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The Weirdest MMTS trip of my life

I have been fascinated by trains and railway stations since my childhood.

My earliest imagination of trains was of large Rakshashas, billowing smoke from their mouths, carrying people on their back, crushing those in front of them. Since I studied in a hostel, much of my childhood was spent in travelling to and from home in trains.

I would fantasise about being a train engine driver, driving from place to place. When we were going back to my school, I’d imagine an elaborate drama where the train runs over a meditating Rishi on the tracks, who’d open his eyes and curse the train to never reach its destination.

Now that I live near a railway station and the MMTS is my primary mode of transportation, I keep taking pictures, observing people, noticing their quirks. The trains are where I do most of my writing – the humdrum, the honking, and the crowds provide a perfect platform for my mind to take flight. I take pictures, capture sounds, and mind-map my ideas for future writings.

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I have written about Hyderabad’s MMTS system earlier (Read the blog here).

It’s a fascinating network that runs on the basis of goodwill and good moods. The trains follow no particular timings, there is nobody to check tickets, and it’s a system that is running by God’s will. I have had many a fascinating trip on the MMTS trains, but none as weird as the one yesterday.

Before I begin, allow me to provide a disclaimer.

Every single word below is true. I have no way to prove it to you, and you have no way to cross-check, but allow me to say it nonetheless. I have always wondered how such things happen around me. A friend of mine chides me about this, wondering how such things always happen when I’m around. I have given it some thought.

Perhaps it is because I am obsessed with stories. I’m constantly on the prowl for interesting stories, funny incidents, and curious happenings. I walk up to people and begin conversations; I pick people’s brains about anything that intrigues me. Perhaps that’s the reason.

Or perhaps it’s because I’m a stoner. A stoner is constantly collecting material to narrate to his/her friends. As a stoner, life is a constant swing between premise and punch line, a marathon of funny and interesting incidents that could be narrated to friends the next time we get high together.

And yet, I wasn’t stoned yesterday. I’ve given up Pot, but more about that in another post.

Yesterday, I was as clear in the head as Sachin Tendulkar on the first day of a Lord’s Test. And yet, I hereby declare that every single word below is true to the best of my knowledge.

Place: Hyderabad

Date: 14th July, 2016

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I was to travel from Begumpet to Sitafalmandi, a distance of 15 minutes, with five intermediary stations along the way. The journey usually takes ten minutes, and I lay down on one of the platform benches with my book – Satyajit Ray’s Adventures of Feluda.

This particular story revolved around a theft in an old haveli, and the afternoon heat and my comfortable position slowly lulled me into a soft slumber. I woke up when a friend called, and realised my train was arriving in a minute. I rushed to buy myself a ticket, and hopped on to the train after inquiring if the train went to my destination (you can never be too sure with an MMTS train!). It was, and I hopped on to the train.

It was a typical evening on a local train. 4 PM is a time when corporate slaves haven’t been unleashed from their cages yet, so the commuters are mostly college students, or hawkers, or people travelling with bags to a suburb on the outskirts.

There was no space to sit, so I leaned against a seat and opened my book. Standing right next to me was a young chap in formal attire, a laptop bag slung across his shoulders. On his right wrist, the following words were tattooed – Roll, Camera, Action!

I began doing what I always do. Perhaps he was an aspiring director. Perhaps like me, he has lots of stories that never saw the light of day. He was immersed in his phone, and I looked away and dived back into my book.

Feluda was taking his time in catching the culprit, giving away unwanted clues to throw me off the tracks, leaving both me and Topshe rather frustrated. In a few minutes, my favourite hawker in the world stepped in.

He has five minutes to sell his wares, and an active clientele who have nothing to do but to listen to him. He puts up an elaborate show that would put the folks on Home Shop 18 to shame. This man sells unique products on the train, a new product every week. Sometimes it is a juicer, on other days a tiny weighing scale.  Today, it was a gold plated chain that a Delhi company had kindly agreed to sell for 20 rupees only.

My favourite hawker in the world is back!

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The train reached Secunderabad, and I managed to get a seat for myself. I got back into the book, and Feluda was now quizzing the suspects. Which was when I heard a voice from the platform – ‘Excuse me?’.

I looked out of the window and a man who’d been travelling with me was looking at my book. ‘I noticed that’s a Satyajit Ray book, which one is it?’ I showed him the cover and he nodded. ‘Are you a filmmaker?’ he asked me.

‘No, but I’m an aspiring writer’. ‘Oh! I am a filmmaker, can you give me your number? I’m travelling to Vizag right now, but I’ll be back in a few days’. I hurriedly noted down his number, he rushed away to catch a train to Vizag, and I got back into my book.

The train took its own sweet time at Secunderabad, choosing to bask in the sun for ten minutes. Since I had nowhere to rush to, I got back into my book. Feluda was now thinking about the crime. Topshe was as confused as I was, and I was gleefully getting into my favourite part of a crime – the unraveling of the mystery – when loose threads are tied up and the culprit is rounded up.

I looked up from my book and found an old man sitting by the door about ten metres away from me. He must have been about 65, there was a walking stick next to him, as he sat on the floor, his legs huddled up against his body. His beard was red – not orange – but blazing red. His chin protruded out, making him look like an older Muslim Suppandi. Next to him, a woman lay unconscious.

It is a common sight to find men and women drunk on MMTS trains. Most of them get on a train and lie down by the door, letting the train take them to their destination. The old man had a lost look on his face, looking up, and then down, and then from this side to the other. It was then that I noticed his hand.

Hidden behind his legs, his left hand had slipped into the woman’s blouse, and he was giving her breasts quick, frantic squeezes. On and on he went, changing his hands every now and then. I closed my book and stood up; three people rushed to take my seat.

I walked up to the man, and he quickly slipped his hand out of the unconscious woman’s blouse.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.

He turned to the woman, a look of pity and disgust on his face. ‘She got drunk and passed out’, he said. The woman continued to lie unconscious – she was in her late 30s, slightly stout – probably a hawker who had too many glasses of Gudumba – the locally brewed alcohol in Telugu speaking areas.

‘Yes, but what are YOU doing?’ I asked him. He looked into my eyes, and knew in a second I wasn’t fucking around with him.

‘What am I doing? I’m sitting here’.

‘Jhoot mat bol, buddhe. I saw your hand inside her blouse, you horny old fuck’, I said, putting forth my best Hyderabadi accent. The old man looked out of the door, but by now, a crowd had begun to gather.

The two of us were surrounded by a crowd of about ten people, most of them college students getting back to their homes. A few of them had seen him too, but had chosen to keep quiet about it. The crowd was getting bigger now, and the man stood up shakily on his walking stick.

The crowd parted to make way for him, as he spent the next few minutes walking from one end of the compartment to the other. Like nothing had ever happened, like he was an old man taking a morning walk.

The college kids spent the rest of the journey heckling the old man. And hell has no fury as a heckling Hyderabadi.

Kya re, buddhe. Nehru zoo ka bandar jaisa dikra tu, aisa kaamaan karta? one of them said. Arey dekh re, buddha khada ho gaya, lekin buddhe ka khada nahi hua’. On and on they went, till he walked up to the other door and stood by it.

My station arrived, and I got down. The train stopped for about 30 seconds, and chugged away.

I noticed the old man had gotten down from the other door. He hobbled away on his walking stick, the woman continued to lie unconscious by the door, the train slowly pulled out of the station.

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Hyderabad MMTS

An Ode to MMTS

It was around the mid 90s that Hyderabad began to experience its first big Boom. Chandrababu Naidu, a relative unknown in the league was at the helm, and was determined to make Hyderabad a glitzy, glammy Super-Cyber-Hyperabad.

Like pimples on a teenager’s fresh face, strange buildings and erections rose from the land. Flyovers shot up into the sky, a tower called Cyber Towers sprang up, soon to act as Mothership for other hitech, jazzmatazz offices who were helping American companies clean up their desks. Government services were digitised, and Bill Clinton was invited to inaugurate the transformation.

Among the many dreams within Chandrababu Naidu’s dream was a quick, economic rail network to connect the older city with the newer, shiny cousin. To connect Sudama to Krishna. And thus was born the MMTS. Multi-Modal Transport System. Intended to connect the two sides of the city, the engineers hadn’t expected the steroid-induced growth that Hyderabad would experience in the coming decade. Which has resulted in the MMTS being sidelined by the urban, yuppy, corporate crowd. The MMTS does not ply to Banjara Hills, Cyberabad or Jubilee Hills – these temples of the New Gods. It is for more commonplace places, like Malakpet, Huppuguda, and Sitafalmandi, where I currently reside.

While the MMTS was inaugurated with much fanfare in the presence of Chandrababu Naidu, it was the other Chief Guest of the event that should have instilled some doubts in the minds of Hyderabadis. The fact that LK Advani inaugurated the MMTS should have been a premonition for things to come. For if Naidu saw the MMTS today, he’d give up politics and retire to Manali.

In their own unique way, the MMTS has become representative of Hyderabad and its laid-back nature. As I live right next to the MMTS station, I have begun to feel a connection with the enterprise. From the first train that begins at 4.45, to the last one that chugs home tiredly at 2355, the MMTS has become the trains of my little Apur Sansaar. And as I interact with the enterprise on a daily basis, I have begun to appreciate just how Hyderabadi the MMTS really is.

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For one, timings are merely notional on the MMTS. If the timing mentioned is 10.20, it is just a ballpark figure so that you are dressed and ready on the platform. The train of course, will amble in about ten minutes later, just in time for the man with four gunny sacks to stuff them through the running doors.

Unlike in airports and Metro stations, where the entire world seems like a large, rushing crowd, the MMTS is barely ever in a hurry. The trains even have the feel of medieval caravans. There are hawkers, magicians, and little kids doing tricks with a tiny hoop for some change. For you see, unlike in Chandrababu Naidu’s dreams, the MMTS isn’t really used by the Movers and Shakers of the city. It is used instead by the hustlers and the jostlers. Those who have no where to rush to. The kind who can wait for the next train if they miss this one. Unlike the metro trains of Mumbai, there are no films shot in Hyderabad’s locals. There are no dark, intriguing, sinister stories; just a bunch of people going from one place to another.

The engine drivers are speaking on the phone and screaming at people as the train leaves the station. People are laughing and chatting and arguing in the trains as they hold the rod for support, the entire compartment a sea of Paragon chappals and sweaty armpits. People avoiding the gaze of the cops in First Class even though they have a ticket.

Om. Aham Single Fuck Not Givami Swaha.

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Back in childhood, I used to think of this as a dream job. Sell books, and sit and read all day.

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There is an overpowering sense of brotherhood and camaraderie. On a few occasions, I found a few men get into an argument with the guys who hang near the doors. But on most other days, I see the guys at the doors stretch their hands out to pull newcomers into the compartment. Because you see, these aren’t the hard-boiled urchins that you see in Mumbai. These are Hyderabadi urchins – kindhearted, sarcastic, and with a sweet tooth.

 

Ah, Technology! The things you make us do.

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The concept of privacy doesn’t exist here, those are for 1st AC trains and Business Class passengers. Here, people peep into each other’s phone. As I’m drafting out this text, the guy next to me is peeping in for a good view. I turn to him and he smiles back like a twin lost in the Mahakumbh.

 

When Hyderabad announced that it was going to add itself to the list of cities equipped with a glitzy inter-city Metro service, I was a little circumspect. I was scared that the shiny Metro would make the humble MMTS even more irrelevant than it is today. But my fears were allayed by the fact that it’s Hyderabad we are talking about here. The ministers didn’t sign on the required papers, their secretaries sat in their rooms sipping on scotch, the engineers were clueless, and the workers packed up and went home. Resulting in L&T pulling out of the project citing the state’s inefficiencies. Petitions were filed against the bulldozing of house and property, and manholes on the road grew up to become monsterholes.

And just like that, the Metro project got postponed to 2019. Three years from now, which in Hyderabad terms means a decade. A few more years for MMTS to do what it can to remain irrelevant. To meander about aimlessly unbound by cut-throat timings and maddening frenzy. To amble from one place to another like a contended buffalo, grazing in fields that she particularly likes.

To flash a shiny electric rod at the world. To prove that it is possible to be a poet among robots.