Ships, Trains, and Auto Rickshaws – Mumbai, India

Today is the day, I thought to myself as I finished my last minute packing. I ran about the ship saying goodbyes and seeyalaters before eating lunch. I was feeling alright but not quite one hundred percent yet. I was painfully aware that just one over exertion and I could spiral back into sicky-ness. I tried to find Lee to say goodbye but my search was fruitless so I ventured out into big bad India by myself. I was going to take a taxi to one of the suburbs but a couple locals suggested that I take the train as it would be 20 ($0.40) rupees as opposed to 1000 ($20) that the cab would cost. Plus the train takes half the time. That sold me. I nervously took their advice confirming twice that there would only be one train and I wouldn’t have to scramble looking for platforms and such. I just wasn’t up to getting lost today.

The taxi driver and his friend, who seemed to be just coming along for the ride, ensured me they would help me. We drove the 5 minutes to Churchgate station where the taximan’s friend jumped out of the car. He slung my pack over his shoulder and gave me a kind smile and a nod to follow him. As we were running across the busy main traffic circle I yelled after him. “Hey, they won’t actually hit me, will they?” When we were stopped momentarily in the middle on the divider just narrowly missing an auto rickshaw, he looked at me incredulously. “YES! Of course they will squash you! These people are MANIACS!” With a bit more prudence, I matched him step for step keeping close to this Frogger pro.

Safely on the other side, we entered the train station which was busier than a hive on honey day. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people swarming around. I tried to keep pace with my guide but before I knew it he was at a counter buying my ticket. I scrambled for my wallet but before I even got the zipper open he had paid for it and was motioning me to follow him once again. The train station was full of older trains chocoblock full of people. He told me that I would ride in this car which was specifically reserved for women. I climbed on and he found me a seat between a couple of young ladies. I begged him to take 50 rupees for his trouble and to cover the ticket. He refused vehemently and assured me this was his pleasure. He flashed me a giant smile and then just like that he disappeared. I let out a big sigh and tried to make sense of what just happened. As the train lurched forward, I realized that I had yet again, experienced another IRAK ( Indian Random Act of Kindness).

A few stops into the train ride, the car became very full of the gentler sex in every color of sari, carrying everything from designer purses to schoolbooks to enormous bags of clothes (laundry?).  The only male in the car was a young man squeezing through the packed aisle selling all sorts of dollar store type items. Most of the women glanced disinterestedly before turning their attention back to their smartphone or closing their weary eyes to catnap. After about twenty minutes the girls sitting around me informed me that I was on the wrong train. They told me I had to get off and get on the next train as they instructed. I didn’t know whatelse to do but believe them. I made my way off giving up my coveted seat which was instantly filled within seconds. Something in me told me to stay put but I didn’t. Instead I hustled out when the train stopped for 1 very short 10 seconds before leaving me standing on the platform with hundreds of other Indians. I glanced around at the hundreds of pairs of dark brown eyes sizing me up and inferred that I was the only white person there. About ten minutes later the next train came and I joined the frantic rush to get on.

Finally I heard “Borvali” called over the intercom along with a bunch of other words I didn’t understand. I checked with the timid girl standing next to me and she confirmed this was my stop. I bartered with an auto rickshaw and after a slight bit of lostness, was delivered to the address I had been clutching in my hand for the last hour. I was greeted by Zarna and Pranov as well as some of their extended family. They offered me a glass of water which I gratefully accepted. Then as soon as I had arrived, we were packing into the truck to make the journey to Pune where I would stay for the next few weeks.

Grateful for cheap trains.

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