It rained for approximately seven minutes in my locality earlier this week. There were smiles all around in my building, because that’s how we always react when the rains finally arrive in our humid city year after year. They never arrive when our meteorological department says they will, of course, which only makes their unannounced appearance seem like the winning of a lottery.
One good shower, and train services across the city crawl to a standstill. File pic
And so, those seven minutes made a lot of people happy. It prompted a few over-enthusiastic middle-aged men to stand topless in our compound, their ample stomachs before them, hoping for a heavy shower to bathe and prance around in, because that’s what Hindi cinema teaches a lot of us to do. Luckily for everyone else in the building, the heavy shower didn’t arrive, compelling them to go home and saving many of us from losing our appetites that evening.
What did happen, however, was a massive traffic jam on the street outside. Two potholes appeared as if by magic, washing away tar that had been laid two weeks ago. Cars slowed to avoid them, and you know how the rest of that story goes. There was another shower later that night, and those commuting by train the next morning were faced with delays in services on all three lines — Central Main, Harbour and Western.
For the average Bombayite who relies on the railways, life is a long series of disappointments, and information about a delay at rush hour is the equivalent of a text message informing one about a favourite relative slipping into
a coma. You feel anger, helplessness and anxiety all at once, and it only increases as the seconds tick by. You have to skip four trains before you manage to get your foot inside the fifth, and then hang on for dear life as it crawls to the next station, where someone stronger than you will push you aside and take your place.
The rains will soon be an unwelcome guest in Bombay, not because we don’t appreciate water on an island managed by a government that has never been able to provide us with enough of it, but because they will make our lives miserable a few weeks from now, thanks to organisations that care only about celebrating the birthdays of their union leaders.
Our trains have never been on time. We have, over decades, accepted that and tried to get on with our lives. They never start on time, for reasons known only to the men who drive them, and deal with everything from broken wires and pantographs to the occasional derailment. The past couple of weeks alone have seen innumerable delays that will only get worse as the rains get heavier. Our stations are overflowing with filth, while few of them are even remotely capable of dealing with accident victims. And there are victims. In 2014 alone, local train accidents reportedly claimed 9 lives a day. There were 3,304 recorded deaths on our locals in 2015. There is no reason to believe that 2016 will be any kinder.
The government of India has responded to the state of our railways by commissioning a bullet train between Bombay and Ahmedabad. The current estimated cost of this is Rs 97,636 crore. The train will reportedly have to ferry between 88,000 and 118,000 passengers a day, and make approximately 100 trips daily, in order to keep the project financially viable. A significant number of people have pointed out that this doesn’t seem like the brightest idea, but there are an equal number of people who say it is the smartest idea on Earth. These are, quite possibly, the same people who thought the Monorail project was great. Two years after the launch of its first phase, it now loses R8.5 lakh a day, transporting a mere 16,000 people daily. The cost: Rs 1,000 crore.
The bullet train may be a great idea for people who need to travel between Bombay and Ahmedabad. They may tweet about their experience and post selfies from swanky compartments. Our ministers will pay for full-page advertisements in all newspapers, patting themselves on the back. As for millions of Bombayites who never have and possibly never will feel any urge to visit Ahmedabad, we will sit back and watch as local trains get late more often, our lives forever on the edge as we squeeze in harder every year, hanging on for our lives between Virar and Churchgate during the monsoons while empty bullet trains whoosh by.
When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org