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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Just left of the right shoe

I stayed in Singapore in a different era for two years but I never took the trouble to use the local subway also referred to as the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). This was because of a traumatic experience involving failure of swiping the card and a potentially castrating coming down of the barriers, aided by congenital fear of machines (Further honed by Terminator and The Matrix trilogy). I got around by simply walking and cabbing. It helped that back then, my house was only a stone's throw away from office.

Presently, I have been back in Singers and abusing a service apartment for over three months. This apartment is further away from office and conveniently next-door to an MRT station. So, my sense of practicality overpowered my fear of machines and automatic barriers, and now I can safely say that I have mastered the use of MRTs. That is, till they turn against us and decide to take over the world.

A lethal side-effect of travelling in MRTs, apart from the hanging-elbow syndrome, is extreme boredom. First, there is the waiting, never more than a few minutes, but waiting nonetheless. Then there is the long ride with nothing outside to look at except passing shadows. Further, inside the train, everybody is busy avoiding each others' eyes as if they are afraid that their in-laws might be travelling along. Unknowingly, I also conformed to the norm. With nothing else to do, I would concentrate hard at a spot just left of my right shoe with an intensity to burn a spiritual hole right through. I would do so till my destination arrives. So, by the time, I would reach office, my mental state and demeanor would start resembling that of a zombie. I didnt realize this up until I forgot to acknowledge somebody wishing me a very good morning in the office elevator. Instead, I drew a blank out of the deep fathoms of my brains, stared at her for a few seconds, cocked my head this way and that way till the right name came tumbling out. She wasnt impressed. At least, the name that tumbled out was the right one. Or was it?

Anyhow, after that incident, I dont stare at the spot just left of my right shoe any more. Now, I have taken to observing people. I belive I have discerned a pattern consisting of a complicated mix of various variables commonly termed as age.

A large section of commuters tend to listen to music. Almost all of them belong to an age-group younger than mine. They listen to music without really enjoying it. Perhaps they do. But, they make overly apparent effort to ensure that they are not seen as enjoying the music. They would tilt their necks to one side and stare vacantly through the recycled air. Further, my painstakingly methodical observation suggests that they would do the same thing whether travelling for a minute or an hour.

Another group of people are simply in love with themselves. When they are waiting at the station, they can be spotted checking out their reflections in the plastic glass doors. When they are in the train, they check their reflections in the glass windows. Some of them make the extra effort to stand next to the glass doors so as to check themselves out holistically. Some become so engrossed in themselves that they actually twist their bodies at acute angles to get a glimpse of what it would look like from an out-of-body observation point. Some actually walk up and down to check their gait. I am fairly positive that if not for scientific limits, some would like to turn their heads at 180 degrees to get a good look at their own arse. This group, unfortunately, belongs to my age-group. I have never had a stronger urge to grow old faster and leave them behind. But observing this bunch is entertaining for sure.

Then there is another group that simply sleeps in the trains. It doesnt matter if they are standing or sitting. It doesnt matter how far they are travelling. They are never in a hurry and they are always able to catch a wink. Further, they seem to have a fairly accurate body-clock which prompts them awake just as the train arrives at their respective destinations. This group belongs to the 45+ age-group. Sometimes, its fun to watch them abuse their neighbours' shoulders but mostly, its more fun to watch the spot just left of the right shoe.

The last group consists of people who stare at their respective pet spots, lost in deep thoughts. They belong to a slightly older age group than mine. Once in a while, I catch the eyes of such fellow artists and notice a hint of a recognition flickering through their eyes. I get a feeling that they are telling me that they have been there and done that. And that sooner or later, I would revert to the spot just left of my right shoe.

I want my car!!!


Mahogany said...

You forgot one group: the couples who seem to think that the inside of a brightly lit train is the best place to make out!

Toddler said...

ha ha ha!!! loved this one. I think that the categories of travellers remain the same across the globe. almost.

Beta said...

Mahogany - You are so right. I dont know how I missed that. I guess I must have been embarassed enough by such public display of affection to blank it out from my vision :-)

Toddler - Thanks. In India, other than the hanging elbow syndrome, there are also the added perks of either smelling others' armpits or their hair-oil, depending upon your height.

Toddler said...

Well, I would like to add to it. There are a few more categories (applicable in India)

The first one is called lechers who would size you up and down as if you have just been transported from Mars and would try different gestures and postures, from singing a cheap song to winking at you, to catch hold of your attention.

The second category belongs to those who think that the world is revolving around them, hence will brag about their achievements, their possessions as loud as possible, in between, looking around to see if they succeeded to make an impression.

The third category is of college goers who love to sit on the floor pushing aside the announcement not to do so. I think they either love to count ants or are the most down to earth creatures on the planet.

Annoymously said...

Don't blame u for missing your car! Tho your ride sounds entertaining the way u tell it.

When i realized i had to take the train commute daily after being used to driving for ages, it almost reduced me to tears the first time. You don't miss the shoves, pushes, prods, the feel of five bodies pressing into you at the same time - all this just in the ladies compartment. U've already mentioned the pungent hair oil wch gives me an instant headache. I have not dared step into the men's compartment for years now. I know gals who've got their skirts torn and i've had bruises show up post train travel here during peak hour. God help u if u hv to hang on to ur laptop at the same time. Tempted to do my own piece on how gory it gets out here :) There's also a section of what can only be called the train mafia - gangs of women who "book" seats for themselves & their cronies - and if you're in the way you're in for it! And don't get me started on the lesbian action. Or the death defying stunt of stepping off a train - during a stampede of commuters eager to trample u underfoot.

On a sordid note, there's a wonderful org here called Manavta that does railway rescue work for accident victims which number more than 3000 a year in Bombay alone!

Beta said...

WOW. What horror stories. I am glad I would never be allowed to travel in the ladies compartment :-)

Annoymously said...

Lol.... and i'd seriously be afraid for you in the mens.

Beta said...

I am stumped!

Annoymously said...

To quote inspector clouseau, good one :)