Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A ragpicker's tale

© Prashant C. Trikannad
If you're commuting by Mumbai's notoriously popular suburban trains, called locals, and you're looking for something to post or write about, all you've to do is keep your eyes and ears open, and a story will present itself.

A lot happens on the Lifeline, as the city's tri-suburban rail network is known. There is plenty of humour and laughter, fights and rapprochement, love and prayers, singing and dinner preps, forty winks, small trade, celebrations and more. With an estimated 7.5 million people travelling in nearly 2,500 trains daily, or roughly 2.7 billion people every year, it's practically a city on wheels. Even hell on wheels, for people also die, either falling off overcrowded trains or crossing the tracks. When the trains stop, as they often do during floods in monsoon, Mumbai grinds to a halt.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
The other day a scavenger, unable to gain a foothold in the luggage compartment next door, boarded my second-class coach with his large filthy sack of discards and was promptly taken to task by other commuters for blocking the entrance.

"How dare you call this trash?" he shouted back in Hindi. "This is my livelihood. This is my income. The little I get out of it."

A dozen voices fell silent. None could argue with that. Whatever else he may be, the ragpicker was doing his job, as first among equals in a city of unequals.

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