I have written about my train rides before. (the first one dated about a decade ago: https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2005/10/27/commuter-blues-or-benefits/) They are entertaining, freeing, frustrating and are not entirely the best friends to the olfactory senses, but then, when else do you get to appreciate the fact that you have allergies and a blocked nose that essentially mean that you don’t have to screw up your nose when others do?
The trains are hugely helpful for people like me who don’t enjoy having their noses stuck to a steering wheel: I would much rather stick my long-ish nose into a book. The trains are functional and not at all fancy. They take me to and from work everyday and for the most part are reliable. I don’t know what it is with casting an evil eye on the most simple things. I typed this line out about 2 weeks ago for another blog, and in the intervening time, there were huge delays on the system causing much inconvenience and noise on social networks multiple times a week. There was one time when the website said, “We have been overwhelmed with the requests on the website, please check Twitter for updates.” Like any other person, I feverishly dug up all mentions of the trains and was greeted with dire warnings. News sites and social media told me that due to delays people have been queuing up on platforms and that the platform was so full that Police were standing near the ticket gates and turning people away.
All most disturbing. I summoned up that crowd instinct nestled in all of us and made for the station. That instinct is one of many things. One, it subtly points our body in the direction we wish to go and the rest is handled by the crowd. Two, it scans the crowd to see possible options and three, it senses danger. Number Three shows the vulnerability of mankind. For all our talk about finding one’s true self and being what you are and all that, one flaming emotion in a large crowd is all it takes for a person to lose their identity to the crowd. It is enough to sway people. To push them from their standard norms of behavior, and thus behave in ways that most of them would not pride themselves in.
I have been in situations where the crowd turns nasty really quickly and they are not memories I set aside for bedtime tales. For instance, there was this boy who worked at the corner grocery store in Bangalore in those days. He had a shy smile that he flashed every time we bought something. One time, I caught him running after chicks and not making a single victory. (Not eve-teasing, this guy had bought some chicks that looked like miniature powder puffs in various colors and had, in an unguarded moment, let them all loose all at once. ).
Of course, he had imagined himself being seen to better advantage in front of his customers, but there you are. Both of us laughed at that, I bought my packet of milk and was off. A few weeks later, I remember, some riots broke out (somebody had died or somebody said something about somebody’s death – it doesn’t matter), but this hitherto mildly affable boy was transformed. I was alarmed when I saw the slightly mad look in his eyes, when I was hoping to find friendly ones.
I was strangely aware of all this as I made my way through the streets expecting to be pushed out through the escalators back to the street again, only to find that the station was completely empty. My senses jerked. One lone policeman was leaning against the wall and dreaming of his next coffee, so he could have something to do. Some homeless folk were there using the warmth of the underground pathway, a musician whose musical talent seems somewhat misplaced in a subway station, and two dogs. Nothing else.
Say what you will about news channels and social networks – they can make the happiest person court tears in minutes with nothing but a shred of news. Maybe all this real-time-update frenzy has us expecting to be alive and aware in a place, without really being there. That day, I was enormously grateful that the trains had got back on track and got me home, that I had worried for nothing. There were delays, during the day to be fair, it was the milking on that was quite unnecessary.
But it made me think. In this day and age of sharing and over-sharing, are we aggrandizing the mundane? Or worse still paltering with the truth. What is truth when one is flooded by so many perceptions of it, fanned vigorously by viral social networks?
If this had happened, would it have made a difference to what the grocer boy did in a crowd?