I am lucky to have a seat in a packed ‘Mumbai Local’ as the time I have chosen is not the ‘peak’ hour. There are enough people inside to impart the feeling of the compartment being ‘packed’. Though I do not want a comparison between a Delhi metro ride and this one comes to my mind. In Delhi metro, even when it is packed you get a feeling of luxury. In a Mumbai local luxury is not even a seat; it is just a space enough to keep both your feet on the floor; your face away from some sweating bodies. Happiness is when you have seat, bliss is when you have window seat and sublime is when you have a window seat against the running direction. Wind that touches your face makes you feel good, you think positive things about life and you are all full of hope. Life is different when you are standing or just squeezed by other people and remain suspended in a position that you otherwise do not even practice during your morning yoga class. I get a window seat, against the running direction and I feel good. Neither bliss nor sublime because I am yet to experience the peak hour travel, which I feel that I would not do anytime in near future.
There inside the train I observe so many stickers. I have just written an article about graffiti art. I take interest in the posters on the inside walls of the compartment that due to the absence of so many people reminds me of the hull of a gunned down war plane. Red, white, black and yellow in colour, these posters tell me about the solutions of life problems. Right from marital issues to decimation of enemies, from having a boy child to exorcism these posters offer you different solutions. You just need to dial a number that is given in bold digits. For a moment I think of dialling it but I resist. Problems in life come as a package deal, solutions included. You need to read the manual of life carefully, that’s it. There is not a single problem in life that does not come with a solution. You just need to read the manual of your own life and act accordingly. There are people around us who want to enjoy problems permanently; they tear off the manual and throw it out through the window and enjoy the solutions flying away in shards like little spangles of lost hopes. As I decide not to dial the number, I keep watching other posters. There are job offers; technicians needed in a printing press, plumber needed etc. No poster says artists and critics needed. Galleries seem to have gone out of business. Even if they are in business they are not fools to paste posters on a railway compartment.
I am bored a bit of the ‘slow train’ travel. It stops in all the stops. And endless stream of humanity flows in while another rivulet flows out by the force of some invisible push. Mumbaikars know how to deal with it. I am not one yet and I do not know whether I would become one ever. I look up. Bored people look out or look up. Looking out is a bit troublesome. When you are hungry you do not want to see so many people defecating in a row. In your imagination, the possible food that you are going to eat sometime later gets contaminated by the visions of excreta. And another thing that puts me off is the sighting of the long phalluses that these squatting men display shamelessly. That causes some kind of insecurity in me. So I look up. By looking up you feel hopeful; optimistic. And suddenly I see more posters on the ceiling of the compartment than the ones that I have already seen on the sides of it. Those posters are not torn off. Nobody’s hands reach there. It is a safe place to stick your posters if you are an intelligent advertiser. It remains there and most of the people read it. Why because most of the people in a parked local train are looking for hope by necessity or by force. When your face is stuck right under somebody’s stinking arm pit, you do not think about deodorants but you definitely think about god. And you hope for some fresh air. For both, you have to look up. When you look up you see these advertisements and as you do not have anything else to do you read them carefully as if it was a sheet from a prayer book that you hold closer to your heart for solace.
In Delhi Metro nobody looks up. There is no need to look up because most of them have their mobile toys to play with. Whether you sit or stand you are not looking anywhere else. You are looking only into your mobile screens where you must be helping a robber to collect more gold coins or helping a bike rider to negotiate deep curves or even keeping fruits in place. Hence, there are not too many advertisements you see in Delhi Metro. Recently they have introduced side panels for advertisement. When Arvind Keijriwal or Narendra Modi need votes they place the pictures of a broom and lotus there. When elections are not there, real estate magnets try to sell apartments thinking that all the metro travellers would one day be buying apartments. And it is for them to start dreaming. If nobody wants these spaces, Metro pitches itself in and flaunts its ability to take you from Rajiv Chowk (Connaugt Place) to the International airport in twenty four minutes. You are hopelessly displaced to the suburbs like Rohini or Dwaraka Metro gives you hope to take you there in thirty minutes. Delhi abhi door nahin hai (Delhi is not that far). People have left hoping against hope in Delhi, instead they invest their time in playing games or listening to music. Mumbai people hope for the best. They look up and they see life solutions in the form of advertisements, up there at the ceiling. Of late, I have been seeing a lot of sky also.