Illustration/ Ravi Jadhav
The Bombay local was once a symbol of romance - Amol Palekar and Tina Munim sang a romantic song that kept time with their thudding hearts and the train’s steady pace. Vivek Oberoi (practically as mythic a figure now) made Rani Mukherjee his girlfriend in them. It has been a sign of Bombay’s business like efficiency, can-do spirit, monsoon flooding, bhajan-singing, antakshari-playing urban intimacy, its cosmopolitan life, complete with terrifying fishmongers who could give you an earful, tempting earring sellers and helpful co-passengers. The arts organisation Junoon has a fabulous weekly arts talk that travels through the city all month called Mumbai Local, just like its namesake. Arundhati Subramanium wrote about a woman who wondered whether to dice carrots or a lover and decided to postpone the latter, yaniki make him a late lover a little later.
It has also played the important cultural role of being the eternal, incontrovertible excuse for latecomers. “Sorry, my train got stuck only between Bandra and Mahim, right on top of the bridge, what to do.” “The fast train is not coming only, because the Flying Ranee is waiting at Platform 5 for so long.” In fact, it is the very efficiency of the train which causes the perpetual optimist, yaniki idealists like me, to imagine — arre I can reach from Mahakali Caves to Elephanta caves in 43 minutes, what is there? I will definitely get a fast train, and immediately a cab and so on. We are true dewy eyed believers in utopia and never account for any delays and disasters and are genuinely puzzled, or at best mildly regretful, when we encounter them. And since the functioning of the railways is not foolproof, prone to its share of glitches and tortures, we are frequently genuinely puzzled and mildly regretful and well, late. (You may ask the editors of this page about this. Or maybe not.)
Now, some IIT professors have come up with a timetable making software that will do away with glitches like platform availability, rake availability and, alas, maybe excuse availability. This will surely have a positive effect on people like me, because now we will both, be able to believe in our utopia of perfect journeys and have the means to be on time.
But there is one glitch. It is us. The optimistic latecomers.
For example, despite the terrific option of a cheap monthly pass, I have spent many a month standing in line for tickets and getting late. In my early working years there was a ticket counter clerk who would see me each morning with the harried look of the permanently late and laugh. I too would laugh sheepishly. Never did he say to me “why don’t you get a pass.” He surely knew the type — full of sincerity and good intentions but an equally sincere inability to reform. I miss that clerk sometimes.
Then, the coupon vending machine was created. This had a brief effect on me. Soon, a bhakt of its efficiency, its magic ability to make me punctual, I began cutting it close, then closer. Finally, back to lateness.
So, it will be nice if the trains are well behaved and on time. But where’s the algorithm to straighten out the tedhi dum of the optimistic latecomer? Nowhere thankfully. Unless it’s also late.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com