It is huge, long and intimidating. There is some chanting in the air, as if invoking some divine power and divine power is certainly needed for the moment it stops, devotees storm into the sanctum sanctorum. The tiny entrance doesn’t let them in; yet they power in with all their might, screaming, shouting, pushing and abusing. Finally, the mightier among ‘em all triumphantly enter the hallowed space, others left behind licking their bruised egos. Never mind. The chanting – in a strange sing song voice repeating the hymns in the form of railway timetable in three languages – start again so they get another chance.
My first encounter with the Bombay local train was nothing short of historic. Every detail of the great Bombay struggle I had heard in bewilderment as a small town girl, was unfolding right in front of my eyes. Like any other single girl with Cosmopolitan dreams in her eyes, there were romantic pictures of the local-train struggle I had painted. Oh, how I itched to boast about train adventures to my fellow small-townies!
So like every other newcomer to the city, I took pride in understanding the train network, the three ‘lines’, changing tracks, et al. It took me exactly a week during which much of the time was spent in asking fellow commuters, often too busy to look up from their Mid-Day or Mirror, for directions. As days progressed, I got the hang of it. The day I successfully travelled from New Bombay to South Bombay, changing tracks, buying the right tickets, without asking anyone for help was the happiest day of my life until then. There was a strange surge of confidence as conquering the fear of locals meant conquering Bombay. And hurrah, I managed it without any broken bones to show. It was like the arrogant man you were determined to seduce. When he succumbed, ooh, what a sense of achievement it gave!
In the years that followed, the local and I shared a love-hate relationship. Abusive relationships, after all, are strangely appealing especially for those who have a penchant for bad boys. I loved it when I travelled during non-peak hours, enjoyed bonding with fellow commuters, chuckled while shouting at men who accidentally entered the ladies’ coupe, felt joy on getting the coveted window seat, loved feeling the breeze and rain on my face while standing near the door as the train passed by Marine Lines…. Yes, yes, all those cliched romantic notions did indeed feel romantic on good days. But the bad days were different. On bad days, when I missed trains and deadlines, when I was shoved like a slippery fish in the large net, when I abused and got abused in bad Marathi for not giving way to someone, I would cry out loud and ask if I would ever travel like a civilized human being.
And Dubai happened.
It is tiny, shiny and adorable. The gleaming interiors make you want to polish your shoe before entering lest you leave a speck of dust. The chanting is loud and clear in a stylish anglicized voice. The doors are wide and welcoming, and it doesn’t demand that you leave your civility behind to grab a seat.
The Dubai metro has been my friend for the last six years. It’s just so easy and warm, it’s like the man you don’t have to do anything to woo. He just falls for you and is ready to go out of his way to make you feel comfortable. Bore.
The metro is designed to make commute a joy so there is no sense of achievement in getting in and out of one. As days passed, I started taking it for granted. It is never late, never stops midway, takes you right inside a mall, has supremely clean washrooms… how predictable is that?
What gives me joy though are the people. I watch a rainbow nation with women of different colours, races, shapes and sizes silently trooping in and out of the sparkling train. You can be impeccably dressed and be rest assured your hair won’t be out of place by the time you reach your destination. I rarely chat with women I travel with, we are all too busy checking our phones. Yet it’s a fascinating study of similarities in contrasts. Mostly working women, we all have come here from different parts of the world, trying to find a niche in a country far from our own, leaving families behind and trying to reach our destination traversing through the clean roads. While in Bombay you bond while talking or fighting your co-passengers, in Dubai you form an unspoken bond by simply travelling together. Because it doesn’t matter whether you are from Cameroon or Canada, India or Pakistan… in that lustrous metro, your identities and language and other barriers melt away. It’s a predictable and safe lover, so unlike the rough and volatile love that the Bombay local provides. But it has its own charm and own place in life.
At this time in life, I don’t know what I prefer more. It may sound foolish, but I have still retained the last local train ticket I used in Bombay, the frayed paper reminding me of the countless trips I made in extremely strenuous circumstances. I need the metro, I miss the local. Suffice to say, that each journey has helped me grow.