Train travel in Mumbai is often thought of as terribly entertaining by writers, and to be fair to all the odes written on the experiences, it often can become the highlight of a very sad and boring day at work. But as anyone who commutes daily will tell you, more often than not it's just that- a daily commute.
After the novelty wears off and one gets used to being shoved around, there's really not that much. Which leaves most people with about an hour of sitting or standing (or in some cases hanging) in very cramped and uncomfortable positions with no means of changing the surroundings.
Different people find different ways to pass the time. Some work their prayer beads. Eyes closed, lips moving softly, disconnected from the chaos around them. There is another set among the religious types, those who carry tiny books where they write the names of their Gods over and over again. It's an art, perfected with much practice, as writing anything on a moving train where one barely has any space to sit straight requires real dedication. This group is usually quiet, keeping to themselves, and usually not making much of a nuisance. But if you dare to disturb them, even by mistake, you can be assured of a very angry glare as they look down upon the lesser mortal from their moral high ground.
Then there are the older women, typically in their forties, although not necessarily so. They have been taking the same train since the millennials were born and have a strong sense of ownership towards it. They remember a time when trains weren't so crowded and expect to travel in much the same way even today. All new entrants are treated as scum until they establish their familiarity by taking the same train for several months. But once a new entrant's credentials are established they may soften up a little and work at finding a seat for the late comers. These are the old school commuters we read about in local train anecdotes. Their train friends are a big part of their lives. Compartments are further divided into sections where like minded groups hang out together. They know each other by names and also know of each others families. In fact at some point in their long lives spent in the train they may even have met the kids or taken their husbands to a party or picnic with their train friends. A strong sense of community living has been imbibed over the years and once they have pushed each other and secured a seat for themselves they are one big happy family. These are also the loudest and most vocal groups in the train. Their chatter is loud and unrelenting as they discuss everything from college admissions to in-law trouble with complete disrespect for people trying to catch up on some sleep.
Which brings us to the type three- the sleeping beauties. There is no set age group for this lot they come in all shapes, sizes and ages. Their primary motive is to grab a seat where they can plonk themselves and sleep through the entire journey. While one can definitely sympathize with these sleep deprived souls, the ease and confidence with which they can slip in and out of deep slumber is awe-inspiring. Not for them the fear of missing their station or the discomfort of waking midway through a nap. They perfected the art of power nap before it became all the rage, waking up just in time to comb their hair, freshen up the lipstick and get off elegantly from their chariots, or as elegantly as one can get off a crowded local train.
This group is the least noisy, but that doesn't stop them from causing trouble to their fellow commuters. While they sleep they loosen up and conveniently turn those sitting around them into makeshift pillows, sometimes even almost falling into their laps. An inception styled "kick" however straightens them up for a few minutes before deep slumber takes over again.
Then there is the no holds barred commuters who unwittingly bring you into their lives. They have optimised their travel time to keep in touch with family and friends. While that is perfectly fine, this group often forget the surroundings as they immerse themselves into their phone conversation. This writer once spent an entire journey from Cotton Green to Andheri listening to a woman encouraging her younger sister to tell her boss off if they asked her to work over the weekend. If the commuter is a regular one can even make an insightful character study on the person and their relationship with the person they are talking to.
The last group is the new kids on the block. They are either college-goers or young professionals usually in their twenties. They have ditched the age old tradition of making"train friends" and keep to themselves. Glued to their smart phones, they are rarely seen to be speaking. But they aren't in the least bit anti-social, just busy in their own virtual worlds. Their lives revolve around display pics, status updates and group chats. Upon getting into the train their first task is to fish out their phones and check for updates. This also makes them the least troublesome group. All they need is a little space to stand or sit and then they are as disconnected from their reality as can be achieved in a moving train full of people.