Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Celebrating Dussehra on Mumbai's Local Trains

In Mumbai, a large number of people commute everyday using Mumbai's suburban railway network. On other days, you'll find commuters complaining and cursing these overcrowded locals (the trains, as they are popularly known). But a day before Dussehra, the same people will decorate the trains, perform a puja, break a coconut, and then distribute the coconut pieces and sweets as prasad to fellow travelers. It is the one day, the commuters thank these huge iron behemoths for taking them to their destinations everyday.

Preparations for these decorations are made about a week in advance. Various train groups (if you travel by the locals, you'll know what I am talking about) coordinate amongst themselves and their members. Contributions are collected and pooled. Volunteers then offer to get the zendu and mango leaf garlands. Some volunteer to get the sweets. A few take the responsibility of arranging for balloons and colored ribbons to decorate the compartments. A few enthusiastic groups will also get coconut fronds to decorate the train. People are highly enthusiastic. I know of train groups that go to the local car sheds to get a head start on decorating their usual train.

On the day (that's a day before Dussehra), most of the locals get invariably delayed. Nobody complains (Well, a few do grumble). Decorating the local trains, the puja, and all that takes time. Traditionally, after the puja, the prasad is first given to the motorman (train driver) --- a quaint (and sweet) practice to thank the motormen for their services.

Dussehra is tomorrow. The local trains were all decorated today. Much fun was had by all.

And a Happy Dussehra to all you folks.

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