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?