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Reflections on the weekend commute and adventure

The scramble to get in and find a place, and then relative calm and camaraderie

I was waiting in the railway station on a Friday evening to take the train home. For a change, I was a little early and had some time before the train was to arrive. (My routine has been to start running from the ticket counter as the train pulls into the platform.)

Sitting down on a bench on the platform, I realised that this is one of the last few times I will be taking the train home on a weekend, before graduating in a few months. I have been taking the same train home on the weekends ever since I started college because it is at a convenient time and is the fastest train home. But the advantages end there, as the journey is not all that smooth and is an adventure in itself.

The adventure begins when the train pulls in. Although this is an overnight train, the majority of the passengers boarding here are daily or weekend commuters like me, heading to nearby stations, in a hurry to reach their homes after a long week. So as the train approaches the platform, there will be about 50 people thronging each door and the battle to get in begins. I have to wrestle with men, women and children of all ages and sizes to get in: in this battle there are no concessions or reservations if you are a woman or child. It requires the agility, reflexes and balance of a martial arts master to succeed and get into the train, because the halt is only for about five minutes. Being relatively fast and having had the experience of many such battles, I mostly manage to get in. But there are times where I do face stiff competition by unlikely opponents, such as coy and graceful middle-aged aunties who transform into fierce ninjas while racing to get in.

Once in the compartment (that is nothing short of a hot metal box stuffed with people, especially in the summer) the first five minutes are spent settling into whatever space is available for standing. Seats are a luxury and getting one depends heavily on luck. The very few instances that I do get a seat, I will have to give it up for the person who reserved it, as I mostly travel with a general ticket in a sleeper compartment. There are about 70 others standing with me with general tickets. This sight is common in most long-distance trains on the route, where daily commuters flood the sleeper compartments to reach nearby towns due to lack of alternative means that are as quick and efficient.

The journey gets easier as the train moves forward with all passengers cramped comfortably into their respective spaces. There is much easy mingling and camaraderie among the commuters, to the chagrin of the long-distance passengers whose reserved sleeper compartment has been invaded. The ‘fellow-feeling’ among the commuters is natural; most of them are regulars who meet on a weekly basis. There are conversations on varied subjects, but they always end up with talk on how the railways must improve to accommodate ‘our’ needs. Ninja aunties turn into ‘protectors’, offering snacks and friendly advice, especially to people like me (“single girl travelling alone!”). By the time I reach my destination, half the crowd is gone with only the passengers with reserved accommodation remaining.

As I sit on the platform reminiscing on my bittersweet weekend commutes, I hear the announcement for my train’s arrival and I get up to go. I see a bulky man standing next to me who is my potential opponent today. As the train pulls into the platform, I get ready for the next battle.

anjanaravinarayan@gmail.com



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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 5:06:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/reflections-on-the-weekend-commute-and-adventure/article8462746.ece

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