A clumsy, hard fall on the rough hotel room floor left me with scraped knees and a short but distinctive spell of embarrassment. A few days later when the raspberry scab was fully formed it triggered a flurry of memories from my childhood. Scraped knees are a part of every kid’s childhood and it all came rushing.
Kids partake in risky activities all the time and I was no different. Playing on uneven ground, running from strays, jumping over fences, climbing walls, hiding in the bushes and countless other escapades. That’s a lot of scraped knees.
Scraped knees become a distant memory after you enter adulthood. This last incident happened in a foreign country, far away from home, in a new environment. I’ve been in the US for only 3 months. The similarities between trying out new things as a kid risking scraped knees and adjusting to new ways of living by making a fool of yourself repeatedly became acute after this minor mishap.
During the time I was planning the trip, I was told by colleagues and friends how difficult it was for them to adjust in a different country. All of them cited the inability to develop/maintain new relationships and fundamental differences in ways of living as barriers to adjustment.
I don’t feel like this, so far. What explains this? An above-average sense of familiarity with the culture, my below-average need for people and relationships, the presence of a handful of acquaintances in every city I’ve been to (thanks to Twitter) and the transient nature of this gestation period where everyday life is defined by a lack of routine rather than a fixed set of rituals are all good candidates. These can explain some of it but here’s the kicker – the courage to ask and being open to experimentation and failure.
When I reflect on the past three months, I now realize why many people find the transition difficult. Adjusting to a completely new set of rules – both spoken and unspoken is hard work. It also comes with the risk of being outed as an outsider or feeling embarrassed at each juncture.
I’ve struggled with the simplest of tasks – how to engage with strangers, where to find napkins at a restaurant, how to order a meaningful, tasty salad and not 10 random things mixed together, how to hold a glass of wine, hell, how to pronounce their names? Even basic etiquette relating to tipping, holding the door, greeting people and walking on the street needs learning. Interfacing with a new environment brings out the inner child in you and kids are excellent at learning via mimicry. This is a humbling experience in adulthood. Scraped knees and bruised egos take longer to heal.
People moving to new cultures fall broadly into two categories – ones who stay among themselves and look for their communities and those who engage meaningfully with reality on a daily basis, trying to integrate in an accelerated manner. It largely comes down to whether or not you want to change and more importantly, if your being is amenable to said changes.
There is no correct answer here but the latter can be fun if you stop taking yourself too seriously. It’s okay to fall sometimes.
An interesting sidetrack here is that of folkways (a unit of social analysis or “ways of being”) on Ribbonfarm titled The Missing Folkways of Globalization. It talks about globalization and its effect on the social landscape, describing how people adapt or adopt in new environments.
A detailed guide to the vast and mesmerizing Mumbai Local Train network.
Some interesting facts before we get started!
The Mumbai Suburban Railway system is spread over 465 kilometers, conducts more than 2300 train services and carries about 7.5 million passengers daily; which translates to about 2.5 billion people a year! The sheer magnitude of the scale of its operation is bewildering. What is even more amazing is the manner in which in these operate.
The Network. This is what the network looks like. It’s not the prettiest, I agree, but very robust and effective.
All train services run on 4 major networks or as they are called, lines. They are as follows: 1. Western Line — Starts at Churchgate, runs parallel to the west coast and runs up to Dahanu Road which is about 120 km away. The Western Line is operated by the Western Railways and has the best stations, the highest frequency of trains and the newest of trains available. It carries about 3.5 million people everyday, almost half the total number.
2. Central Line — Starts at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly known as Victoria Terminus (VT) and runs up to Kalyan about 54 km and from there it breaks into two corridors. The first goes North towards Kasara about 67 km from Kalyan. The other goes South towards Khopoli near Pune about 61 km from Kalyan. The Central Line is operated by the Central Railways and is somewhat inferior to the western line in terms of capacity, cleanliness, types of trains available and frequency of trains. A lot of old DC powered trains also run on this making it less efficient. The number of people who travel everyday are about 3 million. Since the number of trains is also lower, these trains are extremely crowded. In fact, all trains are! This is something I might say repeatedly in this blog since it is an essential aspect and I find it very interesting. 😀
3. Harbour Line — Starts at CST and has two major corridors. One goes till Andheri and joins the Western Line while the other runs independently and runs up to Panvel about 50 km from CST. This line is operated by the Central Railway and is by far the most inefficient corridor since it relies solely on old 9-car DC powered coaches and has only Slow Trains (Refer to types of trains) running on it. This line carries about 1 million commuters a day.
4. Trans-Harbour Line — This line runs from Thane to Navi Mumbai (Vashi/Nerul). It is the newest addition to the local train network and has a length of about 20 km.
Types of Trains: 1. Fast : These trains halt only at major stations skipping others. These are frequent only during peak hours and usually ply on longer routes. 2. Semi-Fast : These trains halt at major stations for half the journey after which they halt at all stations. These are common on routes where train frequency is less. 3. Slow : As the name suggests, they halt at all stations and constitute a major part of total services.
The best way to check all information pertaining to local trains as well as local transport in Mumbai is an app call mIndicator. It is a highly reliable application that gives you information regarding schedules, fares and routes.
Peak Timings : The timings before and after office-hours is usually when these trains are crowded. Morning: 6 am to 9.30 am Evening: 5 pm to 8.30 pm
If you’re a newbie, I’d advise you to avoid travelling during these times especially via fast trains as they are packed to the limit. If you have luggage, don’t even try.
All local trains are crowded most of the time. During peak hours the trains are about 4 minutes apart and are extremely packed. For a 9-car rake, with a carrying capacity of 1700, almost 4500 people are packed into it during these times.! Also, about 12–15 standing passengers are accommodated per square meter, which sounds as insane as it is.
Types of Compartments: 1. First Class: Prettier seats is probably what you pay for since this part of the train is also crowded about the same as a normal coach. Costs about 10 times the normal fare. Use only if you travel regularly or you’re in city for a one-off visit and want to travel safe. 2. Second Class: Aam Aadmi ki savari. The well-known and (in)famously crowded coaches. People often joke about getting a few whacks and getting squeezed which is often the case. If you’re short, like me, be prepared to get additional elbow jabs as well! Quick sidenote: Take off your glasses if you can. I’ve broken two pairs already. So that’s 6k I’ll never see again. 3. Ladies’ Compartment: Reserved for women. Three coaches placed at equal intervals along the train are specially kept for women and are usually easy to travel in. (Not that I’ve traveled in them!) 4. Ladies’ First Class: Self-explanatory. 5. Luggage Compartment: Use when you have a lot of luggage or simply when there’s no more space in the general compartment. 6. Senior Citizens’ Compartment: Reserved for senior citizens who travel and can thus avoid the rush. 7. There’s also a compartment reserved for the differently abled and cancer patients making travel easier.
Switching Lines: You might need to switch lines if you are travelling from one part of the city to another. So there are a few stations where this is possible and can be seen on the map. Central-Western : Dadar Central-Harbour: Kurla Western-Harbor: Wadala Road Central-Western via Metro : Ghatkopar and Andheri
Another option for people who are travelling from Central to Western is to get off at Ghatkopar and use the metro to reach Andheri and then use the Western Railway. This saves a lot of time since you can see that if you want to go to say Andheri going via Dadar was the only option before Metro service started. This involves going ahead and then coming back instead of a direct route and is because of the presence of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
All reserved compartments have been incorporated for a reason and should be made use of whenever possible to ensure safe travel.
For Women: As far as possible try and use the Ladies’ compartment. I’m not being sexist/misogynist or anything of the sort here. I often travel with my mom,aunts and cousin sisters and frankly it’s the safest option. This eliminates to a great extent the hooliganism women have to encounter on trains. (I’ve seen it.)
Unwritten Rules: There are some unwritten rules or etiquette that you need to followwhile travelling in a local train. You’ll have a pleasant experience if you try and follow them 1. If you want to get in or get out, just stand near the door. The force will do the rest. 2. Wear your backpacks forward. This makes movement easier and helps take care of your luggage. 3. Make space for a fourth person on the train seat. Even though this is meant to seat three people, it is used for four on a normal basis. But, this rule doesn’t apply to first class. 4. Don’t get into a Virar train if you want to get down at a station before Borivali. This is happened to a few friends of mine who weren’t allowed to get down on Andheri in spite of being a few feet away from the door! 5. During the peak hours if you’re sitting it implies you must’ve boarded the train at CST which is a valid assumption in most cases. So the norm is that all people sitting must offer their seats to people who are standing, after Thane, which is basically half the journey usually. 6. For the ladies’ compartment, if you need a seat you ask practically everyone who is sitting where they are getting down. If you find a match and the seat hasn’t already been taken by another person then you’re next in line for the seat. There are no such rules in the general compartment. 😛 7. While boarding a train it is necessary that you first let the people get down before attempting to get in. However, like chemistry this rule has an exception. At CST while alighting a train you need to first let the people board the train before you attempt to get down. Non-compliance may lead to receiving a few blows and in some cases continuous hits! 8. While getting down, stand up and move towards the door at least one stop before your station. Else, you might face difficulties in alighting.
Now for the fun part.
Since the trains are always so crowded and after coming from work you feel like you deserve a seat. So here’s some tips on how to get a seat or a comfortable standing place. 😛
1. When the train arrives, choose a door. While the train is slowing down grab the door and run along with it till the train stops and people get off. Dash in and hope that you get a seat!
2. If you desperately want a seat and are willing to spend some extra time because you’re too tired or you’re journey back home takes a lot of time then this is for you. Travel in the opposite direction of where you intend to go since that will be relatively easier. (Rush hour traffic is unidirectional! i.e. Down Line). Once you’ve done that the same train will reach CST/Churchgate and take you back home! Since there can be multiple destinations for a particular train you might have to try this out a few times before you get the right train!
3. The safest standing position is along the doorway. If unable to find a seat in spite of getting in early, this is the place to be!
I have a small story that someone once told me when I was attending a course on stock markets. So the speaker was explaining to us the concept of risk vs return and he used the local trains to explain this.
Here’s how the analogy goes:
While boarding a local train at CST there are four types of people. 1. The early bird — this is the person who boards a running train in hopes of getting a window seat. So, high risk high return. 2. The safe player — this person wants a seat but will settle for a second or third seat and hence goes inside a bit later when the train slows down. So, low risk low reward. 3. The no-risk taker — this person is happy getting a fourth seat or even standing and thus boards only when the train completely comes to a halt. No risk or low risk and hence low returns. 4. The gambler — this person is the ultimate gambler and wants to stand at the door. He will only board the train once it starts moving. So high risk high return.! 😀