June 11, 2010

Books Travellers Read in Mumbai Locals – Part III

Continuing with my series, this is PART III of my ongoing attempt to note the books my fellow travellers read in Mumbai local trains on their way to work and back.

Most book readers on Mumbai local trains will at some point give up on reading and pull their noses out of their books when the jostling gets too heavy each time the train halts at a station to ‘welcome’ more travellers, and instead prefer to close the book and reach for the overhead hand-hold to keep from being swept away in the oncoming rush. Each hand-hold might’ve been meant for one but that has never stopped more hands from clinging to it. If there's no wriggle space left in the hand-rest I reach for the bar above.

If you’ve tried to imagine what it must mean to a drowning man to be presented with a straw you need look no further than the hand-hold in Mumbai rush-hour local trains.

So you can imagine my surprise one day several years ago when I turned my head to find a short man hemmed in by five fellow travelers, including yours truly, yet oblivious to them all in the space he made for himself so he could carry on with reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Pushed from all sides equally helped him retain his balance.

I congratulated him on his effort, to which he smiled and said, “It's so good.” I nodded and smiled away. “Yes,” I said before adding, “Good enough to help survive the rush but not as good as The Fountainhead though.”

“I’ll be reading The Fountainhead next,” he said.

I was just out of high school when I first read The Fountainhead. The lot of us who chaffed under the rigour of conformity that’s the hallmark of schooling in India quickly developed a role model in Howard Roark and rallied around the possibilities his sense of independence, and commitment to charting his own stuttering way through the entrenched conformity of his profession, presented us with.

After The Fountainhead it was only natural that Atlas Shrugged passed hands. While I liked The Fountainhead more, a few of my friends plugged for Atlas Shrugged.

Squirming in the squeeze of the rush I turned my head to check the page he was on. Sensing my gaze he looked sideways at me and smiled. He worked in the paper industry, and if I recollect correctly the name was Ballarpur Paper Industries. The company has a presence in Mumbai and is known for the quality of its paper products. Before he got off the train he held up the book so I could take a picture.

Not everyone travelling on the local trains can or is inclined to make the effort the Ayn Rand fan made.

They’ll wait for some breathing space before they'll open their books to read, that is until they can release at least one hand from the support overhead, else like this traveler holding on to his copy of Mario Puzo’s The Family while hanging onto the support with both hands, they'll catch up with reading on the return journey if they get lucky with some reading space.

Mario Puzo is a regular among readers on the locals. His bestseller The Godfather was popular at one time. Now I do not see the book as often. It might have to do with television channels repeatedly running the film adaptation of the book. If it’s merely the story one is looking for then chances are few would pick up The Godfather after they’ve seen the film regardless of its merits. When talk turns to his bestseller, it is not the book that gets discussed but the film adaptation of the same. Francis Ford Coppola immortalized Vito and Michael Corleone. Like the Italian mafia, Bombay is about money.

A traveller once told me that Bombay runs on dalals, middlemen or brokers. And not surprisingly the Bombay Stock Exchange is located on Dalal Street.

My uncle once joked that Bombay runs on Vitamin M – Money. It is after all the commercial capital of India. Travelling to work by the local trains confirmed it for me. I first learnt the basics of the stock market from hearing Gujarati folks on the train discuss stocks, even conducting buying and selling over the phone while on their way to work. So when I saw a youth preparing to read Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I was in little doubt that here was someone who’s just joined the Network Marketing brigade for the Vitamin M the practitioners will most likely have promised him. Amway, Herbalife and the lot.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad
is the one book that Network Marketing recruiters invariably use to bolster their projections of earnings to convince potential recruits to come aboard their teams. The recruiters, most with a steady job already, are dreaded for their persuasive skills, and persistence. In most instances they’re someone you know, making it harder to find wriggle space.

I was handed Rich Dad, Poor Dad once. I returned the book without reading it and was honest about it. I felt guilty when the astonished Network Marketing recruiter asked me, “YOU DON’T WANT TO MAKE MONEY?” which sounded more like an accusation for insulting the Bombay spirit no less!

Travelling on the Mumbai local trains in rush hour traffic requires one to be prepared to fight one's way in through crowds hanging on for dear life at the entrance, so it’s rare that someone will smile at you if he is not a Network Marketer looking to build his team. Now I can spot one from the distance.

The potential recruit is often pursued to a Catch-22 situation!

Speaking of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, I’m surprised with the frequency I see it being read on the Mumbai local trains, its signature red cover calling attention to its presence. The readers are usually between 20 and 40 years of age.

The youth in denims reading Heller's masterpiece one travelling day had a seat by the window, his back to the motion of the train. Travellers lucky enough to find seating on rush hour locals usually prefer to sit in the direction of the motion of the train for the breeze. It can get unbelievably stuffy in the rush hour crush. He wore full sleeves, and was most likely employed in Marketing or tasked with a client-facing role at his place of work for, given a choice no one in his right mind would choose to turn up in full sleeves on the local trains. I couldn't help wondering if the book in his hand mirrored his work life.

For some strange reason, even though there’s very little resemblance between the main protagonists, I’m been reminded of Larry Darell from Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge each time I remember Yossarian on seeing a fellow traveller read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in the train. They were both airmen, and the war changed them both, but they figured in different wars – Larry Darell in WWI and Yossarian in WWII, and faced different dilemmas, and went about it differently. The closest I might come to explaining why might possibly have to do with Heller’s reason for naming the protagonist Yossarian, to emphasize that he, Yossarian, was cut from a different cloth from the uniform he wore. Still!

Long after I read The Razor’s Edge, its epigraph, a line from a verse in the Katha-Upanishad, still moves me. It read, The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.

Later, he inserted a bookmark where he'd stopped reading, closed the book and made his way to the exit. On the local trains, the exit and the entrance are the same.

When classes are in session college and high school students traveling on the local trains to their institutions, and poring over their textbooks at exam time is a common sight.

However it is uncommon to find professionals poring over Computer Programming tomes on rush hour locals, unless of course they’re heading for an interview at one of the many IT firms in the city.

I thought it likely that my fellow traveler, concentrating on C# Programming, was indeed heading for an interview. C# Essentials is quick reckoner.

Like with Ayn Rand’s works, books on chess are a rare sight on the local trains. In the crowded compartments travellers are too busy managing their time on the train in minimizing discomfort to self and fellow traveller while maneuvering their positions through human walls in ensuring their exit at their destinations to actually summon the energy required to make sense of complicated positions on the 64 squares. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a youth opposite me deep in thought in Techniques Of End Games In Chess.

He was seated so that helped him. It was a weekend. And that helped too. I had stepped into the compartment after being out on my feet for hours in Lalbaug to photograph the immersion processions winding their way through the formerly vibrant mill district that helped make Bombay into a powerhouse.

It’s years now since I last bent over a chess board in concentration. There was a time when I was in the reserves of my school chess team, waiting for opportunities to play the top board at Inter-school chess tournaments. I traveled as a stand-by with the team during chess tournaments while never really getting an opportunity to play the top board. No one fell sick on my team. So that was that.

Not once did the chess enthusiast lift his head from the book, not even when the train stopped to let passengers in. He sat in absolute silence, occasionally running his fingers down one side of his face before switching to the other side. Seeing him immersed in the end game techniques I floated back in time to when I first learnt chess from Soviet chess books that Vinayak had stocked in his pad after he left his brother’s residence on landing a job in a nearby town.

I was eight when I believe I first met Vinayak. Vinayak was the younger brother of my father’s colleague at work. His brother was married. But Vinayak was a bachelor, possibly just out of college.

He was lean, so lean that he actually hunched inwards when he walked, his bell-bottoms trailing behind him. His sideburns fell over his ear in the best tradition of the Bacchan look. He was an enigma, no less. He was known to be brilliant when he put his mind to a task. He barely spoke. No one knew what went on his head. At times I doubted if he did either. He was fair, sharp nose and all. After school I would find my way to his house, generally loafing around and looking over countless printed circuit boards and fancy looking electronic components that his brother used to build gadgets or repair radios and tape recorders. At the time he possibly had every EFY (Electronics For You) magazine that ever made it to print. He was a hobbyist, Vinayak’s brother that is. And at eight years I pretty much had a free run of their place.

A year or two later we moved town after Dad transferred in his job. Within two years of our moving town, Vinayak, now barely in his twenties, landed a job at a bank in the town we had moved to. I had turned eleven.

Twice a week I would pull away from playing Kabaddi or Cricket or any of the many games in vogue at the time and walk three kilometers to his pad to play chess, and back the same way.

Left to himself his home had embraced cigarette smoke like one would a long lost friend. Cigarette butts littered the room. On a plank he had hammered into the wall an unusually wide range of books on chess graced the wall. Most were of Soviet imprint. The only glossy books we ever saw in those days were the Soviet Woman and Sputnik. There was one other Soviet magazine I cannot quite recollect now. I think it was the Soviet Times.

Like a Master introducing a new recruit to a secret cult, Vinayak would open the books by turn and tutor me into chess openings, middle game play, and end game finishes. Tal, Spassky, Korchnoi were no longer alien names but active protagonists facing off with their opponents as we played their games on the board. Every once in a while, Vinayak would turn his head without taking his eyes off the board and drag deeply on his cigarette, his cheeks sinking to the bone, eyes narrowing to slits before his face momentarily disappeared behind a wall of smoke curling up lazily to the ceiling. He was never in a hurry with anything.

He rarely spoke, smiled often, and had a twinkle in his eye each time I fell for his piece sacrifice. He would throw up his hands if I attempted to reverse my moves. “No you can’t take it back. Think before you play a move.”

It would be some time before I learnt to resist his poisoned pawns, and even longer before I came around to the fact that it paid to defend my pawns, and that there’re rewards to be had in pushing them to the opponent's 6th rank, then to the 7th. And that it was important to look for opportunities to create passed pawns.

Learnings that did not lose their way in the smoke.

Note: Read PART I and PART II in my series noting the books my fellow travelers read in Mumbai local trains on their way to work and back, and sometimes on their way elsewhere around the city.

A Request: I started out photographing travelers reading books few years ago to build up sufficient numbers that could be converted into posts. I’m all for this concept and my series involving traveling readers pictured with their books being taken forward by others in their cities and I would appreciate it very much if you would note/credit and link back here if this inspired you to do a series or a variation of the series of your own.

Since this is a part of my larger India Book Project involving books and the reading people, I’ll be counting on the link-back for continued and further participation of new readers.

Related Posts in my India Book Project Series

1. Granthayan, A Mobile Book Store
2. Indian Copy


bobbie said...

It is amazing to me that so many are able to be so engrossed in their reading under such conditions. I don't think I could ever become a passenger on public transportation in India, let alone do so and be able to read on the way. It must take true devotion to the literature involved.

srinivas said...

Interesting posting with beautiful theme,good photos.

TALON said...

I love this series, Anil. And I love your way with words. I feel like I'm jostling along with you on the crowded trains, looking over your shoulder at what you're seeing.

It's neat that some people stick in our memories so clearly and have such impact on our lives --and our chess games :)

Roshni said...

this is a really really well written piece. I feel bad that I am not able to participate...I live in San Diego...a complete car city, so I don't get to see anyone riding a train/bus and reading!

Natasha said...

I am an Atlas Shrugged person myself. And I am glad you did not catch me surreptitiously reading "Confessions of a Lapdancer" on the local last week :-)

Anonymous said...

my fave series on your blog!
i prefer atlas shrugged too.
and what i find really interesting is how none of these train-readers wear glasses.
no contemporary novels/books being read, it seems. may be cos the younger lot or not picking it up?
and you deliberately don't take pics of women is it?
and last question -- are these taken on your mobile phone?

chica said...

Great post as always. Keep up with the series!

Anuradha Shankar said...

reading your series reminds me of the time i learnt crochet from the women in trains.... i spent more than 2 hours in the train everyday, and not a day was i bored... but never did i think of documenting them like you...... unfortunately, i no longer travel by trains, and when i do, it is usually on a holiday, so i really miss all those nameless women who taught me so many patterns....

radha said...

Strange to think that reading habits have not changed much over the years. This could well be my generation ( and it isn't!!) - Ayn Rand, Mario Puzo, Joseph Heller. When it is so difficult to find a hand grip, it is amazing to see them attempt to read.

Aakanksha Singh said...

This series of posts was really quite creative. Even I see and i myself read books in the train but it never crossed my mind to do something so innovative. But people reading in trains allows you to know about more books. Its a good way to market one's books!
I just wanted to know what is your purpose in publishing such a series? Is it for fun? or is there something you want to convey through these posts?

Abhishek Bhardwaj said...

I don't understand how could you take photographs in such a mess.
To complete a post it must take several runs of Mumbai Local ?

Bhagyashri said...

Nice post, reminded me of the time when I used to do the same, the reading i.e., while trying to hold on to the local train on two finger tips on my way from Ghatkopat to Dadar in the morning & back in the evening...imagine that! Too bad no one did a series back then otherwise it would have made a great pic I am sure :)

Niranjana (Brown Paper) said...

Nice, as always.

I wondered why you don't have photographs of women reading, and then realized you're in a males-only compartment. A companion post on what ladies are reading in their space would be really interesting--I wonder if there's any difference?

Bethany Rae said...

I love the quality of the books. Any of those readers could be first timers, looking to improve themselves by tackling something with intellectual substance. A lot of the time I think the things that most people read are indulgent and escapist.

Anil P said...

Bobbie: The public transportation in Mumbai, especially the local trains in rush hour, is intimidating to say the least.

Rush-hour traffic in public transport of most Indian cities makes for a 'crowded' experience.

Other times it is tolerable.

Very much so. It must take a dedicated reader to read in those circumstances.

Srinivas: Thank you.

Talon: Thank you. It's so encouraging to read how you feel about reading the post.

You're right. Some people sitck in memories even if one has had a chequered association with them. It cannot be easily explained.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati: Thank you.

True. The Car Culture in the USA can isolate residents from the community experience to be had as a commuter on public transportation.

I hope the Car Culture never becomes a reality in India.

It might not be a bad idea to visit Mumbai for a spell of local train travel and look around at the books some of the travellers read.

Rayna M. Iyer: Oh, did you? :-)

You might not get lucky the next time if any lady reader of the posts here decides to equip herself with a camera :-)

Ummon: Thank you :-)

Many do prefer Atlas Shrugged. I suppose I got taken up with the travails of Howard Roark.

Most of the readers do not wear glasses, only some do.

Actually I'm finding it interesting to corelate the faces and the books they're reading, or the faces of those who read v/s faces of those who do not.

Hardly anyone reads contemporary books. I wonder if it is the case of too many to choose from, or if it's the case of sticking with the tried and the tested, but then even the tried and the tested started out " untried and untested" when they first came out.

I think it is likely that many of the readers pictured in my book series must already've been 'subjected' to book culture at their homes growing up.

I travel to work in the Gents compartment, so no opportunities to photograph women reading in local trains.

But I doubt if I'd have photographed women readers of books even if I had the opportunity. The street space for streetside photo documentary has turned into a shrill space especially where it concerns the urban woman.

Chica: Thank you.

Anu: It must've been quite a community then. I suppose many of those tutoring lessons in Crochet will've converted to lasting friendships.

Radha: More than reading habits I believe it's the substance of the matter that has triumphed over time. As also the fact that those books had an unique writing style.

The writing was distinctive, unlike now when in the storm of books that typically chronicle the "self" as in tales of abuse, deprivation, and the like it's easy for some recent day books with old-time import to get lost.

But then when reading gets increasingly democratised, the culture of the reading class comes to be a determinant as well, as in the books that publishers will take on for the numbers they hope to achieve in sales.

Now I find the writing styles similar across books, like as if they've been editorialised by the same team working across geographies, and more importantly across cultures.

We will never know of the stories that find their way into the slush pile of contemporary publishing.

Anil P said...

Aakansha Singh: Thank you for the enthusiasm for the series.

I recently suggested (last week) the very same idea to a newspaper person, essentially telling them that a reader reading a book is its best advocate.

From as long as I can remember I've thrilled in the little things that make living so interesting, and fellow travellers reading books figures in it.

I'm hoping that this series will make some space for reading and books online so there're some nooks or corners that a surfer can retreat to when mainstream news and reporting as it exists now gets to be too much to cope with.

Am also hoping that this book series will highlight the tussle between a culture (book reading) and the availability of urban space or the lack of it, and will help make a light go off somewhere as in a shot over the bow of those elected to make policy decisions.

Abhishek Bharadwaj: Most times it's a challenge, sometimes it's not as difficult.

The challenge is not merely the crowds, though that is without doubt the hardest aspect of this exercise to negotiate. It's also getting a clear shot in the narrow windows when the train slows to a halt, and the halt as well.

Other times it's about the maneuvering required to get closer for the shot.

Bhagyashri: Thank you. I'm sure that had someone done it before it would've made for useful data to compare the reading and readership patterns across time in the city.

Niranjana: You guessed right. But I might've avoided photographing women reading books even if I had the opportunity. Too much urban paranoia fuelled around women and street photography.

I think the choices of books read in Ladies Only compartments on the Mumbai Suburban Rail Network will differ to a degree, and possibly be more diverse as well.

For starters I'm yet to see a Harry Potter book in the Mens compartment, though there's a possibility someone might've read it when I wasn't aboard at the time.

But I've seen college or school going girls carrying Harry Potter titles boarding the locals.

Bethany Rae: Absolutely. The quality of books is revealing. Many of them continue to feature in the reading fare of successive generations for their quality.

The second part of your reflection I've dealt to a degree in one of my earlier responses to one of the commenters.

Anjuli said...

Ah my favorite series back again :)- and with the full force of all the books. I loved how viewing what people were reading sparked a memory...the chess memory- I loved taking that journey with you!

Excellent post (as always)!!

Lynn said...

I always look forward to these posts so much, but am particularly thankful that I do not have to take a train that is that packed in with people. I did take our local metro train when I was attending school and I also enjoyed people watching - a great sociological experiment.

My book group read the "classic novel of our choice" last summer and I chose The Fountainhead. I am happy to hear that you liked it, too, and that it has so much impact on others.

Anonymous said...

thanks for tolerating all my qs, and answering them too. love this series. waiting for the next.

The Urban Cowboy said...

It would be pretty hard for me to do any kind of reading while feeling like a sardine. Awesome post.

Snaggle Tooth said...

Interesting blog you have- n good post. Such a crowded train ride! Many popular book titles spotted.
I don't think I could read with the train motion-
I learned how to play good Ping Pong at a mentors home after school when I was young. Lucky that you had a good teacher in Chess.
Thanks for your recent visit to ESR

Lucy said...

Glad I caught this latest post in the series. I specially liked the Vinayak/chess digression!

I was thinking about Ayn Rand today, as I was thinking about a nephew of mine who's a fan. I know very little about her, except a wary sense of association with American neo-Conservatism... I might find out more.

(The wooden pecking birds were great too. I heard somewhere they used to bet on the last one to peck!)

Riot Kitty said...

Hello from NYC, Anil! I love your public transportation reading chronicles. Most people here just listen to music.

mumbai paused said...

Secretly hoping that you will click me on a train, reading. That would be the best way to meet you.

Nimmy said...

While the narrations of people reading them books in the train are really nice (like the previous posts) I enjoyed reading about your nostalgic Chess-lessons and memories of Vinayak! Your writing style is endearing! :-)

Fire Byrd said...

There is nothing better than when stuck in a hot underground in London getting into a book and escaping for a short while.
My favourite book for doing this recently was Shantaram, a book about India.
BTW if you are interested in joining the beautiful world blog I'm trying to set up, contact me at pradapixie@hotmail.co.uk and I'll send you the details.

Anil P said...

Anjuli: Yes, the chess memory. I cannot recollect if there were Chess Clubs in Goa. Even if there were any I doubted if I'd have known of them.


Lyn: Thank you. It's really motivating to be told one is looking forward to these posts.

Nowhere in India do office-going commuters have to face the kind of rush hour traffic like those travelling in Mumbai local trains do.

Nice to know you liked The Fountainhead too. As a rebel of sorts, the character of Howard Roark will appeal to teens and post-teens.

Ummon: You're welcome. It was a pleasure replying to your Qs.

The Urban Cowboy: Thanks. It would be difficult to most, including me.

Snaggle Tooth: Thank you. Surprisingly, some titles have stood the test of time.

Since he was my Dad's friend's younger brother, and known me since I was a kid, he put up with my butting into his time to learn chess.

Lucy: Thank you. Well, he is in good hands with Ayn Rand. I liked the intensity she helped bring her protagonist, Howard Roark, to experience.

When young, it's quite a given to succumb to the appeal of the kind of rebelliousness of Howard Roark.

Riot Kitty: Thank you. Depends if the reading kind/class travels by public transportation.

Mumbai Paused: That might well happen :-)

Nimmy: Thank you. So many wonderful memories from back then. If only I had a camera growing up like kids now do!!

Fire Byrd: I agree. Books are ultimate.

Yes, Shantaram. I've seen the author who wrote Shantaram, in Bombay.

I could contribute in some fashion. Will mail you.

Shirley Sunman said...

what a great article. thank you for posting.

Luanne said...

What a neat idea Anil - I really enjoyed this post!!

karen said...

Hi Anil. Wow. I found the pics of the rush hour train travel made me feel quite claustrophobic and scared. It must be quite an experience! closest i have got to that is the London underground which is bad enough! It is a miracle how anybody manages to concentrate on reading in there - and how fortunate are those who manage to get a seat!!

Atlas Shrugged has been sitting on my bookshelf looking at me for years now, and for some reason I have just never taken the plunge.

Loved the story about the enigmatic Vinayak and your earlier years :)

Gauri said...

Ahhh perhaps the "Classics" just draw you to them ..you can't have enough till you read the last page and then only can you leave it in a state of both peace and contentment. :) Some of my fav books too

paris parfait said...

It's a wonderful thing to see so many people reading, despite the crowded environment. Interesting post!

Anil P said...

Shirley Dockerill: Thank you.

Luanne: Thanks.

Karen: It's quite an experience. My friends from the UK once took a journey by the crowded locals just so they could experience what they'd heard about so much.

It takes more than a strong heart to survive the daily grind on the Mumbai local trains.

Likewise Atlas Shrugged sat on my desk for long time too before I read it. The effect of The Fountainhead was just to strong for Atlas Shrugged to survive. Maybe if I were to read it now I might think differently of it.

There're more stories of Vinayak, all equally intriguing.

Gauri: Yes, not for nothing are they classics :-)

Paris Parfait: Yes, it's heartwarming really to see people read the books, even under such testing conditions. Thank you.

Amrita said...

I really must compliment you on this this idea of cataloguing books read on Mumbai local.This article made an immensely interesting read. I personally find trains and books quite inseperable. can't even imagine boarding a train without a book. But I am talking of long journeys. I do not have any experience of the Mumbai local yet.Its amazing to see people doing some "heavy" reading even in the midst of such apparant chaos. This only goes to show that our own attitude defines our circumstance.

Amber Star said...

Ahh.....hopefully you remember me and how much I love this part of your blog..the book part. Wow! I had to think back a bit for Catch 22. I remember the movie and probably read the book, but don't remember the book. That was during one of my odder periods. I read Ann Rynd and was really too young too understand it as it should be, I guess. Right now I'm reading a copy of Out of Africa. When I was working we would bring in books we no longer wanted and leave them on a table to take and leave. I'm enjoying the book so much more than the movie at this point. It is one of my favorite movies, too.

Vintage Reading said...

Brilliant post! I crane my neck to the point of rudeness to see what other people are reading! I love photos of people reading as they go about their day to day lives.

Anil P said...

Amrita: Thank you. Journeys and books, the periods in between when one will fold the book and look out the window at the scenery passing by, all part of travel, long travel that is, unlike the short durations of train travel to work.

Dedicated readers will need much more than chaos to put them off.

I doubt if they would start a new book in the chaos of Mumbai train travel, but having started it they will survive the chaos to complete the book.

Amber Star: Of I course I do remember.

I'm sure reading The Fountainhead now would bring on an entirely different perspective than when we first read it as teenagers.

I read Catch-22 while I saw Out Of Africa but never read the book.

I've avoided the movie based on Catch-22 after my disappointing experience with the movie based on The Old Man And The Sea.

But the film adaption of Out Of Africa was stunning for its visuals, and I doubt if I could imagine the visuals in the book the way the film portrayed it.

That reminds me of my friend who would carry copies of Sanctuary Asia, an Indian magazine dedicated to wildlife and environment, and leave it in public places after he had read them, so visitors to banks, or post offices, or even the Doctors' clinics could flip through them while they awaited their turn.

Vintage Reading: Thank you. That's one urge difficult to resist when one loves books and reading.

lotusleaf said...

A very interesting series. When I was in Mumbai recently, I saw a teenage girl engrossed in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, on the train. I found the book gripping too!

Unknown said...

i 'd devour books like a maniac when I travelled 12 kms to my workplace by bus - of course a far cry from the local train regulars of Mumbai !
I root for The fountainhead any day .And my copy of Catch 22 has Yossarian shoving a clenched fist in the air - an old edition - but the book is timeless isnt it ? Like the Razor's edge , which is my favourite Maugham .I see we share a few favourite books and authors :)

pink dogwood said...

I love this series. I have never read Atlas Shurugged - will add it to my summer reading.

How about a self portrait of what you are reading on the train :)

Anil P said...

Lotusleaf: Thank you. I haven't read the title you mention. I've a picture of a teenager reading a Harry Potter title while awaiting the local train on the platform. I'll be running it in one of the upcoming parts of my Books series.

Eve's Lungs: We sure do. Bombay local train book readers would gladly swap their reading experience in crowded trains for a seat in the bus.

Same here. And Pink Flyod with his We Don't Need No Education filtered into our group aboht the same time as The Fountainhead did, in high school. So I can imagine.

Looking back I think Yossarian's dilemma around Survival if you can call it that was universal, and hence timeless in a way.

The Catch-22 cover you mention is in the list of most Catch-22 covers collection displayed here.

At one time I had three copies of Maugham's The Razor's Edge, by different publishers.

Pink Dogwood: Thank you. A super read to have in the list.

Self-portrait? Am too busy photographing readers to read any books on the train myself :-) :-)

Rachel Fox said...

Really enjoyed the photos and the post. I too wondered why there were all men in the photo...didn't know you had men-only compartments in trains in India. Would it be stereotyping to say there is too much talking in the women's compartments to be able to read? Probably...and of course stereotypes are terrible things...

Thanks for visiting my blog. How did you get to me, I wonder...

Rachel Fox said...

Meant to say also...our newspapers are forever fretting about the death of the (paper) book. Not on these trains!

Haddock said...

Truly amazing.
What a write up and such wonderful candid photographs.

Unknown said...

Yes can hear the song playing in my head :)

Unknown said...

With all those arms and faces around me, I couldn't bury myself in a book. Plus the swaying and jolting from the train would give m motion sickness. But I'm amazed at how many people can pull out a book and read even if it's only for a couple of minutes and half a page. Good post!

Rachel Fenton said...

Rachel Fox - that's just what I was going to say! About the e-book absence! Ha..howd'you get here?

Anonymous said...

I did enjoy this. Thanks for sharing.

Best regards, Boonsong

JayaBidkar said...

Wow ...reading on the locals in Mumbai ... thats what I call adventurous. Thanks for sharing. This post is quite illuminative.

Anil P said...

Rachel Fox: Thank you. Maybe I did not state clearly. Actually there're Ladies Only compartments on the Suburban railway network that essentially connects key Bombay suburbs, and those outlying the city. There are no Mens Only compartments and men cannot enter Ladies Only compartments.

But women are free to board all compartments but will not dare to enter compartments that men are allowed to board, for the peak hour rush in those compartments can be a 'crushing' experience, difficult to survive.

Oh, no stereotyping at all. By themselves not all stereotypes are inaccurate :-)

I feel that like cliches, many stereotypes (applicable to both genders) have a basis in common patterns observed across geography and might well be true even if in varying degrees.

Actually women read a lot in the trains as well.

Out here, the newspapers are not as forthcoming about the demise of paper books. I think paper books will survive, they need to.

Haddock: Thank you.

Eve's Lungs: In my head as well :-)

Cate: Most people would not be able to. Those readers 'escape' the rush in between the pages of their books. Thank you.

Rachel Fenton: I'm yet to see an e-reader on the trains. I hope I do not see them anytime soon. There's just too much experience around the paper book in addition to the content.

Boonsong: Thank you for reading.

Jaya Bidkar: It sure is.

Rachel Fox said...

I think a British newspaper would love these photos by the way... they could go along with a story about the paper book NOT being endangered. If you wanted to try and place them anywhere else that is.

A New Beginning said...

Thats some research work that youve done...a very interesting post indeed!!!!!!

Anil P said...

Rachel Fox: Thank you. I would be open to the idea if they'd want to pursue the Paper Books Doing Well angle.

A New Beginning: Thank you.

Niamh B said...

A very interesting post Anil P, and the photos are brilliant. Looking forward to visiting here again!

What About The Girl? said...

I thought that was rather amusing!
Seriously though, I don't think I'd read the book either.
For now.

I have the The Godfather. And you are right. I never finished the book because I've seen the movie for the umpteenth time. It is my favorite trilogy after all.

Mirage said...

Superb post and I must commend u on ur observation! Books truly are our best friends, second to dogs, of course! :)

Anil P said...

Niamh B: Thank you.

TGF Cherry Blossom Street: Very much so. To many who've migrated to Bombay it is a question of If you're not here to make money, what are you here for, except that some might not want to take the Network Marketing route.

True of The Godfather. Any author signing away the rights to his book so a film can be made of it has to be prepared for his book not doing as well should the movie adaption turn out really well.

Mirage: Thank you. Sure, they are.

Coffee Messiah said...

Always interesting to see/read what commuting there is like.

Living in a rural area with no mass transit, you'll only see people reading at a coffee shop or ??!!


Gaspar Almeida said...

Very interesting blog.

Keep up the good work.

Anil P said...

Coffee Messiah: Mass commuting introduces the dynamics of space, and time into reading.

Back here, in urban centres especially, like Bombay, Delhi etc. coffee shops are identified with the chains Cafe Coffee Day and Barista. But I do not see much of book reading culture in these Coffee Chains, these are more of places for the youth to hang around or to bring their girlfriends for an evening out, or for meeting up.

But down South of India, outside of the aforementioned Coffee Chains, the Coffee or Kapi culture is strong, and you'll get to drink some of the best Coffee there, though the quality may not be consistent across outlets.

Gaspar Almeida: Thank you.

Manish said...

Very well written!!
Its amazing to see how people manage goin thru their books in local!but how did u took these pictures??

asian market girl said...

I think the filipinos are obsessed with eggs too

AjayD said...

Hey Anil, Fantastic Post!

I am for Fountain head, though I enjoyed every book by Ayn Rand.No one reading Gujarati, Marathi or Hindi Books? Inclusion of these readers will make it even more interesting!

ajay : )

Anil P said...

Manish: Thanks. A bit of luck, and a bit of perseverence :-)

AMG: I'm assuming you're referring to the subsequent post on eggs.

Ajay: Thanks. Most of us would go for The Fountainhead.

Commuters reading Marathi books are not as common, only a few. Have been waiting to get sufficient pictures before I include Marathi book readers as a part of the series. Have some pics already.

Alexandra said...

Honestly, just looking at those pictures makes me feel panicky. I could not be so close to so many people every day like that.

I just could not.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled across this blog. I love reading in trains! I many others doing the same. There are a few people though who react really violently to people reading in the compartment though most of us stay out of the way. Also, I think it's less offensive to fellow travelers than the Bhajan singers. I once saw someone reading a L. Ron Hubbard book, you see all types it seems!

Unknown said...

Nice post. I am wondering how did you managed to click the photo especially the 1st one.

One thing i didn't understand is how the people are reading in these heavily packed locals.

Is it their love for literature or the fast pace of the city which leaves them with a minimum time for reading?