Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Value of Life in Mumbai

Last Thursday (18th March, 2010) while coming home in the 8.48 pm Virar local from Mumbai Central, I went through a strange experience. I got a seat in the First Class Ladies compartment. The adjacent and visible Second Class Ladies compartment was very crowded. The train started moving. After a while, there was a loud scream-like sound when a fast train passed in the opposite direction on the adjacent track. I was trying to catch a little shut-eye after a hectic day but opened my eyes with a jerk. Some females sitting in the compartment I was in, were a little taken aback! We looked surprisingly at each other. I thought it was some boy or a group of boys in the moving train on the adjacent track screaming out while passing by the Ladies Compartment. This generally happens. Men screaming out at Ladies in the opposite train…

Suddenly there was a mini commotion in the Second Class compartment. We were still trying to figure out what had actually happened. Then there was a talk that a woman had fallen off! But the train kept moving and except a little talk, people seemed unaffected. Some of us were shocked to hear about it. Imagine you are traveling in a crowd and almost neat the footboard and the woman next to you goes ‘Plonk’ and down under! No one even pulled the chain or called for help. Generally women pull the chain of the train over petty fights within. But in such a situation everyone was more concerned about reaching home early! And this was like a normal thing in Mumbai and so one cared! We were not sure of the news as it happened in the adjacent compartment and there was already a crowd near the door of the train to figure out if anybody had fallen. Most had an expressionless face, as if trying to show that they had nothing to do with what had happened in case anyone questions them. No one gave a clear response to our queries.

A few of us were stunned and didn’t know how to react! Then the talks started…. In Mumbai, people only talk and blame. And when people talk, especially in the Ladies Compartment, it’s mostly unkind words. Whoever or however had fallen off the train was a female. And when a female is involved in anything, it’s mostly her fault. Some people started saying that maybe she had already contemplated suicide and hence jumped! A woman’s life ended in a strange way only attracted selfish and cruel talk. The girl sitting opposite me was angry at such loose talk. Knowing people’s attitude of meanness for getting space to stand in a Virar local, I thought to myself that someone could’ve pushed her too! And such things never get reported nor booked. People, who see such things, act ignorant to avoid police enquiries later. Anything was possible. We neither saw the lady nor could ascertain if such a thing actually had happened.

Then suddenly we heard a voice of a woman in the adjacent compartment trying to call the Railway Helpline (whose numbers are prominently displayed inside the compartments) and inform them about the incident. But she only ended in screaming and answering irrelevant questions and maybe faced network problem later! Nothing came out of it. It appeared that there was unclear response from the other end. So neither was the Railway interested nor concerned. Maybe for them it was just another of the several such incidents which keep happening in crowded Mumbai locals! And for that they didn’t want any services to be disrupted and further invite the wrath of the frustrated Mumbai crowd! Listening to that, the female next to me started speaking. Seeing our shocked and sorry expressions, she said that these kinds of incidents are regular to Mumbai and no one bothers about them and they keep happening. She asked us not to get upset by such things. Then she started her story. She had moved to Mumbai a few years back. When she was pregnant and in her seventh month, a man had almost pushed her while getting into the train. And when she had fallen down, the some ladies stamped her and got into the train. No one bothered to help her. Everyone was only concerned about getting into a crowded local. That’s was her first taste of the heartless nature of Mumbai. After that she said that she’s seen several such incidents and by now she doesn’t react to any.

Then she went on to narrate a few. As we all know, the new tracks laid have 25000 volts power in the overhead electric wires. The Railway keeps announcing the same time and again and also keeps warning people not to travel on the roof of the train. But every human being has the tendency to believe that nothing can happen to him / her. We are always used to seeing others in the news that we cannot imagine ourselves in that position. So some smart alecs also travel on the train roofs, quite sure that they’ll be safe. The female next to me went on to relate such an incident where she saw a man position himself between the space of two bogies since not traveling on the roof was announced. The train started and man was sucked up and stuck to the overheard wire and electrocuted! She also narrated a similar incident, when she and her friend boarded a train from Andheri station and suddenly there was smoke. Many women were scared and jumped off the train only to realize that a man had got stuck to the overhead electric wire. That’s where the smoke was coming from!

People kept talking amongst themselves and sharing their strange train traveling experiences. Then when their stations arrived, people got off the train. The life lost was almost forgotten….

The next day, a stranger incident happened in my train journey…. Keep watching this space for details!

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