BY Sunith vartak : The Indian railways are the lifeline of India and it’s definitely my lifeline as it helps me commute to my college daily. I travel in the western railway line in Mumbai from Virar to charni road that’s about 62kms to and fro. As the sun rises and as it sets these are the times when it is most crowded and hectic to travel the western line, I travel both these times. Like all my friends I got a concession letter from college that lets me buy three months of first class pass at a lower rate. Before getting this concession I used to travel in second-class which are definitely more crowded. It’s like a war to get in. You feel like a Spartan holding your shield and spear pushing the oncoming hoard of Persians to get in. The first few weeks I traveled in the second class from Virar was tough to getting used too, because after the push and shove of the crowd and scrambling for seats as if they were life rafts on a sinking ship you had to endure a one and a half hour journey next to a complete stranger who might snore like the blue whale or use your shoulder for a pillow all the while if you wake that person up you will get a look of accusation and you might feel the guilty one for disturbing their slumber. I slowly started getting used to traveling this way.
I noticed a few things while traveling that coach. After the initial rush to get in when some are standing and some are seated, people try to adjust by giving their seats to ladies the old or children. There are usually various groups in second class coach who have been traveling like this for decades. These groups consist of young, old, people who go to colleges, offices and also the blind. If any newcomer or somebody new sits at their place they make him or her feel comfortable by asking “are you fine where you sit?” If a person’s foot brushes against someone they take the name of god and touch their fingers to their lip and then forehead as if asking for apology. Everybody irrespective of caste does it out of habit. Windows are closed if a person feels cold during winter. They talk about their problems, about life, share sweets if there is a birthday, birth, children’s results or a promotion. You will always learn something new about the city or life in general. They take turns in sitting so everybody gets to sit through the journey. The time passes away and you don’t realize that you have reached your destination that one and a half-hour of journey is over. The days passed, I enjoyed the experience always wondering what’s new in today’s journey! Later on I received my first class pass and started traveling in that coach and let me tell you there nothing first class about that coach and there is no ‘class’ in first class at all. The people in that coach sit stone faced and cold. If you accidentally shove, brush somebody you will get a rude reply or a condescending look. The benches were four can accommodate only three sit shamelessly even though there is space. Very rarely somebody gets up for the old, women or children to sit. If someone mistakenly gets in the coach who doesn’t have a first class fare or someone poorly dressed is thrown out rudely. You cannot stand in between the two benches. It’s as if the seat is a piece of land and if you’re standing you will feel like a poor farmer looking at a landlord. During this time the second class coach seems really ‘friendly’ to you. Even though there is a ton of bodies pushing behind you the load always seems a little lighter in the second class. One day a person with heavy luggage who clearly looked like he had never traveled in a train entered the coach and didn’t understand the unspoken rules of the first-class coach he stumbled and finally settled in one corner. Then somebody condescendingly asked him “do you have a first class pass or a ticket?” he looked at all the cold and seated faces staring at him and replied “what’s so first class about it”. I just burst out laughing.