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Little has changed in ‘luggage dabbas’ of Mumbai’s local trains

Fish, pack of unwashed clothes to be taken to Dhobi ghat in Mahalaxmi, tiffins that smell of savouries and passenger suitcases are among the regulars in the vendor compartment.

Written by Neha Kulkarni | Mumbai | Updated: March 27, 2018 1:50:14 am
The vendors’ compartments have fewer seats and more room to stand. (Vignesh Krishnamoorthy) The vendors’ compartments have fewer seats and more room to stand. (Vignesh Krishnamoorthy)

Written by Ankush Bandyopadhyay and Neha Kulkarni

A small fraction of the daily commuter rush on the suburban trains are those bringing unwashed clothes, tiffins and fresh seafood in the vendors’ compartment. The compartment, with fewer seats and more standing space, has been ferrying supplies between the city and the suburbs. Out of the city’s 80 lakh daily average commuters, however, vendors hardly contribute one per cent to the total ridership. They travel using a vendor pass, where each passenger ticket costs 0.5 times the regular fare of a second class ticket.

Over the years, however, the compartment has seen little change. However, the ‘luggage dabba’ as it is commonly known, may soon find a place on the city’s AC local trains too.

“After 1950s the vendor compartment was introduced in the suburban local. They wanted to board the train along with the luggage they carried. As diverting the crowd in the coaches was not easy, a separate compartment was dedicated to them,” a senior railway official said. Officials believe that the need for such a compartment was introduced after certain vendors, largely fishermen, requested a separate compartment.

Historian Bharat Ghotoskar, who has studied the evolution of the ways of transport in the city, said, “Vendors compartment has formed an essential part of suburban local trains since ages. Earlier, there would be a rod in the middle of the vendors’ compartment, which was removed to ensure easy entry and exit with luggage. It is surprising how fewer changes were made in their compartments by the railways to make their travel any better.”

While the composition of suburban local trains changed in size, design or colour over the years, vendor compartments remained untouched. The snug space sees a pair of benches on either sides and overhead compartment space for luggage, which is comparatively wider than a regular compartment. Dabbawalas and parcel vendors form the regular faces in the vendor compartment. Each local sees two vendor compartments at each end of the train.

Fish, pack of unwashed clothes to be taken to Dhobi ghat in Mahalaxmi, tiffins that smell of savouries and passenger suitcases are among the regulars in the vendor compartment.

Sarla Devi( 47) is a washerwomen who carries piles of clothes between Mahalakshmi and Mahim stations several times a day. She generally travels with other women of the same profession. For her switching between the ladies and luggage compartment is a regular practice. “It’s better to use the ladies’ compartment. The luggage compartment is very crowded with men. We feel awkward to travel with them.”

Many female vendors have complained that they would want a separate womens’ vendor compartment. Due to increase in rush during peak hours, a continuous demand to increase the number of vendor compartments in suburban local trains is seen. Others also demand increase in the size of the coach to ferry more commuters.
Vinod Kumar (24) is a confectionery sweets dealer travels from Matunga Road to Mumbai Central to sell his stock to shops. “I have been so regular with the compartment that I am friends with most of the other vendors who use the coach.”

“Vendors make for an important part of the culture of local trains. This is why, we plan to reserve vendor compartment in the new types of AC locals that will ply in the suburban railway system. Care will be taken to ensure the smell of the foodstuff they transport does not spread to other coaches,” a senior railway official added.
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