I was on my way to my office today, going through the same “exercise” schedule that most mumbaikars go through. My empathizing mumbaikars would take less than a gasp to guess that i am talking about the local train journey towards Mumbai CST.
I am one of the few fortunate ones armed with a first class pass. That doesn’t discount any crowd, ironically second class is sometimes much more penetrable. However whats assured in the Fi(r)st class is that most of your co-passengers have had a bath and very few stink of a concoction of sweat blended with mustard oil. Ahh now that was quite an elaborate description of what it takes to be a local train sojourner, boarding the train midway during peak rush.
During one such routine morning adventure i noticed a very rare occurence. Right in the middle of the crowded compartment, there was an empty pocket of roughly 1 sq. ft, towards one of the side supports of the doorway. I was beginning to wonder what was that Moses’ spell that kept the Nile of passengers apart. Just when a young student took courage to breach that space, pat came a voice “Please stay away, railways has not made additional space around this side support to accomodate one more man”. The voice traced itself to the center of the no-man’s land. In the gray light that fell in that space through the crowd, i could see a reflection from a neat bald head with traces of gray hair.
As the crowd waiting to get down at Dadar junction pushed me further, i discovered this senior citizen standing paranoid and passing warnings at anybody who came close. He held a pink newspaper, going with the fashion of the first class, but that served more like a virtual fence to him, serving like a curtain that helped him keep his private space.
The crowd cleared off a bit at Dadar junction, where “uncle” (thats what Mumbai calls senior people with respect) chose to have his last argument. He rudely asked the person in front of him to move away, when he did not, Uncle brushed aside offering his place to the dumbfounded co-passenger. There was a near-chaos with people wondering whats going wrong.
I found all of these exchanges pretty wierd until i looked deeper into the eyes of the old man. Old age is meant to be second childhood, and imagine having your child in the middle of a wild herd. The long journey from perhaps thane or beyond, till the Terminus would be a grave hell for the senior person, and i am sure there are many like him who are driven to the business district daily to sustain their livelyhood in this Mad city. Call them prisoners of destiny or captives of the city pace, they continue their struggle armed with perhaps just a newspaper and their paranoia.
As the terminus approached, there was enough space between me and uncle, though close enough for my smile to go across. Hope situations allow him to smile back soon!
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