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September 13th, 2005

12 th September 2005


I was traveling from Grant Road to Churchgate. A few days ago, I was in Delhi , running up and down the Delhi metro. To say in the least, it is like an international metro system – air-conditioned, steeled and glassed, automated, you name it! While traveling the metro, I would often compare it with the Mumbai local trains. And my comparisons would invariably center around issues of space, time and community and locality. Journeys on Mumbai’s local trains are much longer because the distances are greater. In contrast, in the metro, maximum time spent on a journey would be twenty minutes. The structure of the metro is different from the local train i.e. the inside built structure. The metro has a side seats and middle standing space. And it is connected through and through. There are no ladies; and gents’ compartments or for that matter, no first and second class compartments. Interactions in the metro would therefore be very different from those inside the compartments of Bombay ’s local trains!


Like I mentioned earlier, yesterday I was traveling from Grant Road to Churchgate. I imagined this to be a metro-like journey, short and uneventful. But I was completely wrong. Unpredictability is the game of the spaces of the local trains! At Charni Road , a hip old woman stepped inside the compartment. She was very magnificent and graceful. She was dressed in an elegant blue saree and was wearing dark black glasses. In her one hand was a purse and in another was a cloth bag in which she was carrying vegetables. She parked herself right in front of me. I thought of asking her if I could take a picture of her!


At about Marine Lines Station, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to take my evening medicine dosage. I opened my big bag and started fishing for the medicines. Soon, I realized that a beggar boy was standing at my side, expecting that I had opened the bag to give him something. I thought of giving him the fruit which was in my bag. Suddenly, the lady said, “ Ghar se bhag ke aaya hai kya? (Have you run away from home and come here?) Jao, idhar kuch nahi milega (Go, you won’t get anything from here!)!” She then turned towards me and said, “Don’t give him anything. Were you going to give him something?” I was intimidated by her tone. I said, “I had opened my bag to bring out my medicines. I did not realize when he came and stood besides me.” She said, “You see, he has run away from his home and come here. See the tilak (saffron religious mark) on his forehead. I am sure he has come from a Ganpati procession.” She kept on watching the boy as he moved up and down the compartment. As he passed by us the second time, she said to me again, “See, he is wearing chappals as well. His mother must have sent him here or he must have run and come here to make some money,” she continued saying to me.


What intrigued me about this incident was the practice of marking which we indulge in in this city! The old lady was carefully marking the boy for signs and was making decisions about his history and whereabouts. I am not sure whether something like this might happen in the Delhi metro. But in Mumbai, I think we sure indulge in these practices almost invariably … instinctually …




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