Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mumbai’s Lifeline:


Well, If you ask Euclid what will be the shortest distance between any two points, He would say it will be a straight line, Put the same question to Einstein and he might say, not necessarily a straight line as Space can be bent! Put the same question to a Mumbai commuter and you will get only one answer, “It’s by train”.

Trains have always been the lifelines of Mumbai. They are analogous to the Farcasters in Dan Simmons’s Hyperion trilogy; cheap as hell, amazingly efficient, almost always on time and carrying at least 200 thousand people every day to various destinations. Mumbai would certainly not have been the economic capital of India without them. It’s also a place of sorts for people of different faiths, ideologies, and political convictions to come together to discuss and deliberate upon issues. These discussions are generally more intelligent, smart and to the point than the debates we have in the Indian Parliament. In fact I have got to hear many interesting points of views and opinions without being a part of these discussions.

However, the most interesting people I have met in trains are the hawkers who get on trains to sell their wares. These range from Pens, chocolates, Wallets to books, fruits and even electric shavers. They can come up with the most interesting pitches and could put the sales representatives of the most reputed companies to shame. I suspect they also have a proper time sharing mechanism in place. Till date I have not seen two guys hawking the same product in the same train.

I was traveling to Church-gate yesterday. As usual, the hawkers were all around selling things like wallets and Folders. But what did catch my attention was a sales pitch given by a guy who was trying to sell perfumes. He started off with explaining the science of Perfumes and how alcoholic perfumers loose their “flavor” within a couple of hours. The perfume he was selling was supposedly non alcoholic, so it could retain its “flavor” for the entire day. He went on to explain how we spend our hard earned money away on expensive perfumes when his product costs just 10 bucks and gives them much more. And to add to it, the perfumes were supposed to be of Denim, Charlie and Havoc.

By far the most interesting sales pitch I ever heard, was from a guy who started off by saying, that the world was full of cribbers; Right from our bosses to co workers to friends and relatives. But as per him the worst cribbers were wives. And for cribbing wives he had the best solution.

I was attending college back then. But even I was drawn to this pitch. Almost everyone in the compartment was looking towards him. He looked like a Godman who was going reveal some divine secret . He put his hand inside his bag and pulled out needles, threads and buttons. For a moment I thought he was going to say, “Stitch their mouths with these”. But the guy was a progressive thinker. He recommended to all the husbands in the train that they do they own stitching. The Kit he was selling had everything in it, including a device which could help them put the thread through the needle. By doing that he said; they could prove to their wives that they were loving and caring husbands. I am sure that would be giving the exact opposite pitch in the ladies compartment.

The second category of non commuting people in trains are the Performers (or more aptly beggars). They would come in with their harmonium or flute or sometimes with just two slices of Rock and start singing and playing their instruments. Most of them would just irritate you into paying them some money so that they would leave. But some are particularly gifted. I particularly enjoyed listing to a blind musician who used to play old Bollywood songs on his flute when I used to travel to national college. The music was always soothing to hear.

The railways would always be there in Mumbai. And No matter how rich we become, or how many new flyovers are built, and how many Nano’s we buy. Trains would still be the preferred way to travel in this city. When the trains were targeted on 11th of July serial bombings, this lifeline got affected for a mere 2 hours. Something which even the London civic atrocities could not accomplish when their subway faced a similar threat.

Nothing can stop a Mumbai train on its tracks (except of course for the rains). And with the Mumbai metro all set to open next year, I can’t help wondering what lies ahead for this lifeline of Mumbai.

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