We got some shocking news from home last week. My cousin S, just twenty one, passed away in a horrifying train accident in Mumbai. Apparently there was a derailment on the central line that day, and the trains were running late and were packed much more than usual, if that is at all possible. S was in a rush to get to college for his third year engineering exam. Unfortunately, he decided to board a jam-packed train rather than wait and risk running a few minutes late. Less than five minutes later, before the train could even reach the next station, he had struck an electric pole, fractured his skull and passed away.
Such accidents probably happen everyday in Mumbai but only when it happens to one of your own do you stop and think about it. Otherwise, where’s the time? There’s a train to catch, a destination to be reached, an entire day’s work to be done. Train’s crowded? Never mind, surely I can squeeze in? Can’t get past the door? No problem, I can get some fresh air hanging outside. Train’s announced on the next platform? Let me cross the tracks just this once. If I use the overbridge, I’ll miss it.
Most folks who’ve used Mumbai’s local trains would be guilty of some or all of the above at some point of time. In my four years of college traveling by train in Mumbai, I was no exception. Except that we are lucky and get away with it. Others, like S, are not. I can picture him right now, hanging on to the doorway, barely managing to place a foot inside the crowded compartment, enjoying the cool breeze on his face, his mind intent on revising the syllabus one last time. If he knew what was coming, surely he would have waited, never mind the exam. The exam could have been cleared next semester.
Aside from Mumbai, I have used suburban trains in Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. Every other city has this wonderful PA system announcing the doors are closing, please step off. And when some idiots still manage to wedge themselves into the doorway despite the warning, the doors stay open and the train does not move. Even Delhi has the metro now. But in Mumbai, as far as I am aware, we still use the same basic train system designed by the British in 1853.
If you are reading this and use the Mumbai local trains, I hope you’ll stop and rethink your choice the next time you are running late and feel tempted to take such a risk. Your life is precious. Everything else can be worked out.
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news was a baby-faced S. My mother and I had brought him and his mommy home from the hospital the week after he was born. I also clutched my tummy in an instinctively protective gesture. Becoming a mother does that to you I guess. Every sad story becomes personalized in your mind. Let this never happen to my baby is the overriding thought. Selfish but true.
It seems my mother was hesitant to share the news with me given my pregnant status. She worried it would upset me too much. Fortunately, I chose to take it in a positive sense. Sure, I grieved for my cousin and his family. Especially the parents who have to cope with the loss. It is a terrible tragedy for them, one they will take months or perhaps even years to recover from. They have no choice but to grieve.
As for me, such shocking incidents only serve as a wake-up call to me. I must have surprised the husband with my extra loving demeanour that day, I chatted with my baby just a little bit more that night. When life is so precious and unpredictable, I want to make the most of it. Perhaps it sounds hard-hearted, but that’s genuinely the way I feel. What do you think?