Second blog in this series – continues on driving & mobility (please ensure you have read part 1 – for continuity’s sake!)
I remember a joke in a Tamil movie in which the comedian, an autodriver, dupes the traffic police by switching on the left indicator, uses his right hand to signal a turn and finally goes straight, leaving behind a bewildered traffic policeman! Mumbai’s drivers don’t even provide such useful clues – exhibit totally random behaviour. One thing that is common, is the urgency – every nook, every gap available is made use of. The gaps and the vehicles do not match, yet they manage to go through! Highly protean, you will admit! The best part is the repetition of the Camel’s hump prejudice – it never sees its hump, but rather comments on the ugliness of the hump of the camel in front. Mumbai’s drivers (and so do most others) exhibit the same. Despite coming on the wrong side in the first place, this guy will berate the other hapless driver to the max extent. That the meek shall inherit the earth doesn’t apply here – the meek drivers shall invite more curses and taunts in Mumbai!
Its advisable to stand either 30 meters away or before the bus stop – the buses rarely stop in front of the stops. You will realise the right place after a trial and error experiment. The best is to ask or observe where the typical Mumbai-wala is standing, after all do in Rome as the Romans do! One good sight is the formation of queues for boarding at a lot of high-traffic bus stands. Self-regulated by the commuters, these queues stretch for quite sometime during peak hours and queue-breaking is certainly a no-no unless you want to be bashed by a mob of irate to-home-after-a-bad-day-at-office commuters.
Autowallas follow their Mann-Marzi when it comes to ferrying passengers. They simply refuse to ply and sometimes it takes an act of noting down their registration number and a threat to inform the traffic police to make them ply. Even this trick is wearing thin now!
The local trains are the lifeline of Mumbai, ferrying close to 7.5 million passengers everyday! Crowd mobility is the way to embark/alight from trains. Just ensure that you stand in the right place, in front of the right carriage and the crowd will do the rest. You are swept into the train amidst the scamper for legroom. Getting down is a lot easier and only thing that you have to watch for is the incoming crowd who push and shove their way in to get the few seats that are available. If not careful, you could get really hurt in the process.
I am reminded of a true incident mentioned by an ex-manager at Cognizant. There was this sales guy (tie, formals) who wanted to get aboard a busy local. The local trains have a vertical bar at the entrance as a divider for the incoming and outgoing traffic and to provide a hold who are engaged in footboard callisthenics.
This guy was a tad late and was in the trailing part of the crowd who boarded the train. To his dismay he could not get both feet onto the train and was left with one foot dangling, when the train started. Taking the wise decision to wait for the next one, he got down but found that his connection (read: neck tie) to the train was still there. Someone had the Tie tacked to the pole by sandwiching it between their hand and the pole. This guy now started running along with the train while shouting for the @#$%^& to take his hand off. With the train gathering momentum, you can very well imagine what the poor sales guy would be subjected to. Finally, someone yanked off his tie from underneath the cluster of hands and freed the sales guy – sending him crashing into a group of standing passengers, but safe nonetheless. Whew!
I am not sure about the rest of India, but atleast pedestrians in Mumbai understand the power of Unity. 1’s lonely, 2’s company and 3’s a crowd is followed and that’s all it takes to start crossing! There’s a battle of emotions at play here and the safety is in numbers. The oncoming vehicles don’t look like they are going to stop. The pedestrians have to be confident in their stride and in total defiance of the incoming speedos to make it across a busy street. A little hesitancy on the peds’ part would mean their taking a step back and waiting for what would be a long while before the traffic thins to attempt a crossing. Zebra crossings have become the new stop line for motorists forcing the peds to take a circuitous route around the vehicles.
With the Metro, Monorail and newer ferry routes coming up, Mumbaikars are going to be spoilt for choice when it comes to commuting. How long will these work and how soon their shiny new carriages are going to be painted red with Paan (Betel leaf + a host of other carcinogenic components) stains is anybody’s guess!
All said & done, Mumbai is a great place to explore – by foot ; at every turn and every corner there is an aspect of the city that remains to be discovered and an experience, to be treasured. Viva Mumbai!