This article belongs to Life's Like This column.
On a fine summer morning I entered the First Class compartment of the train that I daily commute through to reach my office. I came in, I saw and I captured the empty slot and stood there. My eyes set out to explore the compartment. The upper racks were all gone. The racks once used to bear the weights of umpteen bags. Truly, the art of using space to the highest level has to be learnt from the People of Mumbai. The racks that could normally adjust 13-15 bags, used to accommodate 20 plus. But now, there were no signs of its existence. They were removed after the July'06 Train Serial Blasts. Mumbai Serial Blasts were something that people still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. How cowardly really!! No! Not the terrorists, but the administration. Since the racks were the place the Bombs were kept, the administration removed it. Now that's insensible thinking. So, that means if the terrorists place the next bombs under the seats, the seats will be all gone. After the seats are gone, commuters would commute "standing" inside the compartment. And after the terrorists use a Human Bomb(since they can't use the space on the rack or underneath the seat), the train service, I suspect, would be totally stopped. "Really! That won't surprise me!", I said to myself. Returning to the Stone Age is what we, the people of
The train started its journey. Ouch! I felt as if the Doctor at my right, inserted his injection in my back. I glanced back to find the doctor busy in his conversation. If it wasn't the doctor, then who was it? I didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to crack this."Yes!", I had seen a bunch of them going past my Hanger where I had hung my clothes. One of them might have gotten into my shirt, or worse, "Many of them". Gulp! A taste of fear ran down my throat. I had now found out that the crowd wasn't the only thing I had to content with. The multi-legged insect, the ant, which was taking advantage of my incompetence to fight it because of the lesser than limited space was my prime contender.
The "sting" of the ant died out. I started forgetting about the ant as time passed by. I let out a long, slow breath and stared up at the brilliant fans. I was surprised that they even existed. I was even more surprised to watch their blades rotating, because, at least I wasn't getting even a pinch of air let out from it. I watched the person in front of me, who was all drained and wet, who resembled a person coming out of a bathroom in the middle of his bath, "Yes!", I tried to calm myself down, "At least my situation is better than this". The man was now brandishing his kerchief vigorously. I looked towards him with meaningful eyes as I nodded. He could understand that my sympathies went out to him. It is an impossible goal, so much so, that we get dreams of us traveling in cavernous compartments, with the cool air caressing our hair. Once a fine running service, and easily the most connected and most efficient railways around, the Mumbai Local Train Network was now bad, overcrowded and inefficient. Trains that were usually gleaming stood dusty on the platforms, transporting passengers to the numbers well out of their capacity.
Suddenly, the ant stung me again. This time I couldn't take it and I moved and twisted. Tears filled up my eyes. I was helpless. I tried to rub my body to the person behind me, since I couldn't use my amputated hands to scratch the ant off. To my surprise the person behind me moved closer to me. I shrieked out. He came closer. I got it. He looked at me with a lusty smile. "Damn it! When am I going to get out of this hell?", I asked myself. I didn't give the queer any signs of my involvement and I could watch him cool down.
I was getting used to this, the tension, the anticipation, the provisional relief and then escalating tension again and always growing more adamant, the question of why the ant had fell silent, and why nothing had happened yet.
The voice from the Motorman's Speaker arrived in our midst with an introductory boring "jingle" and announced to the suddenly silent compartment, in English first, "Attention Please, Next station Mira Road", then in Hindi the National Language, and finally in Marathi, the State/territorial Language. I was wondering why
Time was passing really slowly. The train had stopped moving. "What big deal!" I said to myself, "It was anyway moving at a pace slower than that of a snail". Suddenly, the Motorman's Speaker turned alive with the irritating jingle. I wondered what it wanted to announce as we were nowhere near the next station. The commuters exchanged dark looks. They knew something was wrong. "There has been a signal failure near BORIVALI and hence trains are running late. We are sorry for your inconvenience". "Inconvenience?", I whispered to myself. "I am sick of this word". The man standing next to me smiled as though my thought had fluttered thought the atmosphere to him. I was surprised. "How the Hell did he hear me saying that?. He's got a sharp ear for sure". People in Mumbai have a really sharp ear.
All this time, the ant tried to bite me harder and harder, to make its presence felt and I kept on moving my concentration away from the pain.
I pitied the people in the Second Class. They should be having a harder time with this kind of congestion. The congestion and the heat were enough to rob me of the little health that I had regained during the weekend.
As if the Gods above had listened to my prayer, the man seated in front of me got up. I bent forward fervently to take my seat, but since the person couldn't make his way out, I allowed him to exit first, "This is the first class", I told myself, "I have to be well mannered". The man who was giving me the seat gave me a well-mannered smile, I pretended to be well-mannered and returned him the smile, just to find my seat already captured by a Proud Middle Aged man. "Damn! Me and my well-mannered show offs", I complained to myself. I could see envy running down through the faces of people standing next to him. But they all wore a well-mannered look. "People from 2nd Class always travel in 1st class. They should be caught, stripped off and beaten" grunted a man who stood squeezed by the crowd near the door. I understood his comments were aimed at the Proud Middle aged man as he wasn't well-mannered enough to get qualified to be in the first class. People in the first class consider themselves the descendants of the Royal Family. They are really well-mannered.
My station was 15 minutes away now, and I knew if I don't make it to the front now, I wouldn't step my feet on my station. I made my way to the front amidst excruciating pain from the bite. I was scratching my back to people as I made my way. Thanks to the crowd, I could feel the ant weakening out. But suddenly, the ant started to bite me more fiercely. There was a sudden shudder on my back. The man in front of me gave me a look, amid a cloud of suspicion. I pretended as if I didn't know what he was suspicious about. My nostrils were now filled with the smell of decay and I couldn't take it anymore. However I knew that there was no way I could reach my right hand side pocket to use my hand kerchief, unless I punched down the two sleeping beauties by my side, who had their shoulders on me for support. I looked at the man behind me and he flinched. I had finally caught the culprit. "I have to start writing Spy Thrillers now", I proudly told myself. "I am really great at solving mysteries".
The train made its way into my Station. The captain of the Crowd shouted "Chalo Chalo! Andheri Station waale! Dhakka maaro!", meaning, "Come on! Come on! People of Andheri Station! Start pushing ahead". I suddenly felt in the midst of Alexander's Army. I started feeling like a soldier. I forgot the pain of the ant and utilized my mind and body to push forward, thanks to the spirit given by the Captain of the Crowd. I finally felt UNITY IN DIVERSITY, as everyone was united in working towards a common goal, "to step onto the station's platform". I closed my eyes, the train reached the station and stopped moving, I opened my eyes and found myself on the station. "Yipee! I made it!". My fellow commuters looked at me with eyes that showed feelings of "success" and "happiness" and more importantly "togetherness". Alexander, the Captain of the Crowd, looked at me with eyes that said, "you have now matured into a soldier". I felt proud about this moment.
"Ouch!", the ant made its nasty bite again. I was surprised to see it alive. I remembered I was a Soldier now. My hand made its way to my back and squeezed the multi-legged insect to death. The hairs on my body stood up in respect for the ant. WOW! What a feeling . . . I blessed the ant for having laid its life for me to enjoy this moment of satisfaction, and prayed to GOD Almighty to let its soul rest in peace....