Inextricable masses

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus | 04.03.2018 | 13:00

The crowds pulsed with the coming of every new train. Each individual on the platform could be found performing one of three actions: embarking, disembarking, or waiting for someone they know to do either. The population of these platforms increased by a few hundred every time a new train would arrive at CST, then decreased with a steady rhythm and pattern as the passengers trickled out of the ornate building once known as Victoria Terminus. While the station’s name has changed, its Italianate Gothic Revival architecture remains a colonial relic.

Public transportation in megacities is often described as an anonymous experience, but many people in these stations are friends, family, or even just consistent and familiar co-commuters. When looking at these small displays of love and connection within the frame of transit-related tasks, the invisible web of the megacity appears starkly illuminated. On the pulsing platforms, there is a unique tension between the goal-oriented nature of public transit and the emotional elements of human connection. As passengers move from point A to point CST, they transport their schedule-driven bodies as well as their respectively unique set of emotions — their humanity.

As I sat in the station, my eyes often drew themselves to the woman in the brightest sari. On one of these occasions, I saw a woman in billowing yellow fabric disembarking the train, carrying a basket full of fruits upon her head that just about sized up to her. She moved quickly, and entirely horizontally – any vertical movements would be sure to throw off the rhythm with which she steadied the basket. I was so encapsulated by the balance and grace that it took a few meters’ worth of her walking for me to notice the small child whose arm she held in the basket-free hand. She navigated the child through the crowd with a gently guiding arm, weaving both her child and her basket through the tightly-knit flow of train-goers. This literal and metaphorical balancing act was so hypnotically impressive, as neither of these obligations seemed to distract her from the other.

I moved to the far platform on the east side of the station, which was less busy than the rest. Here, a few scattered groups of families or friends stood off to the side and organized their belongings, arranged their tickets, and said goodbyes. A young couple in their late teens or early twenties stood close together, sometimes embracing and sometimes jokingly pushing one another around. This went on for about 10 minutes, until the girl decided it was time to board her train. As they said their last goodbye, rather emotionally, they pulled close together, centimeters away from a kiss. She pushed him away at the last minute, and looked around to see if anyone saw the close call. He laughed at her, then conceded with a final embrace before she ran off to the ladies’ car without a kiss.

I boarded a train to head north again and only made it two stops before seeing a familiar Mumbaiker — a friend of a hostel employee, who a few of us had just gotten drinks with several nights before, sat down in my train car headed to Bandra. We spotted each other from across the car and talked for the rest of the journey. 18 million people live in Mumbai, yet the city’s environment seems to actively support these inevitable, ubiquitous connections. Even the least connected visitors can carve out communities and friendships. Only half-way through our month-long stay, we were welcomed into the bustling web of Mumbai with open arms.

Amidst hundreds of thousands of commuters speeding away from the terminus, there will always be serendipity; connection.

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