Every day more than 6 million people travel through Mumbai* on the commuter train system. Six million! On the buses, more than 3 million commuters pack onto the system to move through a city already congested by trucks, … taxis, … private vehicles, …bicycles, … handcarts, … delivery vehicles of all types, … cows, … ox carts, …elephants, … construction equipment, … and people … masses of people!
In Mumbai, it seems that everybody is going someplace … that each person has their own destination … a destination determined by their caste … by the station in life to which they were born.
It is the masses of people going from place to place that make the train system an essential part of the culture of Mumbai and the culture of the whole of the country of India. It is these ribbons of steel that seemingly hold the people of this country together as they share this common bond.
In Mumbai, the rail system is where people come together for a short time. It is here that they walk together, … they stand together, … they sit together, … and together they listen to the roar and clanking of the train as it moves along its tracks. During this long commute, people of all castes irrespective of gender, cultural distinction, social or economic condition press against each other. … It makes no difference. … The press is the same. … The train system in the Great City of Mumbai treats all people the same. … It is the one equalizer of people … The one element in the culture where all people have the same experience. They are just bodies moving in the same direction.
Vijay* is a young man living with his parents in an upper class neighborhood of the northern part of the City. Each workday morning, he takes an auto-rickshaw for the short ride to the train station. He, … along with hundreds of others, … purchases his daily train ticket and proceeds to the gate. Walking toward the gate, Vijay and the others ignore the dog sleeping on a pile of trash. Continuing on, he passes street sweepers having their morning round of Chai*. Climbing the stairs and heading down the walkway, he tries to ignore the family of gypsy beggars and the hawkers who have their flowers all set out for sale to those passing by.
While waiting the few minutes for the train to arrive, a homeless “Sadhu”* holy man is nearby. But Vijay is lost in the crowd and his own thoughts as are the hundreds of other commuters who daily occupy the trains … the businessmen, the servants, and those transporting a variety of goods.
Getting on the train is always a struggle and can be dangerous for anyone regardless of how robust they are.
Once inside, Vijay quickly finds a seat in a nearly empty car; … however, by the time he reaches his place of work, there will be 300 to 400 people squeezed into each train car. The train cars, like a nearby mosque, look very old.
Out of the window, the apartment buildings quickly melt away. All that can be seen for miles are the homes and people of the lower caste who seldom ride the train. Vijay closes his eyes to shut out the poverty all around. He tries to sleep but cannot because of the continual starting and stopping of the train as it fills with more people … some old, … some young, … and a few women. … The women in this car are few since most choose to ride in the “ladies only” cars. This is a good choice for them since the cars are much less crowded.
As Vijay sits squeezed into a seat designed for three people but now has four abreast, he hears a welcome sound from the next compartment. Shutting out all other sounds, he listens to the beat of the worship activities of a group of his fellow Hindus. It seems that all those in the compartment are joining in a puja. Vijay’s enjoyment of the worship is interrupted as beggars approach the other passengers. Beggars are always on the train as they seek donations to buy food and clothing. When they come to him, Vijay ignores them and turns away to once again stare out the window.
The sign about AIDS reminds him of the moral decay of the country’s young people. Continuing to stare out the window, he observes an all too often occurrence, … police carrying an accident victim off the tracks. More than 14 people a day meet a similar fate.
Finally, as the station nears, the train car is full and there is little room to even stand. Getting off at the right place requires pushing and shoving to position one’s self near the door. The train is stopped for less than 30 seconds and people to enter and exit through a common door.
Rushing down and through the tunnel toward the exit stairs, Vijay stops just long enough to give a coin to a young boy that faithfully burns incense to cleanse the passageway of evil spirits.
Up the stairs and out on the sidewalk, Vijay finally feels free again! After a short walk, he will arrive at his destination! … He knows that he must spend the short time near those many passengers that were created different than him. He knows … being a Hindu … that people are not created equal and that they must remain in the caste in which they were created. They can only hope that by doing good in this life they will be reborn into a better life next time.
The train system has positioned Vijay with the rest of Mumbai for a time, putting him together with the millions of other anonymous people who commute every day. But he knows, … they all know, … that it’s only for the train ride. It is like the tracks that confine the train; their paths often cross but seldom merge. … They go different ways, … as they must, … because their destinations are different. For most of those now living in Mumbai, their destination in life was determined at birth. They are confined to a track from which few escape.
Along the tracks … but blocked from view by crumbling buildings … is the destination for the dirty laundry of many of Mumbai’s residents. Here the 4,000 or so dhobi-wallahs* start before sunup and work into the night to get everything clean and ready for the next day.
The clean clothes hung out to dry bring to mind the Psalmist as he prays, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
There is another way, … another destination for the people of Mumbai. It is a way that few seek and even fewer find.
Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” Jesus can make one a new creation … leaving the darkness behind and stepping into the Light.
Will you help show the people of Mumbai the way to the one true God?
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