Tip No. 1
In case you have to travel to office for the first time or are going on a date someplace that is accessible easily only by train, carry a deodorant stick/can in your bag.
If it is the morning, there are chances that you’ll stumble out at your destination smelling like you just came out of the gym, in gym-wear that is not your own. Not only does a deo come in handy in such a case, a kerchief sprayed with deo can also be used to safeguard your nostrils from that stagnant air inside the morning local, when a few generous gentlemen who, knowing that you skipped your breakfast to catch the train, decide to let you have a whiff of what they had last night. (Fainting is not an option as you won’t fall, but only succeed in rubbing your face into the sweat soaked back of the passenger standing in front of you.) Of course, you need to first master the art of finding your own pocket, digging into it for your precious handkerchief and bringing it up to your own nose; all this while you are at the receiving end of a force equivalent to a 100 Dolly Bindras per square inch from all sides.
Tip No. 2
The mind is the ultimate master.
Surely, when you are packed like salted (because of the sweat) fish in a can, the only part of your body that is free, is the mind.
And an hour in such a condition teaches you mastery over the mind like few teachers can. That includes the power to mentally scratch that unbearable itch in that otherwise usually reachable area. Or letting that trickle of sweat imitate a straight drive down your back towards your ..err.. pavilion end. Learning to make playful faces at the fly hovering around your face because you are straitjacketed, or ignoring the guy behind you trying to make a mini wind tunnel around your neck with his breath; or even mastering the nuances of various facets of Indian music (read Sapna Awasthi, Altaf Raja) are all examples of the total meditative control that travel in a Mumbai local teaches you.
Tip No. 3
Waiting for the train to come to a complete stop is not a particularly bright idea. Nor is it wise to go in all guns blazing while the train is just arriving at the platform. Timing and positioning is key here and it comes with practice and a few bruises.
Not feeling particularly brave one day ? No problem, just spot the meanest looking, fittest guy waiting on the platform and stick to his back like a leech when the train arrives.
Do not, under any circumstances, try to climb on to the rooftops. Chuck Norris met his match there and Rajnikant suffered a cold that kept him at home for 2 days.
It’s easier still if you befriend a regular group of travelers who take the same train every morning – this bonhomie makes sure that your new found friends (with benefits?) will find another inch of space for you that could mean the difference between feeling like a superhero every morning and a chance to jiggy-wiggy with the electricity poles whizzing by outside.
Tip No. 4
After you learn to time the jump, make sure you can differentiate your reds from your greens. Many a time has a greenhorn jumped with great enthusiasm into the coach of a halting train and half-exulted in delight till realization dawned that it was a ladies-only compartment.
While some of you noobs (and people from Delhi) might be wondering, “So whats the big deal ?” (or even secretly saying with a Ranjit-like smirk “Really baby ?”), remember – women in ladies compartments could also consist of fisher-women, policewomen and housewives who practice Jeet-Kune-Do (a Sunny Deol inspired martial art) as a hobby. So, show some respect to the women (if you are from Delhi, I know, you should shift back to Delhi) and stay away from the green stripe marks. At least on a local train.
Tip No. 5
The footwear is important.
There is only one kind of footwear that matters out there – cowboy boots with little spikes attached to the rear. Just kidding.
However, one of those trekking shoes with a thick sole will ensure that your feet not only get treated with respect, it can also mete out treatment to ill-behaved shoes if need be. (How dare they disrespect 5 cm of sole ? Take that you puny little formal shoe, and that.) Just be sure the guy standing next to you is not wearing a better one.
Tip No. 6
I saved the best for the last. Just like the boss level in every good video game, there is a legendary beast called the Virar local. It has been known to make grown men nervous and little children wail like they were made to sit and watch Geoffrey Boycott bat for all 5 days of a test match.
As in martial arts, learning to get into (and out of) a Virar local takes years of devoted learning (which platform, which compartment, what time, what is the allowable margin of positioning error before the train comes to a complete halt), self-awareness, brutal stamina and an ability to zone out for at least 1 hour at a stretch. So if you get that chance to go onsite to the US for a year, say no to the US and say yes to the Virar local – this conditioning prepares you for life in ways nothing else can.
You see, Virar is where the western railway line terminates. So people (hordes, millions, billions, entire populations of Papua New Guinea) boarding those trains have imbibed the 1+ hour journey as a part of their lives. Young children in Virar and Vasai go and practice on crowded local trains after they’re finished with their homework in the evenings. Women knit woolen with one hand (the other hand grabs the handle you see) in it. The menfolk give fitness tips to aspiring actors and westerners recreating films from the Greek-Trojan era.
Yes, you will have the courage and stamina to ride it one day but till then you’ll have to contend with the Borivli fast. That, for the time being, should be adequate net practice.
P.S.: Prepare to be scared here.