Once, when the "self-proclaimed" beautician asked me about the scar on my left eyebrow, she set memories rolling.
It brought back days of travelling on the "in"famous local trains (the lifeline of Bombayites travelling to work and from their workplace).
Local trains are not quite what they seem to be. When I travel by MTR here, I cannot but marvel at the difference.
Bombayites usually take the same train to work - names like 8.03 Andheri local, 7.45 Churchgate fast etc.. are about as common in Bombay as speaking Marathi or Hindi. Invariably, since people tend to take the same trains everyday, it almost becomes like a little family within each one of those compartments.
I remember, when I used to travel to work, I used to take the 7.51 Andheri local. There used to be a few ladies travelling from Andheri itself and many more used to get in along the way to Churchgate. Sometimes the flavour of the day used to "garam garam bhajias", sometimes it used to be "thalipeeth", sometimes "medu vadas" - we used to have a nice time.
I still remember the sense of worry that pervaded the compartment once cos one of the girls travelling was a student at one of the medical colleges in Bombay. She'd been just 2 months into her marriage when her hubby (who was in the army) was posted to Kargil.
The sense of festivity as one of the innumerable festivals approached, the sense of anticipation as one of the ladies travelling regularly got closer to her due date - all these had become part of daily life. There was so much of camaraderie amongst the commuters.
The ladies compartment used to be reserved for the ladies until 8 pm - after 8 pm even gents are allowed to board the ladies compartments. I still remember, days when I used to get late from work, the gray area used to be around 7.45 pm. Cos men used to start boarding the ladies compartments then - there was no fear of any policemen taking them to task - Bombay being what it is in that respect !! And there used to be this "Asha Aunty" who used to stand guard at the entrance of the ladies compartment armed with an umbrella - be it rain or be it summer or be it winter - Asha Aunty would be there on the 7.48 pm train from Churchgate with her umbrella and God help any gent who tried to get into the ladies compartment then. She used to use the umbrella very effectively. What a sight she was - sari held up slightly and tucked in at the waist, hands on her hips with, of course, the umbrella in the right hand.
Another seemingly impossible thing - boarding or alighting from a train whilst the train is still travelling at a high speed - was made to seem like a "piece of cake" by local train travellers. I used to do it. While boarding a train it was necessary cos otherwise we would not get a place to sit. While alighting, the trick was to jump off the train just as it approached the stairs of the bridge that led out from the station - else the bridge would get crowded.
I remember one gentleman tried to board a train while it was still moving fast and he caught hold of the middlebar (on the entrance to the compartment) and did hoist himself into the train but the momentum was so much that he went straight out from the entrance on the other side of the compartment. Thank God Churchgate station has platforms on both sides.
This happened before I started working. I was travelling by local trains to my computer classes and one day while I was getting back home in the afternoon (trains in the afternoons tend to be less crowded), I went and stood near the entrance of the compartment one station ahead of where I was to alight. The train had just about come to a stop when I felt a huge push and then the sensation of flying thru air and after that I remember nothing - that is till I came to. There were a whole lot of people trying to help me up, someone got a glass of water and I remember blood flowing down the left side of my face and trickling onto my salwar. One of the girls there (I had never even seen her before) helped me into a autorickshaw and she came home along with me.
Our family doctor then took me over to a nearby nursing home where, once the surgeon was thru patching my eyebrow up, I ended up sporting 12 stitches. What a show off !! Not to mention the four stitches on my left cheekbone which the great surgeon decided did not need any local anesthetic cos it was a straight cut - what the heck - straight or not straight - it sure hurt like hell.
That was when I got pushed from the train when someone tried to pull my chain !!! See - it even rhymes !!!
That remark by the beautician "Kya Hua Tha Yahaan" sent me tumbling back down memory lane and think about what has sort of become a tradition in itself - the amity, the companionship on the local trains of Bombay.