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My Mute Commute In Singapore

My Mute Commute In Singapore

April 09, 2011

A little chaos is not necessarily a bad thing is it?

After years of jumping queues and waving down dangerously careening rickshaws (which tend to stop 5 millimetres away from my Bata-clad feet) and hopping off slow moving trains in India, one develops a sort of thirst for a daily quota of excitement. And if one does not avail of this quota daily, then things can get stifling. This is the reason why my predictable everyday train commute to my office in Singapore has me breaking into the emotional equivalent of hives.

Symptoms include excessive staring at the expressionless faces of fellow-commuters, development of an annoying tic which makes me to want to elbow someone for the heck of it, and a few strangled cries escaping my throat to keep out that very loud, pin-silence inside the train.

I climb up the stairs to the platform, looking left and right, usually encountering the side-profiles of my fellow-passengers. Determined and purse-lipped profiles of commuters going about the noble task of taking that train and getting to office with no 'hanky panky' in between. Lest the little misadventure makes the day more interesting.

People either look straight ahead or down depending on whether an Apple product is on their person or not. IPad, IPod or IPhone - take your pick.

I stand patiently at the platform, waiting for the train to chug in slowly. Actually the train zooms onto the platform and stops with an efficient whoosh of the automatic doors. People step inside with minimal fuss. My tic to toss in an elbow or knee (for old times’ sake) gets worse. Empty seats are grabbed with a socially permissible amount of rudeness. No desperate lunges and war like cries as in India. Just the smart, rapid click of heels and ever so slight nudges with one's bottom to oust out any competition. To sum it up, nothing which is going to give a nasty little bruise or scratch to show for the next few days.

Once the initial settling of one's posterior on a seat or against the walls is done with, Steve Jobs worthy army of I-gadgets are retrieved out of pockets and bags. People plug in their headphones and plug out of life. SILENCE. Deafening, painful silence. Periodic whooshing of the doors at each station. The low hum of someone's Race Car meeting ending with a virtual crash, and that's it.

I am usually the only inquisitive person around and I take in all the sights – Ooooh… nice nail art on her feet, Gosh that's a cute baby...

So while others touch their IPhone screens with a vengeance, sliding and poking and typing, I sit and smirk at the gentleman beside me who is staring at Megan Fox on his phone screen when a few feet away, right opposite him sits, well not Megan Fox, but someone good enough. Sigh! It’s virtual versus real world now. Singapore trains - where an eve-teaser dare not enter.

On crowded days in the train, I am often sandwiched between the glorious fumes of Chanel perfume and the satiny smoothness of a Gucci handbag. Now this change is one I don't mind. I DO NOT miss the days where I had to make tough choices in Indian public transport. Either to be bullied into the sweaty armpits of the Fat Lady with the paan-stained lips or be 'Hai Saaaaxy'-ied into the groping arms of yet another hormone raging chappie.

On the contrary, men here go to extreme measures to ensure arms and legs do not touch. Long-limbed gentlemen have been known to curl themselves into various gymnastic poses to avoid such a situation. A refreshing change. And one for which I am grateful.

But the emotional thirst for some action always remains. And some days I get just that. I hear someone joking loudly, a guffaw of unbridled laughter, the cheerful sound of a slap on a friend’s shoulder and my head snaps so fast to find the source of this distraction. And more often than not, I find myself looking into the merry eyes of another Indian. We exchange a silent 'Hello there'. On such days I am glad. The quota has been filled.

: This post is a slightly exaggerated version of the real commute. Of course, I don't climb stairs with expressionless commuters. I take the escalator with them instead! 


  • Lalit Nimodiya
    Lalit Nimodiya
    01.02.12 07:22 PM
    Really nice , I hardly see anyone here not playing with the cell phones
  • Imma
    02.08.11 11:09 AM
    Really funny! I am now a fan.
  • Maria
    10.04.11 08:01 PM
    @Vinny: Thank you Vinny and welcome to the NRI. Keep visitng, loving and sharing :)
    @Mary : Really, I never thought I would miss that aspect of India so much.
    @Barnaby: Oh Yes! Indians here still got the kick in them. They just never get the chance :( Even I am morphing into one of the zombies. In fact, one of my favourite pictures of you in FB is you on at train with a friend. The wind-swept hair, the freedom to hang out of the door like that - it embodies the Indian spirit completely :)
    @theReader: Thank you TR. And sorry to inform you my World Cup madness has subsided and I am no longer under the mania that is cricket.
    @Vyanks: Nothing evah beats it my friend.
    @Priya : Hehe..I know I don't miss those deliberate fall-ers but the vibrance and energy that I miss so bad!
  • priya
    10.04.11 11:47 AM
    Wow...such a welcome change from the Indian transport scenario. Here in Mumbai travelling is a pain. More so if you are travelling in a bus, people keep falling on you!! Deliberately ofcourse...
  • Vyankatesh
    10.04.11 11:26 AM
    Interesting read :-)

    Maybe nothing can beat the train travel in urban India, whatever the complains be!!
  • theReader
    09.04.11 09:39 PM
    Excellent article!

    On a different note, "About the author" on the right column hints Kerala as your home. Isn't kerala green, then why is the new IPL Kerala team "Kochi Tuskers" in orange-purple :D

    Congratulations on first match, good target set by kochi tuskers 161. Now it's blore's turn to bat...good luck!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    09.04.11 09:31 AM
    Nice! This was part of the reason why I decided to leave Japan, where the trains are very much as you described them here. During commuter rush hour, you could be packed into a carriage with 300 other people and nobody would even be looking at each other, let alone talking to each other. Get in, eyes to the ground. I became like that myself.

    Not so in India. I'm glad to hear similar interaction is still present between Indians in the more sterile railway environments of the world.

    Also, "or be ‘Hai Saaaaxy’-ied into the groping arms of yet another hormone raging chappie" - brilliant!
  • Mary
    09.04.11 06:38 AM
    Love this blog and cud identify with most of what u say though we don't have such trains here in Fort McMurray Canada but I identify with ur experience.
  • Vinny Lohan
    Vinny Lohan
    09.04.11 06:25 AM
    Just started reading the-nri.. Can't get enough of your articles!! Love em.. Keep em coming :)

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