|Mario Miranda's interpretation of Mumbai's trains.|
I'd heard about Mumbai suburban railways' enviable reputation for crowds, accidents and thefts. To be sure, an estimated 7.5 million people ride its trains everyday, making this the world's second busiest rapid transit system. A quick survey online revealed a bifurcated appraisal: foreigners were advised either to entirely avoid it or to vigilantly embrace it. And so, for a moment, I too hesitated in jumping on its wagons to commute between South and North Mumbai. After all, the combination of cheap taxi fares and the fast route via the new 'Sea Link' viaduct ('shhhlik' according to one driver) made for an enticing alternative: why bother? But then again, I came to Mumbai to study its politics and few experiences provide better grasp of a city than its public transportation system.
Emboldened by this experience, I then attempted to reenact it on the way back. Only, this time, the ride took place at rush hour. People, people all around me, people coming and going, people streaming by me as a tidal wave through the last standing tree. The thing about Mumbai's railways is that there are many lines and these change tracks frequently. So, unless you understand Marathi, you are in for a vigorous few hours of lapping in a human pool. After several failed requests for help, a lady (an 'auntie') pointed towards a train and said: 'It's that one. Quick - it's leaving!' As I flew across stairs and elbows, I heard her yell one last piece of advice: 'Take first class!' I would have forgotten this were it not for the coincidence that I plunged into a first class wagon. Or so I thought considering the much quieter and roomier car, which obviously led me to the conclusion that first class was the way to go with Mumbai trains.
Department of Political Science