Getting to the commuter train station in a suburb of Mumbai, I was shocked when the seven car train pulled in full and hundreds of people on the platform moved to get on. Loading and unloading the train was a well choreographed dance and unfortunately we didn’t know the steps.
Welcome to Mumbai.
I was prepared for India, or so I thought before we got to Mumbai. Heavily traveled, we’d heard countless stories and warnings about the subcontinent. Love it or Hate it we were told and I was prepared to do both. Pity flashed in other backpackers eyes as we said we were going to India as a “break” before home. One guy looked at us like we were crazy and remarked that we must be literally out of our minds to look for peace and quiet in India before going home. Ouch.
Flash forward to that train platform where the air was so thick and hot you could cut it with a knife and the platform was so busy that the flow of people reminded me of a fast moving river current. The train I would learn, was a microcosm of Mumbai. As Becka and I crowded onto the women’s car and found a seat, the women around us looked at us in curiosity. Dressed in brightly colored sari’s, shalwar kameez, scarves, western clothes and jewelry they were a sight to behold. This was exactly what I was expecting I thought. Looking out the window trains passed us, crowded to the brim, many with men hanging half way out of the cars holding onto handles. There’s a scene in Slumdog Millionaire where Jamal and his brother are riding the rails. It’s chaotic and colorful and all I could think about on that ride was how much it was just like the real thing.
Riding the trains wasn’t all movie magic. Opting always to ride in the women’s car, Becka and I often had to separate ourselves from Danny as the train pulled in and run for the women’s car. Generally this was no problem, but hitting the trains at rush hour we experienced the Mumbai shove. Imagine 100 people jammed into space for 50. That’s what it felt like on the train and as we tried to push and shove our way on and off, the Indian women around us gave us helpful, but hard shoves onto or off of the train. It was always a congenial group of women, but women very serious about getting on and off the train. We emerged each time feeling like we had just been born.
The men’s cars on the other hand weren’t as congenial and Danny had to use some of his rugby skills to get off the train. Pushing and shoving, the crowd seemed to swallow him alive and his emergence on the platform was something more akin to Jonah being spit from the whale than being born. With his day-pack tucked carefully to his torso like a rugby ball, he hunched down and barreled his way towards the exit, launching himself onto the platform as a result of various well placed elbows.
We were pleasantly shocked every time we made it on and off together. Of course there was the time when we didn’t all make it on or off the train, but really that stories better to tell in person.