I rode a train on the Western Line to friend Manish's daughter Eliana's birthday in Borivli. (I usually travel on the Harbour Line, a different railway route. I haven't travelled that frequently on the Western Line to know its unique, and at times quirky, rules.) When I entrained from Churchgate I was told by a man wearing two watches and a three-day stubble on his cheeks that I should board another train, a slow train. Why? Because you will not be able to get down at Borivli. The reason? It was a fast train and most people are travelling to Virar or thereabouts and those standing at the gate would form a human barrier and won't allow me get out.
Yeah, they have these violent gangs of hooligans operating in trains, like in New York and wherever there are train services.
This is some thuggery, dadagiri. I decided to take a chance, time being short. So there I sat trying to compose my face assuring myself that I am a veteran of forty years of traveling on Bombay trains. The men sitting around me were looking at me pityingly, as if I was going to be hanged or guillotined or something. Anthonybhai would have said, "What men, you get down only no? What kit-pit making, no?" I would have said, "No, men, what nonsense, why should I? His father's train, this, or what?"
Okay Anthonybhai wasn't around and I said nothing of that sort and proceeded with a slightly disturbed mien through the journey as stations whizzed by and Andheri came and the next stop was Borivli.
I fought my way to the entrance, making polite enquiries if the person in front wanted to get down. One man told me:
"Borivli queue is there," indicating a space to the right of him.
I went and stood there. I have read Suketu Mehta's Maximum City and knew what this meant. In Bombay trains there are these spaces which eject you like a ball from a cannon when a station comes. If you are in the wrong place - er, the wrong cannon barrel - then the cannon jams and you are left struggling inside. There are four queues, or cannon barrels, near the entrance, the queue on the right side (it may vary from day to day, train to train) is meant for people getting down at the next station, Borivli. There was an invisible queue of people inside the train, not visible, but there nonetheless and one of the carnal rules of queue is that you should always stand at the tail end and not break it.
I join the queue indicated at its indistinguishable tail and ask the man in front, "Bhaisaheb, will you get down at Borivli?"
"Yes, I will, bhaiya," he says and lets out a ear-piercing holler of "Chalo, chalo, bhai." I take this is a ritual common to the Western Line of Bombay trains. I have company. I lay all my vexations to rest.
Comes Borivli station and I give a great heave with the others in front joining in not unlike a medieval gunner firing a cannon. I am half out of the train, but there is a crowd already struggling to get in. There's a bit of a scuffle but I manage to free myself and get out from the melee. For a while I was wondering if the cannonball - me - had got stuck.
Who said one can't get out at Borivli? I didn't. Experience won out vis-à-vis thuggery and hooliganism.