what it was which fascinated me, I think it was the fact that somewhere, people were automatically following a queue out there. I know this is hard to believe. Images of local trains are all about people pushing each other out. There seem too many people there, for any queuing system to exist at all. And my sample size is probably too small, or Mumbai has changed, and traveling on those trains is probably more difficult now. But I loved the fact that people respected queues there, I don’t recall ever fighting over a queue break there (something I routinely do in other places). I also loved the way people sort of automatically went to the train exits at the stations where they were supposed to get off, and if your destination was sometime away, you were advised to go in. And mostly people followed these rules. It seems like a large bunch of people automatically evolved and followed rules to benefit everyone. Contrast this to my only experience on Ahmedabad’s famous BRTS. Everyone crowded to the exit, no matter if their stop was two minutes away or twenty minutes. Though the bus was not crowded by Mumbai standards, I was pushed and trod upon far more than I have ever been in a Mumbain train. I dont want to draw conclusions based on such a small sample, but my overriding thought at that time was that in cities like Mumbai where the local trains are a lifeline, people evolve their own etiquette for it, and followed it. Many other cities probably never had an opportunity to do it, because they were not so dependent on public transport.
The extent to which I trust and appreciate this system was brought out to me only recently. I am not a hardy traveller, but neither am I a fussy one, and I can occasionally rough it out. But ever since my daughter has come, I have become more fussy and more insistent on comforts while travelling and I hardly ever use public transport. I even refused to travel on the Delhi Metro. But while planning a recent trip to Mumbai, I contemplated if we could take Migu on the local trains. Maybe not for a long journey, but at least for a few minutes. I trust this system enough to do that. I trust that somewhere, there will be order in the chaos and there will be some queue which people respect out there.