For as long as I can remember, Bombay has been admired for its fast and efficient local trains. Out-of-town visitors are struck by the speed and efficiency of the suburban train network.
But, sadly, those who live and work in the city - and can afford to do so - are slowly shifting to the roads. Not to buses, but their own cars.
Why? Because although no one enjoys Bombay roads of traffic, doing so in the air conditioned comfort of your own car, tuned to your favourite FM station is the only alternative you have. Even the so-called 'first class' is now not much better than cattle class.
So, why haven't the railways upgraded their coaches? FOr the last 10 years we've been hearing of the introduction of a/c coaches (there's an announcement to that effect once again). But in the 'interest of the common man' (who is hanging on for dear life from the ordinary compartments) things never move forward.
Anyone who has taken a ride on the Delhi metro will see what taking care of the interest of the common man really means. A global-standard metro service is available to all the city's residents.
A ticket from Rohini to Kashmere Gate (a dozen stops away) costs a mere Rs 12! (A short distance first class ticket on our comparatively khatara Mumbai local - if I remember correctly - is Rs 50).
In its half-completed form, Delhi metro is already fairly popular. Once the stretch connecting Connaught Place starts in June, its use will skyrocket. In the longer run, with Gurgaon and Noida connected more and more car owners will be tempted to switch over.
The Mumbai local, in contrast, is driving people in the opposite direction. Of course, 18 year olds don't drive to college - in Mumbai. At that stage of life, public transport rules.
But a few short years later, into your second or thord job, you take a car loan. Initially, it's to use only on weekends. Then, you take it to work occassionally. By and by, you get addicted to the comfort. The same locals which you swore by earlier is too squishy and sweaty to travel by.
Similarly, once you 'move' even further up in life, you employ a driver. Then, the task of driving to work on days when the fellow is on chutti becomes a pain.
Aaj kal aur kal
Man is a creature of habit and once he acquires a new one it's hard to shake off. Things which were an accepted part of life at 20 feel like hardships at 30!
That's because while there may have been less creature comforts at 20, you had so many intangible assets at the time. The long and continuous company of friends. The freedom that comes with student life. The hope of great things to come.
By 30, you may technically be a 'youth' but your time is not your own. Most of it is mortgaged to your employer.In return, you may be paid a good deal of money. This money then is used to buy back some time. And add some layers of comfort.
Because in our heads we may remain young for many more years - even decades - than previous generations. But, the hectic lifestyles we lead quickly start taking a toll on our bodies.
Bottomline: When travelling like animals in Virar locals is no longer an acceptable standard in public life, neither will living in a 1 room shanty or shitting on tracks. That's when we can start thinking of becoming a Shanghai or a Singapore.
Recent reports suggest that work on a metro train service connecting Ghatkopar and Versova/ Colaba and Charkop is about to begin.
About time - definitely!