Life on Mumbai local: Crushed in crowd, commuters’ struggle inspires songs, stand-up comedies, t-shirt graffiti, memes

A skit on travelling on the Mumbai locals performed by humourist and doctor Tushar Shah talks about how the trains unite people of all religions and acknowledges the role played by it in helping people earn their living

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai | Updated: October 18, 2017 1:34 am
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THERE IS one request that renowned Marathi stage singer-director Ashok Hande keeps receiving for nearly 30 years every time he performs for his popular show ‘Mangaal gaani, dangal gaani’ — to sing the song Sion aaya inspired by the song Sayonara from the 1966 hit Love in Tokyo. Sion aaya speaks of the ordeal faced by a Mumbai local train commuter crushed in the crowd, fighting for the ‘fourth seat’ on a bench for three, the defunct fans, to groups playing cards in crowded local trains where people struggle to stand. Like Sion aaya, the humble Mumbai local has inspired several songs, stand-up comedy acts and, in some cases, t-shirt prints as well, all looking at the local train travellers’ plight through the satirical lens.

Talking to The Indian Express, Hande says, “It has been 30 years since I composed this but even now, wherever I go people still want to hear Sion aaya as it hits a raw nerve with them. The problems I narrate in the song are ones the crowds face everyday. Hence, there is a greater sense of identification with the song. People love it and laugh out when I sing it.” He adds, “We had come up with the song on a picnic where I was with my friends. Later, I liked the song and added a few stanzas and played it in a show in 1989 where people loved it. Since then I have been playing it.”

While Sion aaya has remained popular for decades, recent addition to parodies over Mumbai’s most sought-after mode of transport inspired a radio station to come up with “Meri lachki kamar” (My sprained back), a parody of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Mere rashke qamar (the envy of the moon). Niranjan Prakash, station head, Redtro 106.4FM that came up with the song, said, “We have made parodies in the past and most of us travel in local trains. We wanted to make a parody on some social issue. We wanted to do something dealing with problems faced by train travellers.”

Talking about the video that shows a person getting into a crowded train, his wallet being stolen and then he being caught by the ticket checker, Prakash says, “The idea of the video is, there is so much physical exhaustion while travelling in the train that the person who boards the train and the one who reaches the ultimate station is not the same person. The trains are the lifeline of Mumbai and several people live this reality everyday and, hence, so many people identified with the video.”

Apart from these, music video humourist and doctor Tushar Shah performed a skit on travelling on the Mumbai local trains, which went viral. In the act, he talks about how the trains unite people of all religions and acknowledges the role played by the trains in helping people earn their living, “Mumbaikar travels from one end (of the city) to the other, he has to make both ends meet”.

“The skit is a satire on the travails of the commuters and the underlying humour in it. When I say that due to the crowd, by the time I reach my destination I do not know if the sweat on the shirt is mine or someone else’s, it comes out of the misery faced by those travelling in local trains. When I talk about balancing oneself on “Ek taang aur aadhi jaang” (One leg and half a thigh) on the fourth seat (which he calls a performing art) or switching on a fan using a comb or even people managing to sleep in crowded trains, people instantly recognise it as most of them have done it. It strikes a cord with them and acts as a connecting thread,” says Dr Shah, who has travelled in local trains for decades.

Apart from music videos and stand-up acts, the difficulty in getting on the local trains too has inspired a slew of memes. Some of the famous memes include comparing getting into a train at a crowded station to entering a battlefield, with superimposed figures of war movies like 300 being used. Other memes compare entering a train to a wrestling match or a massage parlour. Apart from memes, a t-shirt print with “Indian Railways: 150 years of bringing people closer” with a crowded local train in the background became popular in Mumbai a few years back.

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