On Wednesday this week, Kartik Salve plans to take the 7.18 am train from Kalyan for CSMT, even if it means reaching his workplace, a government office in South Mumbai, much before time.
Salve, who earlier worked in a private company, would take the 7.18 am every day to travel to work and every Dussehra, as part of tradition, he travels in the same train, same compartment to meet his old co-travellers.
For many commuters travelling daily for years on a particular local, Dussehra has special significance. Over a week before the festival, many like Salve contribute some money from their pockets and assign tasks. “This year we contributed Rs 150. One person will be buying flowers for decoration, some will buy articles for puja and some have been tasked with buying food. We will meet early, go in the opposite direction to ensure we get into our usual train early and decorate it,” says Prashant Tawde, a Kalyan resident, who takes the 8.13 am train to CSMT daily. Earlier, the group comprised of nearly 10-15 members but has now extended to 30-34 men and they even coordinate on WhatsApp.
As Dussehra is a public holiday, a day before the festival, the group does a small puja, some even felicitate the train motorman and guard with a shawl and a coconut and then share snacks, usually samosas, idli, a sweet and cold drink.
“We also serve the food to others who are not regular travellers on the train but are in the compartment that day,” Salve says.
The men say they don’t remember when the tradition began but since they spend over four hours daily in the train, its bound to be a major part of their lives.
“It becomes like an extended family,” Tawde says.
Women commuters too decorate their compartments. To make most of their time inside the trains, many women commuters also chant prayers, play music and stage garbas in the train. Badlapur resident Rashmi Gawane looks out for her group in the 5.48 pm local train to Karjat from Thane during the festival.
“We spend at least one third of our time travelling in the local train. We don’t get time to go out and play garba as we reach home late and have our household chores. To enjoy this time together, we play some music and dance within the limited space we have without affecting the other passengers.”
The ladies wear colour co-ordinated saris, according to the Navratri color for the day. “We begin discussing a few days in advance so that we can ensure everyone wears clothes according to the colour of the day. If someone does not have a particular colour, we even share saris or dresses,” said Asha Giri, who travels from Bhandup to Masjid everyday to her office in a private company.
On Dussehra, they offer sweets to the motorman of a Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus train and also perform puja of the train.
Vaishnavi Kadam, also a Badlapur resident, said, “The motormen who drive the local trains drive us safely to our office and bring us back home every day. To express our gratitude to them and this service, we perform a puja of the train and commemorate the efforts of the motorman,” she added.
The ladies also perform Bhondla, a dance form performed during Navratri, at Badlapur station for some time on Dussehra. They draw a rangoli at the platform and distribute snacks among themselves to celebrate Navratri with railways.