Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Erythrocyte Chronicle

Being a Mumbaikar for the last 2 years, writing a blog and not even mentioning about the lifeline of Mumbai is as good...err bad..err..good...oh whatever, as heresy. As they say, Mumbai's strength is derived neither from its infrastructure, nor from its heritage, not even from raking in the, Mumbai's blood is its people. And the blood vessels are the emormous network of guessed it...the locals. And so before I can be deemed a blasphemer and burnt at stake, I take this precaution of presenting my perspective: that of an average erythrocyte. There is a reason why I call myself that and not a leukocyte, which will be clear by the end of this 'work of art'.

Now, I take the great liberty to confine myself mainly to the Western Line, though I believe one or two anecdotes from the Central Line would be condoned. I have always had the great 'fortune' of going with the flow. Bombay Central to Jogeshwari/Andheri between 7 pm to 9 pm should explain the previous sentence.

I always arrive at Bombay Central with the great hope that I will not see as many 'heads' as I had seen the previous day. Out goes the previous local and you get a glimmer of hope seeing a seemingly deserted platform. When the announcement for the next local comes, first in Marathi and then in Hindi, and still there's nobody, the glimmer swells. When the LED display shows 1 minute to go and with platform population at status quo, that faint swollen glimmer transmutates into a beam of light(of hope, that is). And then reality strikes. Heads come popping out of nowhere and there you have it in no time: a fully populated platform with exponential population growth rate proportional to the amount of time remaining for the local to arrive. It is at this time that I always hear a faint pop, that of that swollen bubble of hope, and I say to myself "Here goes nothing!". I try experimenting by waiting at the place where the last compartments are anticipated or just next to the first class or the ladies compartment. But the fact of the matter is that there is always that terminal pop. Add to that the additional twist of the train being a 9 dibba one instead of the traditional 12 dibba one and there is always this mad scuttle of people, in which I am invariably a part of, trying to reach the right compartment.

Mumbai's locals have given me a practical insight into many of the theories that I have learned during my engineering. The real good understanding that you get is of Fluid Mechanics.You should see how the incoming fluid(read people) fills all the empty spaces in a matter of seconds(amidst cries of utar oye, chadho chadho and araam se bhai). It's in a different dimension and timescale altogether! Once you get in, you have got to 'align' yourself according to your 'objective' subject to certain omnipresent and omnipotent 'constraints'(this is O R though). There are always 6 rows of people near a fast local entrance(that is the maximum extent to which I have been able to delve into in a fast local and I am utterly unaware as to what goes on in those inexplicable interiors of the coach). Rows 1 and 6 always get their anteriors pinned unto the anterior portion of the seats and typically face sideways to the exit. These are the portions which represent the viscous drag exerted by the wall on the fluid: people in this case. As in the case of the fluid, these people also rarely move. They are the of the long distance endurance type. Row 2 is of people trying to get down at Jogeshwari. This layer of fluid(read people) is a bit more 'drag-free' than the 'back-benchers' and is comprised of medium distance voyagers. Normally this is the zone that I try to get myself into. And then zone 3 is comprised of fast moving fluid(again, read people) who are short distance travellers getting down at Bandra or Andheri. Zones 4 and 5 are same as zones 2 and 3 except that they are comprised of incoming fluid. My movement in the 'container' on a typical evening would start with entering zones 4 or 5, working my way through these zones, doing a back flip, slowly but steadily overcoming the fluid viscosity to enter zone 2 or 3, depending on my 'objective'. The best part is that while boarding or exiting the train, all you need to do is nothing, just go with the flow.

You also get subjected to different types of tension tests and torsion tests to determine tensile, fracture and torsion strengths, and experiments in engineering mechanics which subject a simply supported beam to different types of loading. I experienced this bending moment test in a Central local from Kanjur to Kurla. The journey was only for 10 minutes, but I felt and experienced each and every second tick by. One thing is for sure, now I know how those Mild Steel bars and beams feel!

In a nutshell, the constraints include oxygen (I always make it a point of thanking God for making me 181 cm tall; had I been a foot shorter, I would have died of CO2 poisoning), handrails and squarefoot area(I strongly believe that a FULLY loaded compartment has the highest population density in the universe). Mumbai's locals are amongst the most technologically advanced vehicles in the world in terms of space utilization. Ever heard of Pushpak Vimaan, the legendary flying vehicle in the Ramayan which had the unique feature of accommodating any number of people? No matter how many got in, there would always be space for one more. I'd bet my bottom dollar(rupee in this case) that Pushpak wasn't actually a Vimaan, it was an evolutionary forerunner of the present day Localosaurus Mumbainsis.

Now onto my fellow erythrocytes and leukocytes. Erythrocytes are those who never like to pick up fights (though there is actually enough space only to shout; no chance to move even your toe), adjusting and accommodating. Leukocytes are radicals who love to engage in verbal duels and the occasional thumb-fight(space-constraint). They are basically good 'cytes' but it is when a virus enters the system that they are at their most active, making life miserable for the virus. An example. You normally find many of these leukocytes in these long distance trains, especially the ones to Virar. Once in my nascent days as a 'local'ite, I made the gravest possible mistake of boarding a Virar local, intending to get off at Andheri. Immediately one of the leukocytes recognized me as a 'virus'. "Tere ko Andheri utarna hai??" And he laughed a mirthless laugh. And then he passed on the info to his fellow WBCs "Is ko Andheri utarna hai". "I'm a dead duck now" I thought. And then came the free flowing gaalis. Greatly damped and all swear words removed, the saraansh of their outrage was that for this blasphemous offense, I was not to be let down at Andheri. My ear drums were being bajaoed but I had no choice. And then I started to explain to them that I'm new to Mumbai and just about beginning to understand the 'code of the brethren' of the locals. I asked them to see reason; "Why would I board a Virar local else?" I argued. After hearing the accused, a bit of sanctity and quiet returned. And then one of the WBCs took pity on me, did a Lord Krishna, and started teaching me the local Gita: how to enter a train, how to get off a train, the limits of decency within a train, which trains to board, which ones never to board, and how to position yourself in the train in order to get off at your 'objective'. I heard all of this in typical Arjun style(as far as the space permitted). I had given up hope for Andheri and was already thinking of my travel plans from Borivali to Andheri(provided the 'mob' let me get down at Borivali). And then the final twist arrived. Vile Parle went by. All the WBCs did a U turn on their stance towards me, and actually asked(read pushed) everybody to make way for me to get down at Andheri. Once I had gotten down safely at Andheri, I could not help but give them a thumbs-up for their camaraderie. It was one of the biggest triumphs of my life! I had boarded a Virar local, got down at Andheri, and lived to tell the tale!

I have heard all kinds of topics being discussed in the dibbas, literally anything under the sun. I have heard expert opinions about how to change the fate of the Mumbai Indians("Wo saala Nel ko bech daalna chahiye"), 'animated' discussions between perfect strangers about their companies' pension benefits and accident relief schemes and policies, or plain simple banter; like I said, literally anything under the sun. Pity that I wasn't able to board the locals during the time of the Lehmann Bros collapse and the time when the world economies were being sucked into recession to hear the opinions of the 'local' Krugmans, Sens and Fishers, otherwise I would have been an expert in Depression Economics! I particularly enjoyed a conversation of 3 men who appeared like stock brokers, the way they talked. Started off with the typical Badhai Hos for the Sensex crossing 10000(10003, one person was saying emphatically), Nikkei crossing 8600, and some other bourses(some unheard of) breaching some other point barriers. And then a vivacious and heated discussion about the day's trading. "Wo saala short pe short ja raha tha, short pe short ja raha tha, to maine kya kiya? Maine socha b***c***, wo agar short jayega to mai kya kam hoon; maine bhi 20 taka badha diya, uske baad 15 taka badha diya, uske baad uski bolti band ho gai ha ha"(pardon the profanity, but it is just that without it there would be no spirit left in what he was saying). Now exactly why the other guy was going short and what did this guy increase, first by 20% and then by 15% to shut out the other guy was beyond my comprehension. But I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. One thing that I did understand was that this was one guy who knew what he was doing. "Fortune favours the extremely brave" I thought.

My fellow erythrocytes are of different types: there are these serious types who mind their own business and read their own newspaper(would you believe it, in a packed cabin with a temperature of 45C and a humidity of 223%!). There are these Radioheads, the bindaas types, who use Chinese mobiles, and flaunt the incredibly high sound that their mobiles can achieve by listening to FM khul ke. And then you have this funny type, jovial and take-it-easy kind of people, usually experienced campaigners. I once heard a guy saying to people who were trying to get in to a packed compartment "Andar bahut jagah hai bhai log, aa jao aa jao". The pity was that everybody getting in missed the sarcasm. Amidst all this chaos and kerfuffle, when the Akash ki Vani says "Pudheel Station Jogeshwari"(or Andheri btw)or when I see that hope of life, that manned rail crossing that heralds the end of my tribulations, I feel all my bodily functions returning to me after a state of temporary freeze. And once I get off the train, in my dishevelled shirt of course, I invariably feel a whiff of fresh air. I take it in for a full 2 seconds and proceed towards the overbridge.


Bhargav said...
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Bhargav said...

An excellent write-up buddy..a nostalgic retreat:)It reminded me of Shantaram written by an Australian author who has lived in the slums of Bombay... it also reminded of d saying “Simple is the seal of truth, and beauty is the splendour of truth”...Good on u!