A lifeline to many

Mumbai's suburban train service is billed as the lifeline of the city. However, last year's stampede and the resultant deaths of a few commuters at one of the station's has cast a poor reflection on its credibility.

I used the service for nearly 40 years. During my younger days, I would jump into the train while it was yet to pull up at the station just to ensure that I got a seat. Otherwise, one had to travel standing until someone vacated a seat.

Once, as I jumped into the train along with a quartet of candidates for the much-coveted seats, the demand for which was more than supply like our legislatures, I went straight to the other side of the compartment like an arrow shot from a bow with an incredible velocity. Luckily, a burly fellow, standing on the other side arrested my progress.

What could have happened to me, I wondered, had that good Samaritan not restrained my forward movement. I would have found myself landing either on the adjacent track and run over by a passing train or spiked myself on the sharply pronged, trident-like, metal fences, dividing the two tracks. What the do-gooder did was to snatch me from the mouth of death. It didn't slip my mind to thank him profusely even as I was out of breath.

Besides the repulsive rush that made suburban travel so off-putting, there were other irritants too, such as playing cards and smoking - both of which added to the woes of the commuters who weren't engaged in them. The former was a greater nuisance in that the players often fought amongst themselves, making loud noises, irritating fellow passengers. They have since been banned.

Train travel suited me as I could read a newspaper or a book during the commute. However, this one time the newspaper proved to be troublesome for me. The moment I took it out of the bag and unfolded it to read, there was a claimant for it. It seemed as if I had germinated in him the habit of reading the paper. When I didn't show any sign of giving it, he said, "At least, one sheet, please." I asked him to wait until I had finished.

True to my words, I gave the entire paper a few minutes later. Hardly had he opened it, when an itch to sneeze took the better of his urge to read. Of course, he sneezed into the newspaper, showing utter disregard for etiquette. I looked at him indignantly but he behaved as if nothing had happened.

The newspaper had served as a trash can for his nasal discharge, saving the man, it seemed, from the bother of taking out his handkerchief. At the terminus, as he held it out to me, I declined to take the besmirched newspaper. After that nauseating, sneezing experience, I became wiser and never carried newspapers with me. Instead, I used to tale a book as I was sure none would ask for it!

For all these irritants, the suburban services continue to serve the commuters. And the passengers' deep wish is: 'Let not the lifeline turn into a death-line.'

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