Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

The Suburban rail network of Mumbai is inextricably linked to the lives of the city dwellers. It is even more embedded in the lives of those who live next to the tracks. While to many slum dwellers the tracks served as an open toilet until a few years ago, now it has become a space to unwind. 

Take the evening trains and you will see many folks just hanging out by the tracks. Watching the sunset or shooting the breeze. On footover bridge joining Poinsur East and West, you will find women and children just spending their leisure time before evening chores begin. It helps that Railways doesn’t deploy the RPF personnel on strict patrols in these patches.

Life by the railway tracks used to be very different. Earlier there were big patches of vegetable fields. Leafy vegetables mainly, which were irigated from the muddy waters, channeled off from the rivulets that connected to the big nallahs. You see some of these patches still in certain areas but as the railway tracks widen to add more lines, these patches have shrunk quite a bit.

Those of us who stayed a bit far from the railway tracks, still had a connection with them. In the winters, when the air became still you could hear the trains early in the morning. The slight rumble signalled the oncoming of the twenty day winter that all of us in the city so desparately wait for every year. Even after I moved to Bangalore, I would spend a long time walking alongside the tracks. Those that connected KR Puram to the world and every morning a red and yellow train would pass me by, as I walked to work. I always dreamt of getting onto it and going till the final stop. Would it be going to Kanyakumari? I didn’t care but it would have been nice to see the Indian Ocean. I haven’t seen the Indian Ocean in over 24 years. Last was when we visited the memorial rock at Kanyakumari in 1999, at the turn of the millenium, during the Y2K crisis, during the dotcom bust, during the hijacking of IC 814. Oh what a glorious time it was.

Those who live by the railway tracks are used to the rhythm of the railways. I have always wondered if the constant rumble bothers them. But as it turns out, like most things, one gets used to it. You adapt and then maybe you even begin to appreciate it. Maybe that’s what will happen to me, with this thing and that.