Foolhardiness must run in our family. When we moved to Bombay from Lucknow, it was a whole new world. It was like moving from a lazy Nawabi city to a brisk-paced metro, where people rushed past and we risked being knocked down if we didn’t get out of the way. Dawdling was not tolerated on the streets of Bombay. It was our first week in Bombay and R thought I and the children should see more of the city than the distant suburb where we had just moved.
So on a Saturday, which was a working day once upon a time, he told me how to take an autorickshaw to the station and the local train to Charni Road station. In itself it would not have been too daunting, although I know many women who would balk at having to make their way through an unfamiliar city with its famously frightening local train network. But I had A, D and S to manage, who were seven, five and two years of age. It was also the first time I was venturing outside the house.
I reached the station by auto, and following directions, bought the tickets and reached the correct platform, and waited for the train to pull in. But a fellow passenger realized I was new to the city, and warned me not to make the mistake of getting into a general compartment and directed me towards the ladies’ coach.
Till then I had not known about ladies having coaches reserved for them on the local trains. I managed to get the children and myself on board and it was only because it was afternoon and the rush hour traffic in the opposite direction was a few hours away that we we were able to get on the train.
It was an uneventful journey and we were met at Charni Road Station by R who shepherded us along the Marine Drive pointing out the sea and the landmark Air India building among other things. But the normally docile and joyful D decided to be cranky for a change. She noticed a group of boys playing cricket in one of the Gymkhana playgrounds, and decided she wanted to play with them. Though we tried to divert her attention by offering to get her candy and tried to convince her that she would not be allowed at her age to play with grown men, she would not be convinced. She threw a rare tantrum and S was bemused enough that he bent from R’s arms trying to peer at the strange goings-on, and A obediently followed our lead while telling D not to cry, and R began to lose his patience. So it was a strange procession that wended its way down Marine Drive, until finally R threw up his hands and ended our first tour of Bombay by getting us all back on the train home from Marine Lines Station.
When I told people about our first local train trip, they were horrified that we had even contemplated it, let alone completed it successfully, though not satisfactorily. Local trains in Bombay are for the brave and the foolhardy, unless you are a local yourself, which we became eventually.