This Train Will Be Terminating At Your Hearts

, , , , | Hopeless | April 24, 2019

Mumbai, India has two major arteries for its public commutes: its railway lines. They’re overcrowded, overloaded, and held together by sheer force of will and prayer, but they still carry the city on their shoulders. An average intra-city train with a capacity of 1,900 passengers will, on a normal run, carry over 5,300 at a time. Trains are identified by the time they are scheduled to arrive at the station, and even if they’re running a few minutes late, they’ll run the exact same route every single day. Platforms at each station can range from 300 metres length at the shortest, to over half a kilometre long elsewhere. They’re connected using a warren of tunnels and overhead bridges, so it wouldn’t be out of order for commuters to walk over a kilometer or two to reach the exit gates.

I commute using one of these lines. This time, while I was waiting on the platform, an old, blind man, hard of hearing and holding a crutch, was asking if the 12:15 to [Terminus] had arrived. The train prior to that, the 12:04, hadn’t arrived yet, and the passengers around him were saying so. He probably wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, so he kept asking. I gently told him it was the 12:04 next, and I’d put him on the train.

He then asked if he could be helped to board the 12:15, since the 12:04 would mean a walk of over two kilometres from the platform it ended at to the main gates at [Terminus]. The 12:15 landed on the platform closest to the gates. I had time on my hands, so I agreed. The poor guy was so overwhelmed that he held on to me for the ten minutes or so it took for the train to arrive. “My keeper is with me; I have no worries,” he kept chanting. I gave my bags to him to hold, as an assurance that I wasn’t going anywhere until he was on the train.

The 12:15 arrived and I helped him to the doors of the train. People on the train immediately held on to him, pulled him up, and held on behind him so that he wouldn’t fall. A few people immediately emptied their seats for him and he sat down on a corner, trying to occupy the least amount of space. I moved on, finding luggage space for my bags and then a seat for myself, so I lost track of what happened to him after.

When I was alighting at my stop, two halts before [Terminus], I caught sight of him once again. He was asking around if someone would help him alight at [Terminus]. A group of teenagers, heading home from school, told him they would do that. He was still worried and kept repeating his request to the compartment. So, they just created space in the middle of their own seats and got him to sit there safely, telling him, “Uncle, we’re all alighting at [Terminus] only. We’ll make sure you, too, reach it comfortably.”

I alighted at my destination with a smile, realising one thing: Mumbai’s regular commuters never lack empathy. They will give answers to everything you ask, even delaying their own journey if someone is in need. They’ll look out for everyone with more difficulties than them. No matter how uncomfortable the journey, if you’re less able than the rest, we’ll make sure it’s comfortable for you at least.

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