I have recently increased the frequency of my commute to work through the local Mumbai Suburban Railway line. And during this transit and because of my higher-than-average height, I end up spending most of my time in the trains standing, looking at hands of hundreds of straphangers. Hands that tell stories. Hands that are descriptive enough to be videographed into a short film.
Strong hands, hairy hands, inked hands, frail hands, bony hands, sweaty hands, hands with two watches, dirty hands. So many different types I could add a new type every day. This has given me a lot of insights into what people do with their upper limbs while travelling and how they take care of them. Especially because I think they are a vital part of one’s ability to travel in Mumbai locals. I observe hands because there is nothing else to do while travelling in these trains, considered the crowdest in the world.
So, here are brief, broad takes on what I think about the hands of people who travel in Mumbai’s local trains. Especially in the Central and Harbour lines.
- Most people still wear wristwatches. And they wear it on the left hand. Not that either of these is not obvious but I find it amusing how years ago some people had predicted that mobile phones would make wristwatches redundant. To their advantage, most – including me, sometimes – still look at their mobile phones to check time
- Almost everyone is glued to their mobile phones, sometimes using both their hands, to either text on WhatsApp, play games like Ludo and Candy Crush, or read/watch fake news stories. I know this because ever since I have increased my frequency of local train travel, privacy has taken a backseat. Also the reason why I avoid using my phone. Another issue with this mobile usage in trains is that it prevents people from holding onto something, which increases the chance of an unfortunate accident
- Hand tattoos are more common than I imagined; even more than the green-colored inking that some religious/superstitious mean wear on their arms
- Very rarely do I see people standing hands-free and without holding onto something. These people also use the “crowd energy” to board and deboard the train where they slyly become a part of the whirlwind and flush in and out of the bogey with little effort, let alone the use of hands. I once tried this and immediately regretted it
- People who lean out against the entrance doors evidently do not care a dot for their hands as I often see them flinging their limbs out, especially as a way to woo women while the train is slowing down at a station. I do wonder if this strategy has ever helped them find a partner
There may be a lot more such things that I have observed about commuters’ hands over the last few months but I do not remember them. To conclude, in all of this, what surprises me the most is how travellers have very little regard for their hands. It reminds me of that adage: You only realize the importance of something when you lose them. TN.