Expat Unplugged: Trials of Transportation

Andrea , 01 Nov 2010

diarySix days a week, I get sucked into the sea of people making their daily pilgrimage by train from Bandra to Churchgate on the Western Line. I make a quick escape somewhere between to join the steady flow of my fellow Lower Parel station passengers towards the offices in which we will spend the majority of our waking hours.

Lower Parel Station
Lower Parel Station

Mind you, I did not always choose the train as my mode of transportation to work. I was a dedicated taxi client until I was encouraged by my colleague and inspired by my flat mate to give it a shot. My colleague’s reasoning was out of concern for my safety. One too many taxi terror stories about other foreigners and desis alike had drilled into his head that I was sure to not return home with the rate I’m taking taxis. My flat mate’s immediate grasp of the railway lines partnered with her list of benefits made me question why I was continuing my nightly frustration inducing fight for a taxi home, outside Phoenix Mills.

At this time, if winning the battle for a taxi meant I would be swiftly, carelessly on my way home I would have kept up my yellow and black habit forever. By no means was this the case. Assuming I won the race to the taxi beating out heaps of other people just as desperate as I was to get home, I would then have to convince the cabby that he should drive all the way to Bandra using the meter. All it took was one or two “too far” and “meter broken” phrases to come out of drivers’ mouths for me to quickly misplace the good mood a successful day at the office can bring. Let’s play along and say I was able to nab an honest cabby straight away and be on my merry way to Bandra. All the lucky rabbit feet and four leaf clovers in the world could not save me from rush hour Mumbai traffic. So here we are, my honest taxi driver and I, watching even the most aged citizens moving thirty times our speed. If I were able to soak up a good book or make calls home at this time, maybe the traffic would be bearable, but between the aggressive, honking drivers and the meter hiking drivers this is near impossible. I should reveal at this point my absolute lack of any sense of direction did not make this mutually destructive relationship any easier.

Lower Parel Station
Lower Parel Station

On the other hand, I had a majority of my colleagues, expat friends, and even my Mumbai native friends that refused to accept there was an option of transportation aside from drivers and taxis for me. They either completely lacked confidence in my ability to take on the railway system, had no idea why I would want to subject myself to such a mess, or a combination of both. The looks of disgust at the mere mention of trains did make me weary of the idea. Some of the most memorable adjectives used to describe the train were vile, filthy, sickening and putrid. All those combined were enough to keep me from giving it even one shot. But… here goes nothing!

After hands on research including the amateur move of mistaking a fast train for a slow one, yes I did know f=fast and s=slow, I have compiled a short lists of likes and dislikes.

Here is a list of why I dislike the train:

my compartment
My Compartment
  • Merchants throwing their goods in my face around and in the train cabin
  • Beggars cannot be avoided
  • Train stations are crowed and dirty
  • The men in passing by trains enjoy trying to get in a quick touch if I am to walk too close
  • I stand out even more encouraging the infamous staring India is known for
  • Women are overly aggressive when attempting to get on and off the train requiring a firm hold on the bars and a few strategically placed elbows in response

Some of you must be wondering by now why on earth I would subject myself to the train.

These are reasons I choose the train:

ingenious use of sweatshirt
Covering Up In First Class
  • It cuts my travel time in half
  • The train is also cooler and safer than a taxi
  • I don’t have to sit in traffic and all that comes with it
  • It lacks the sleazy, unnerving taxi drivers I have been so unfortunate to encounter
  • I get to people-watch which gives me a better understanding of the culture of Mumbai
  • Ladies Only First Class and Second Class Compartments
  • Ladies Special Trains which only allow women on the entire train
  • I may also slightly take a bit of pleasure in the fact that everyone doubted my ability to conquer the train system
  • Icing on the cake being that a First Class pass for one month is less than my taxi fare for one day

In conclusion, I am happy I tried out the trains in spite of the advice I received. You will most likely catch me on the Western Line while commuting to and from work until my magic carpet and ruby slippers return from the repair shop. Safe travels!

Disclaimer: None of this applies outside of work hours, as I have yet to experience a train without business or ultra conservative clothing on. I would lie if I said I didn’t look forward to the lovely friends I have, friends that spoil me with their drivers and air conditioned cars. I may as well also admit if I am taking a taxi at night I will dress accordingly. This on multiple occasions has included tossing linen pants, scarf, and slippers in my purse upon arrival to make room for a playful dress and heels. Now you know why we women need large bags.

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