Riding the Mumbai trains

ABC News Now anchor Hari Sreenivasan blogs:

Enough people have walked up to me in the office today wondering whether the Mumbai trains are really as crowded as the statistics or Wikipedia say they are. Yes, and then some. Getting on a rush hour train at Churchgate Station in downtown Mumbai will redefine your sense of personal space. (At left, outside Churchgate Station today.)

From the second you stand on the platform and realize that people are only getting closer to you in their attempt to get on the train -- to the moment you literally feel your feet leave the ground because the force of the crowd pushing you on board is so tremendous -- you are almost crushed by people.

Everyone dreads it, but they all have to do it in order to get on and off the train and get to and through their daily lives. Some will chant a prayer out loud as the train pulls up for its 10-15 second stop. When on the train, people let out a chuckle, smile and almost see themselves like athletes who just finished a difficult event. The rides are so crowded that people even take the train in the opposite direction to one of the ends of the lines -- just so they can try and get a seat when the train turns around. (At right, a rush hour train from SFGate.com)

Train cars are brimming with human beings. The young and macho make a habit of riding at times completely on the outside of the train, with their feet in the windowsills and fingers gripping the rain gutters. The etiquette is that if you've enjoyed a seat for half the ride, stand for the second half -- allowing the person who has been cowering over you a seat.

The rails are the life blood of a city of approximately 20 million people carrying more than 6 million people a day. While the very rich might have the luxury of being driven through the congested streets, most of the middle class still find this the most efficient way to get to and from work.

While cities like New York have instituted random bag checks on the subways, Suketu Mehta, author of an award winning book on Mumbai called "Maximum City" says there is just no way to screen for suspicious packages on a train system serving as many people. "There are fisherwomen carrying fish, people with livestock in the third class cargo compartments, everyone has a package of some sort -- when an Indian travels, he carries his home with him." (At left, police investigate one of the bombing sites.)

Within a few hours of the attacks some trains were operational again, because India has no choice.

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