Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Q for Queue

Seven million commuters use the Bombay suburban trains every day, making it one of the busiest urban transportation networks in the world. During peak hours, over 5,000 passengers squeeze themselves into a 9-car rake, at a density of 14 to 16 standing passengers per square meter of floor space. Add to it the fact that none of the trains are temperature controlled, and that an average journey takes between 45 to 90 minutes, and you will know why to travel by the local trains is to observe human behavior at its worst.

Anything between one to one and a half million people use the station where I get off, which means the only order that prevails is the rule of the jungle. Long before the station arrives, people jostle for a place near the door, so they can be the first to get off the train. The people waiting to board the train, start pushing their way in even before passengers have got a change to alight, and if you do not get out fast enough, the incoming surge pushes you so far in, you have no chance to get out at the station. To avoid that, most people start getting off the train long before it has come to a halt at the station.

On principle, I refuse to risk life and limb jumping on and off moving trains, when the halt at the station is long enough for everyone to do their stuff if they go about it in a mature manner. But even as I resolutely refuse to succumb to peer pressure and jump off, the press of people behind you makes it almost physically impossible to stay on the train till it comes to a halt. But I am a contrarian by heart and love resisting pressure of any kind- that stubborn streak ensures I do not jump off getting running trains far more than any thought of getting hurt does.

The other day, there was a schoolgirl standing by the door waiting to get off. The moment the train pulled into the station, and started slowing down, the mostly office going crowd started pressing down on her, compelling her to jump off. She refused. The train slowed down even more, but since it hadn’t come to a complete halt, the girl refused to get off. I admired the girl for refusing to succumb to pressure, but things soon got nasty. “Aree, chokri, what are you waiting for? Do you need a special invitation before you get off?”
The girl tried her best to ignore them, but the taunts flew at her from all directions. I had to admire the self confidence of the girl. The easiest thing in the world would be succumb to pressure, but she refused to do so.
But things soon turned ugly. “Hat saali. Off you, wretch”, said a lady and gave her a shove that sent her flying out of the train. Luckily, the train had almost come to a halt, and her fall was broken by the people waiting to board the train.
“I witnessed that”, I told the girl after I got off. If you want to make a complaint to the police, I am willing to come with you.”
Shaken though she was, she did not want to get unnecessarily tangled in a mess, and shook her head.

But I wonder. Had the girl fallen on the pavement and seriously injured herself, would the lady who pushed her have accepted responsibility? What if she had bounced off the pavement, fallen onto the tracks and been run over? Would the lady who had pushed her been charged with homicide? And what of the other people who did not actually push the girl, but who pressed forward to force her to get off. Would all of them have been accessories in the murder?

Which brings me to the question that bugs me every single time I use the train. Are those few seconds gained worth all that people risk in order to gain them? If everyone queues up, wouldn’t life be much easier for everyone? Or is it too simplistic to expect people to do that?


Grammy said...

Good gracious! I am sure things like that happen anywhere that there are large crowds in places. It doesn't make it any easier to take, though, does it? People in a hurry can be so rude.

Lisa said...

I stand amazed at how selfish and ignorant people can be. Sounds like the problem goes far deeper than that of the people's behaviour, though. Sounds like the transportation system needs to be revamped!

Anonymous said...

How awful and how scared she must have been. :o(


So many people are impatient these days, yet they don't get there any quicker, A good orderly queue is the answer, hope that girl was Ok.
A good "Q" write.

Have a nice day

Meera said...

My sentiments exactly, Yvonne. we are all in a hurry, jumping signals, zooming on roads, and jostling each other. And yet, mostly, we are never on time. It has become more of a one-upmanship than anyting else.

Al said...

And we think our public transport system is no good. It is a breeze compared to yours!


Publish or Perish

slommler said...

I look at the buses traveling around town and they are mostly empty! Everyone here drives their own car. I just can't imagine a crowd of people like that everyday and everywhere.
That poor girl...how awful for her. How trying for you.
But the freeway here is another story. People racing around going 90 to 100MPH with no thought to who they are cutting off! Their goal is to intimidate you out of their way! Pretty scary!
All of this is scary!! And all this bad behavior for what? A few extra seconds???!! Ai!!

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Oh my goodness. That's horrific. Poor girl. How do you deal with that everyday? Surely there are so many people that DO actually get hurt? Wow ...

dipali said...

How I wish that my country men (and women) understood the beauty and safety and fairness of a simple queue. It often seems to be the one thing that defines us as an uncivilized nation:(

Anonymous said...

I don't see how you deal with that every day either! How horrible! Similar things happen here with lines and people not able to simply line up... but to push a girl off of a moving train... so unnecessary!

Elspeth Antonelli said...

How I admire that young girl's fortitude - it must have taken real courage to stand her ground when adults starting telling her to get off. We just don't have crowds like that here in Vancouver - the Olympics being the exception. But even then, it was nothing like what you've described!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good writing, Rayna. Even without the photos I had a clear picture from your descriptions.

It's odd that a normal everyday event can result in such rudeness, but if there were a train disaster, many of those same rude people would be the heroes, helping others get to safety. We humans are a strange lot.

Wanda said...

Wow, how said to hear that a young girl would be treated in such manner. Much is too be said for courage and confidence to not bend to the pressures of others.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I’ve been on some crowded buses and trains in my travels but never anything matching this description. I can see a book based on these “what if” scenarios you presented. I so admire that young girl and glad she wasn’t hurt.

Marjorie said...

It amazes me everyday the things people will do and say to one another. Pushing a girl from a moving train = deplorable.


Hi are you ok, missed your post this morning,

Take care.

Not enough hours! said...

@ Ruby - in Bombay there is so little space and so much overcrowding, nobody seems to think of anyone but themselves.

@ Lisa - the transportation system needs to be revamped, but out short sighted traffic planner always have mammoth projects that cater to the needs of today, adn by the time they get implemented, the needs have gone up

@ Niki - yes, that poor kid. And a brave one too, for withstanding the pressure

@ Yvonne- precisely! Do you really gain anything by gaining those few seconds?

@ Meera - you said it. Nor a nation as cronicly late as we are, we are really impatient at queues

@ Al - nothing can even compare to ours!!! And I say that without pride ;-)

@ SueAnn- trains, or freeways, we seem to be in such a hurry all the time, nobody else matters. What a pity.

@ Jessica - I've got used to it. And yes, people do get hurt, they even get killed. Some in accidents, some because they deliberately take short cuts.
At last count, there were over 500 deaths last year due to the local trains.

@ Dipali - such a simple solution. Everyone waits, nobody gets stressed, and things get done so much faster.

@ melodygreen - so utterly pointless, wasn't it?

@ Elspeth - me too. In fact, I was actually planning to write about her under S for Self Esteem. May still do that.

@ Patricia - thank you. And yes, when there is a calamity, it will be the same people who help. Weird.

@ Wanda - yes, I do admire the girl for standing up to the pressure.

@ Jane - that's an idea. Maybe not a book, but definitely a short is possible! Thank you. And yes, I really admire the girl for standing up to the pressure.

@ Marjorie - it is almost like we have forgotten one of the first things we ever learnt - "do unto others as you would have others do unto you".

@ Yvonne - thank you for missing me and dropping by to check if I am ok.

Joy said...

Interesting look at how things happen in other parts of the world.

It's easy to be pressured into doing the wrong thing. Makes me think that young girl will has as strong a character in later years.

If she had hurt herself, the woman would probably have been left on her own 'cause I don't see anybody coming forward to say I was pushing.

Not enough hours! said...

@ Joy - I do admire the girl for having the guts to not be pressured into doing something she knew was wrong.
And nothing really excuses the other woman's conduct.

~ Rayna


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