January 16, 2009


Despite much interaction with the Metropolis over the past decade or so, certain Facts about the city had escaped the One's keen eye. And these very Facts, gentle reader, were brought to one's notice on a curious winter evening, during one's annual pilgrimage to the Homeland.

In a minor miracle wrought by the lateness of the hour and the nefariousness of the times, the compartment was nearly empty. A young couple boarded at Mumbai Central with luggage in tow. Out-of-towners, their part-excited, part-bewildered expressions said, or would have said if their VIP suitcases hadn't said it first. Naturally they approached the One (who happened at that point to be leaning out of the door and making full Gujju use of the free breeze) for information, and perhaps for small talk or banter.

"Churchgate jayegi na?" asked the gentleman.

Easy question. One retracted self into train and replied, with some panache, "Bilkul jayegi, bhaiyaji. Samjho Churchgate aa hi gaya."

Following this succinct reassurance, one chose to enlighten bhaiyaji further.

"Yeh Fast Local hai. Fast Locals stop only at Fast Stations – Bandra, Dadar, Mumbai Central, Churchgate. So the next station is Churchgate," elucidated the One, your friendly neighbourhood mass-transit mastermind. "Next station, Churchgate", one then somewhat repetitively declared, for emphasis.

Four minutes later, the train came to an abrupt halt outside Grant Road Station.

"Woh signal ka problem hai, bhaiyaji", one observed, with an appropriately beseeching glance towards bhabhiji for support. "Apne ko, na, red signal diyela hai. Warna Churchgate aa gaya hota," one continued. Bhaiyaji seemed to buy neither one's wisdom nor one's Bambaiyya, for he was, in his own way, an astute individual.

Three minutes, and we were grinding to a stop outside Charni Road Station.

"Woh Saurashtra Express ko pehle jaaneko mangta na," hazarded the One, Walking Encyclopedia of the Western Railways. "Boley toh," one added for effect, at which point the train lurched into motion, with no Express, Saurashtra or otherwise, in sight.

South of Charni Road, the railway line follows the curve of Marine Drive in a most sensuous manner. ("And each individual track does slowly bend, like quills on the fretful porpentine," one murmured, much to bhaiyaji's consternation.)

Three minutes later we were standing, quite still, at Marine Lines.

Bhaiyaji, an admirable man on many counts, did not lose his patience and blow his top, if 'blow his top' is the correct expression. He instead chose to glare silently at the One. And one, having been subjected to such glares with regularity, took it all in one’s stride.

Such was the atmosphere in our little compartment for a few minutes, and then Churchgate actually did arrive. But, as anyone who has ever arrived at Churchgate in the last bogie of a 12-coach train will testify, said bogie stops so far from the roofed area that one could be forgiven for thinking that Churchgate had not arrived at all.

"Waise toh Churchgate almost aa gaya hai, bhaiyaji, lekin abhi train aur thodi aage jayegi. Let's get off when we're under the roof, suitcases bhi to hain," remarked the One in all thoughtfulness. Five minutes passed. The train began to travel, once again. Backwards.

A hasty disembarkation did then ensue, and VIP luggage was thrown down in true filmi style, and one was subjected to further cold glares, stares and suchlike perusals.

Thus, gentle reader, one bequeaths to you two Facts this frabjous day. Firstly: when a southbound train stops three minutes after leaving Marine Lines, you are at Churchgate and should alight without unduly worrying about where the roof begins. And secondly: the line (conceptual, not railway) separating Fast Locals and Slow Locals is not nearly as well-defined as we may think. The Fast Local, after screaming through the suburbs like a banshee on steroids, is tamed by Mumbai Central and becomes a Slow Local, after which it chugs along in the meekest possible manner, and stops at the smallest stations and at several signals besides. And sometimes, they say, it has to wait for the Saurashtra Express too.