Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Public Mode of Commuting In Two Countries - Similar, Yet So Different

There is something about public mode of commuting that I really like. When living in Mumbai, India, my daily commute involved traveling by bus and train or only a bus ride to go to work and return home. A lot of people would complain about traveling in peak hours in the morning and in the rush-hour traffic in the evening, but I liked it.
I distinctly remember hoping to get a window seat if I took a bus and just getting lost in my thoughts for the hour-long ride. If I took a local train back home, then I would generally stand by the door and enjoy the cool breeze waft through my hair. Mom and I took a train ride on my recent trip to India and like old times, I stood by the door. It felt the same.
Have been a regular city bus commuter here also for almost a year now. In the morning bus, either I study or just enjoy the rising sun and still get lost in thoughts! In several ways, commuting is the same in India and here in the United States. There is the same rush-hour traffic, same way of people trying to balance themselves, as well as their hand bags, bags or purses and also hold on to the steel rods for support. Another similar aspect is how people become bus-buddies or commuting buddies as you travel at the same time in the same bus.
What is different is that if you are in India, people generally sit next to a person already sitting. Over here, you'll sit on a different seat than on a seat where someone already is sitting.
I noticed this thing during last winter's snow storm. Buses were running late by almost 45 minutes because of the snow storm. When the bus finally arrived, it naturally was over crowded and people were relieved to get on the bus. I remember having a bag pack and a hand bag with me that day. With those two, I balanced myself to stand as there was no room to sit. I stood that way for more than an hour till my bus stop came and I went home.
Had it been India, there would be 'aunties' or even young women or men who already had a seat, and they would offer to hold your bag, so you could stand comfortably, especially knowing that you'd already stood long to get on to this bus.

Another interesting aspect of taking the public mode of transportation in India is getting an opportunity to hear about people's stories, how their day was, and other similar things. It happens here also, but is lesser. People here would talk in more hushed tones than in voices that would be audible to several others.

I traveled by train almost everyday when in Mumbai. There was so much to see and learn from the vendors who would hop on the train with their ware to sell. The difficulties they faced, their trials and yet have a smile on their face. Young girls would come to sell hair clips, fancy rubber-bands to put in the hair, safety pins, earrings and much more. They would put their ware in saree boxes and move from one compartment to the other.
Others would get food items to eat, or sell plastic covers for books, plastic covers to put ID cards, fruits of the season and much more. Not only was it enterprising they sold products that are important for daily life, but it was a learning experience of sorts to see them work hard. This kind of an experience is difficult to get here. I didn't see much of this even when I traveled in NYC's local trains.

One of the biggest lessons I learnt taking the public mode of transport was street smartness and being alert. They are key things to traveling safe and enjoy it (if you are like me!) as you go to work or come back home!

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