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Trained to survive

Updated on: 26 February,2024 06:54 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Fiona Fernandez |

Our sutradhaars, Sir PM and Lady Flora, discuss the episode where the former and his friend tried to seek an audience with a visiting Union minister who had recently boarded a local train on the Central Railway line

Trained to survive

Representation image. File photo/Shadab Khan

Fiona FernandezLady Flora was unable to spot her friend in the crowd that spilled out from the train as it halted at the great railway terminus. Luckily, Dr Viegas’s sola hat was easily noticeable, and there she spotted Sir PM playing catch-up with his friend. His crumpled cotton blazer and khaki work trousers made him look unrecognisable. His fedora hat had lost shape. She pursed her lips to hide a smile. ‘What could have possibly caused this?’ she wondered. “They you are! Thank you for coming at short notice,” exclaimed Dr Viegas. Sir PM managed a half-hearted wave.

“Where did both of you head to?” she asked. “Sir PM groaned, “Sincere apologies to the good doctor who accompanied me to the boondocks. My Lady, I learnt from my sources in my former office that an important minister from the power corridors in Delhi was to board a train from Ghatkopar all the way to Kalyan. Now as you know, I am someone who likes to speak up for the people whenever I get the opportunity in front of authority. From my pedestal, I am privy to countless heart-breaking utterances from commuters who avail of the Central Railway services. They deserve better, smoother facilities, cleaner railway stations; it’s an endless list. I felt it my duty to meet the minister to share these grievances. Little did we realise, it wouldn’t be so simple…” he trailed away. 

Dr Viegas did an eye roll, removed the sola hat and began to fan his friend as the trio found a quiet corner table inside an Irani café on Mint Road. “Times have changed. And goodness me! So have the local trains. We didn’t do our homework, and boarded an already crowded slow train so we reached her boarding point station—Ghatkopar —much later. We behaved like two reckless, overconfident schoolboys.” Lady Flora got more curious, “And your fellow commuters didn’t know who you were? The foreigner that I am, even I know that it’s common sense to drop names. Then again, who doesn’t know Lady Flora!” she boasted. Dr Viegas and Sir PM were too exhausted to counter her claim.

“So, did you meet the important lady, after all the trouble to trek to the distant suburbs?” she enquired. Both looked crestfallen. Sir PM went first. “We hoped to catch her but by the time we were able to extricate ourselves from the packed compartment, I took a tumble on to the platform. It was a mangle of heads, hands and feet, as if several wrestling matches were simultaneously underway. Good Dr Viegas helped me to my feet and rescued my hat, too. I needed to sit someplace airy to catch my breath but we had to settle for an uncomfortable bench. Not even a resting room with a bed or two. Imagine! 
Whatever happened to the waiting room facility or a medical officer on call at every station? What if someone took an even worse fall, or needed to recover from a dizzy spell?” Dr Viegas nodded his head. I fully agree with Pheroze. In the little time that we were there, I realised that God forbid we have a medical scenario, it would be quite the ordeal for the person to get immediate help, let alone make a quick dart from the station to the nearest hospital.”

“But did you manage to meet the minister?” she prodded. Dr Viegas started, “Trust us, we tried our best. We boarded the next available train hoping to interact with her at the final stop—Kalyan. But by the time we arrived—another nightmare awaited us. Being the last halt, even before we could alight, there was a crowd that hopped on to the train to bag a seat. Our toes will be sore for a few days. She was whisked away for her engagement. So, we waited for her to return.”

Sir PM added, “And guess what? We managed to draw her attention this time; after all, we looked like vintage idiots! But we didn’t have those new-age gadgets; the phones where you can click pictures. We got shoved around [once again], as she posed with these youngsters. We lost our chance. Somehow, I passed on a typewritten letter of railway commuters’ woes that I had carried along. I am hopeful she will pass it on to the right officer in Delhi. 

Every issue from litter-free platforms and clean restrooms, resting rooms, to inadequate services despite the burgeoning population exploding out of these extended suburbs; I have substantiated every request with correct data—it’s all in there. I felt like the Lion of Bombay all over again,” pleased at his action. “Now, now, Pheroze, we have to be practical because she will have to jog her memory to realise your civic ties with Bombay,” smiled Lady, adding, “But trust me, the railway commuters will bless you even if a fraction of their woes are solved. It’s the city’s lifeline and the powers ought to keep that in mind not just around elections or the like. I sincerely hope the lion’s roar gets heard in Delhi.”

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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