It is early November and I’m in my third and final week in India in my final city of Mumbai. My hosts have helpfully given me a suggestion as to what to do with my day. “Go to Elephanta Island and see the caves!” They gave me instructions as to how to get there by train: Auto to Bandra station, down to Churchgate, then take a boat. But don’t leave now, wait until after the morning rush is over. And buy a reserved ticket so you have space.
The trip down was relatively uneventful. Their advice to wait was good. It was barely as busy as a Toronto GO train – I had my own seat and almost my own car to myself. I watched the city go by and enjoyed the experience.
At one point I saw two women board the train. I didn’t think anything of it until I saw what they did. They went to people, they would clap loudly in front of them and then they would wait and move to another person. Then one of them came to me, clapped and waited. I wasn’t sure what was expected or what this was about. Then the second woman spoke and said “You have no money?” I looked closer then and realized these two were Hijra – transgender people who are now more and more being recognized as a third gender (officially in some places). I knew a very little bit having read a lot about India before I left – and Paul Merton spent a while with them in Paul Merton in India. Once I realized who they were I got out my wallet and gave them some cash. They seemed happy and shouted “Goodbye” and waved from the platform when they got off at the next station.
The time at Elephanta Island was really excellent – worth an entire entry in and of itself. As for the trip back – it wasn’t so easy. First off, some helpful background info. The commuter trains in Mumbai have no doors that open or close. Imagine a GO train that is just open on the sides. It’s a little unnerving, especially at speed. Have a look:
After a bit of wandering around, I finally found my way back to Churchgate Station. When I got there I was posed with a choice of two different trains. One was called “Slow – all stops.” and the other was called “Fast – all stops except (list that didn’t include my stop)” The obvious choice was Fast. Why would I want to go slow?
I boarded, asked someone if it went to Bandra and he answered that it did but told me to stand near the opposite door. Fine. Then I moved a little bit toward the middle and he let me know that I needed to make room. “This is a fast loading train”
Very well then, I guess I’ll see what that means in a while. We get moving and eventually start slowing for the next stop. As we approach the platform, people start sprinting alongside the train, grab the pole in the middle of the doorway and pulls himself in. Then a few others do that. As they board, other folks start bailing out of the train long before it stops. When it actually does stop, a few more board but it’s only there a few seconds before we’re underway again.
The ride continues like this with me switching sides a couple of times as the boarding side changes. And finally the next station is Bandra station. Somehow now several people know what my stop is though I told only one person. They tell me to get right in front of the door. A guy hanging out of the train a bit takes his earbud out of his ear and cautions me. “Get out fast – if you are too late you’ll be pushed back in.” Holy crap. This is serious business, isn’t it. I feel like I’m about to go skydiving and this guy is my coach. The train is slowing and I’m starting to think – when do I jump? When is it safe? Did I pack my chute properly? Will I fall? I hope not, that would be embarrassing or perhaps fatal! And then we take on our first passenger followed by a steady stream of more passengers. And as they start coming in more quickly, my friend with the earbuds lets me know that the time is right for me to bail out. I jump from the train, landing in the space he just left, literally hitting the ground running, trying not to run in to any other passengers on the full platform before finally managing to slow down to a walk. My friend says good night and I’m on my way to my next adventure.