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January 16th, 2006

16 th January 2006


Jaunts on Regularity / Regularity Jaunts


Street lights emitting an orange glow are still keeping the city aglow. It’s a bit chilly. The sky is foggy. There is a semblance of winter in this city of dust, grime, heat and dreams.

(Time: 7 AM )


I set out to explore notions of locality and regularity through the local train network this morning (and soon I may become one of the regulars, of the regularity regime which provides a framework for existence in the city).


I walk down the streets. Coming from the front is a short smiling man dressed in black athletic clothes. I realize he is the watch guard of our building, Kadam. Soon he will wear his uniform and settle in his regular regime.

(Uniforms and the city … name tags … regularity …)


I walk past the pavement market of Byculla. I nearly trample over a little flyer on which are pictures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and a bearded man, smiling, and advocating inter-faith harmony. I somehow cannot care for inter-faith harmony right now because I am in a rush to board the train


(like some of the millions in the city who are too involved in the everyday business of travel-work-travel-home – cannot miss the train!!!).


As I walk down, I notice that the pavement dwellers are still asleep

(and I wonder about their notions and practices of regularity).


I see a woman who has cuddled up in her own body and has made enough space on the hessian mattress for a roadside dog (who is a regular there).


I now understand what the term squatting means. And I realize that squatting is not something which only pavement dwellers, hawkers and slum dwellers indulge in. Squatting is also a mental phenomenon. ‘Citizens’ and ‘commuters’ squat in the local trains. Mr. Lalchandani and his family squat in their little house in Marine Drive . I squat in my one-bedroom house with my parents. At every moment, we are squatting, negotiating, transforming and producing space, irrespective of whether the space is public, private or personal. Yet, I can’t seem to understand what makes us so harsh towards slum dwellers, pavement dwellers and hawkers? What is it about them or their lifestyle which irks us, bothers us, disgusts us (and produces conflicts over rights and space)?


Design and Space – transforming regularity and negotiations over space

At Byculla railway station, the train arrives. It is the ‘new train’ where seats are meant for two persons and there is ample standing space. The design of the train is somewhat like the modern metro, except that the doors are perpetually open in this case. The women are kind of surprised at this design (and cleanliness of the train). There is a mental readjustment to space. Somehow, I am accustomed to the old design which is dark and mundane. The space in the older design is intimate and the negotiations for space are tough. The older design also provides an added sense of anonymity which the new design does not afford. Too much standing space is not what commuters are used to. The confusion in the mind (and in the biological patterns of regularity) is how to use the extensive passage space, how to organize, how to negotiate (and women just want to sit because they enter the trains tired in the morning after performance of morning chores).


At each station, women who enter the compartment are a bit frazzled and surprised before they settle down (shifts in regularity …). At Dadar Station, vendor women enter the train. An old woman is too surprised at the design of the train. She is amazed, befuddled and in awe.

Gaadi ata peeshal jhaali (Train has become special)

She continued moving about, wondering where to settle down.

Gaadi ata english vatayla lagli (Train appears to have become English), she said loudly.

Ultimately, she settled down in one corner near the door.


The metal handles in the train are bright, sparkling white metal. But they are a bit too high to reach. Amidst the open passage space, I can watch women engaged in their everyday activities.

Students are studying.

Some women are listening to cell phone radio.

Some are just there, watching around here and there, as and when.

One woman in front of me is reading her prayer book. The nail paint on her fingers is scratched out. She is concentrated and focused on her prayers (praying being one of the critical nuances of regularity framework among a segment of women on the trains).

(The one sitting next to her is peering inside her prayer book, perhaps as a confirmation of her faith!)

And then there are some of us who are thinking, indulged in existential angst.

The woman in front of me has a somber and grim look, but it appears that a flurry of thoughts are flowing below the exterior.

I am thinking of the guy in my life presently.

The praying woman who is now finished with prayers has a calm exterior over her.

A thought crosses my mind – does the framework of regularity provide a calm, superficial exterior? What happens when this exterior is disturbed? What happens when violence hits the city? What are the phenomena of violence in the city?

(I am itching for answers …)


Glass Dreams

One hawker enters the compartment. She is selling food stuff. She makes her first sale and brings out her pursue from her blouse. She touches the ten rupee note on her forehead, suggesting the auspiciousness of the first sale of the day. I am watching her. She looks at me and smiles, justifying her action. I smile back, in confirmation.

A bangle seller steps in. Very tempting bangles! I purchase a feminine glass dream of two sky blue bangles and two sea blue bangles – they now adorn my hands! A trend has been set. The woman sitting diagonally opposite me indulges in her feminine glass dream – two red bangles and two black ones. But she has a hundred rupee note and the bangle seller has no change money. I wonder whether the glass dreams will be shattered or will be left incomplete today. The woman holds on to the bangles and requests for change among passengers. The bangle seller is also requesting change among passengers. A passenger offers change to the bangle seller and one offers change to the female. The dream is sustained. She puts the bangles back in her purse, but she takes a last look at them. She is pressing a smile. She is contended. I wonder whether she is thinking of her lover who she will charm with her glass dreams. A little joy in the midst of regularity …

(Glass dreams – happiness – Price: Rs. 10/-)

(This city and its systems are still somehow managing to fulfill our fantasies, dreams and aspirations)

(Glass dreams – desires – Price: Rs. 10/-)

(Glass dreams – for sale – Price: Rs. 10/-)

(Glass dreams – chiming – Price: Rs. 10/-)


Return Journey – Train Groups – Musings on Locality, Regularity and Cosmopolitanism

(Time: 8:10 AM )

I got off at Thane Station. I boarded a train bound for CST junction starting from Thane station. The design of the train is the old one. There is still empty space in the train.

(I wonder whether I will be able catch a train group today.)

The train started moving. I plugged the ear phones in my ears and began listening to GO 92.5 FM. Reports of yesterday’s marathon are still flowing in today.

At Mulund Station, three women enter the train. They quickly begin to ask where each one of us is getting off – making ‘claims’ on seats.

I am caught up with three women who are a ‘group’. Two are definitely Maharashtrian. The third one, I can’t make out.

(Is marking a practice of locality?)

They are talking mundane stuff. I am not interested.

They are settled around fourth seats. They have made claims which will ensure them comforts within a couple of stations’ time.


(I am still thinking of the design of the previous train and now this one. There is a definite intimacy in this design though it causes a lot of jamming as well. However, women can maintain their balance in this old design because the space is intimate and it means that they are literally being ‘held up’ by the seated women and standing fellow passengers. In the new design, this may not be possible.)


A song of freedom rings through the radio station in my ears. I am absolutely enjoying the anonymity of space. What a remarkable sense of freedom to go unnoticed!


They are talking mundane stuff, this train group. And another thought crosses my mind as I listen to them: daily conversation in local trains – train groups – what kind of respite does it offer to these women? How does the train group fit into the framework of regularity for these women? Who are these women? What are their lives?

My mind also goes to back to the Dombivali Ladies’ Special, First Class Train group that I have known for sometime. In there, there are women who are working in global firms like ICICI finance, Tata-MTNL, new finance firms, etc. They hold positions like sales executive, finance assistants, etc. In here, today, are women working perhaps in government firms at positions of clerk, typists, etc. Does working in a global firm make any difference to mindsets and notions of cosmopolitanism? Does working in global firms open up the mind to differences – cultural, religious, interpersonal? – making it more receptive?


We have to become bold. I have become bold, says the woman with frog-like eyes.

The thin, camel-like looking (stooped) woman is listening intently.

And the fat elephant-like woman sitting next to me is engaged in the conversation.

We have to take decisions, frog says.

Elephant nods.

Camel is still listening.

Monopause is like that (frog is talking of menopause). Weight increases. Tension increases. I get palpitations in my heart, in my chest. Monopause is like that (and she smacks her lips, talking as if monopause is one of the ‘regular’ phenomenon in a working Maharashtrian woman’s life).

(I am thinking about the bedroom and sexual lives of these women … ssshhhssshhh)


Soon stations arrive and time to swap seats. Camel is about to switch seats when another woman is about to sit on camel’s claim. Frog intervenes and settles the matter. The other woman settles in camel’s place when the girl sitting in front of camel intervenes and tells the woman that she had already claimed camel’s seat. The woman verifies with camel whether this is true. Camel verifies. The woman gets up. The girl sits down.

(I think of slum lords, claims, space, rights and entitlements and some amount of negotiations at the everyday level).


These women continue chatting – camel, elephant and frog. As they talk, I try to make entries into their notions of cosmopolitanism. Is cosmopolitanism another exterior which people in this city wear? Is cosmopolitanism superficial?


I look around the compartment and wonder how train groups get formed. What are the bases of these transitory localities (if I can call them locality at all!)? How do these groups fit in the frame of regularity which the local train network brings into the lives of the working peoples? What is this regularity? Is it changing now? How?


  1. January 16th, 2006 at 17:55 | #1

    so what does squatting really means??
    well i cudn’t go thru the whole post it was too long for me..wud read the rest later..