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Commuting in Mumbai – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta

March 26th, 2012 · No Comments · Culture, Environmental Policy, India, Policy

Giresh once drew for me on a piece of paper a diagram of the dance, the choreography of the commuter trains. The Bombay Central contingent stands in the centre of the train from Borivali to Churchgate. The people around them move clockwise around the BC contingent like this: first are the Jogeshwari batch, then Bandra, then Dadar. If you are new to the Bombay trains, when you get on and are planning to get off at, let’s say, Dadar, you must ask, ‘Dadar? Dadar?’ And you will be directed to the precise spot where you must stand to be able to disembark successfully at you station. The platforms are on different sides of the train. There are no doors, just two enormous openings on either side of the compartment. So when the station arrives, you must be in position to spring off, wel before the train has come to a complete stop, because if you wait until it’s stopped, you will be swept back inside by the people rushing in. In the mornings, by the time the train gets to Borivali, the first stop it is always chockfull. ‘To get a seat?’ I ask. Girish looks at me, wondering if I’m stupid. ‘No. To get in.’ This is because the train in from Dadar has started filling up from Malad, two stops ahead, with people willing to loop back.

I mention to Girish a statistic I’d read, about the ‘super-dense crush load’ of the trains being ten people per square metre. He stretches out his arm, says, ‘One meter,’ and makes a calculation. ‘More,’ he says. ‘More. In peak time, if I lower my arms like this, I won’t be able to raise it.’ Many movements in the trains are involuntary. You just get carried along; if you’re light, you might not even have to move your legs. In 1990, according to the government, the number of passengers carried in a nine-car train during the rush hour in Bombay was 3,408. By the end of the century, it had gone up to 4,500.

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