Ubiquitous, inescapable, inevitable, essential, infamous, embracing, pervasive... Mumbai is the local. The local is Mumbai. Books have been written on them, movies made, songs sung... as long as you're in Mumbai, you're in the train. One way or another. You'll travel in them, close deals, make plans, dream, sleep, make friends, meet that one person you've been searching for all your life, come face-to-face with your worst enemy, risk your life hanging literally by your fingertips, experience that sublime relaxation of the corner window facing direction in the shade... you'll go for treks, you'll make friends, cut vegetables, pray, sing, play music, listen to music, read, sleep, dream, sometimes even take a dump, argue, chat... you won't escape. Not them, never. They're as much your life as the clothes you wear.
The art of reading a newspaper in the crowd - how precisely to fold the broadsheet so that pages can be turned, quickly, efficiently, with minimal movement, minimal space occupation and minimal pokes in the eyes of fellow passengers. It's an art, it's the Local Origami that's far more challenging than it's namesake.
Time and place has no meaning in a local - all laws are suspended. So what if a few minutes a go, you had an air-conditioned office, a desk, everything. Now is when you have the Idea; and now is when you close the deal.
The ancient signboards have developed a code all of their own, one that baffles - hopelessly - the first time traveler. or even one who may have been on it for years. A code that changes with time and place, with train and direction. Green stripes or red stripes? After 7:30 or after 9? Am I carrying a large suitcase? How large is too large and has to go into th Luggage? Where is the Luggage? What is C - Churchgate, Kalyan, or Karjat? What's the difference between Neral and Nerul? Why do I see new stations every few months? What is 'return'? What is a 'starting' train, and why does it pull in pre-loaded with passengers already in the best seats? What is AD, A, K, C, T, TI, VA, V, B, and BY? How does a person balance 70 kgs on 4 fingers for 45 minutes?
And in the late nights, when the last train leaves, and the coaches are empty, and the train is an oasis of light, silence and stability in the middle of roaring, windy, heaving darkness outside, the train is the witness to some of life's greatest aspirations - and also expressions of shattered dreams, broken hearts, dashed hopes, and the heart's last lonely cry in the end, poured out through a sketchpen onto the walls on the one thing that's remained constant through ll the upheavals. You'll find, scrawled on the walls - poetry, obscenity, cries for help, suicide notes, come-hither messages...
'I said... I will always love you, S... till the end of the world...'