In the note that introduces I Take This Train Too, Cyrus Daruwala writes 'Hello stranger. We are your fellow passengers. To make your journey as regrettable as possible, we will display characteristics and behaviour that is more suited to institutions that administer strait jackets. So hop on, and keep a firm grip on your sanity.'
While pages have been dedicated to Mumbai's fastest mode of transport, Daruwala's I Take This Train Too pays an ode to the 'Mumbai Local locals'. His experience of over a decade, trudging along in the train, prompted Daruwala to sketch out the typical characters that one is likely to encounter in their daily commute. The result – 35 eccentric personalities like Dada, Devotee, Glutton, Sleepwalker, Loudspeaker and Socialite. Daruwala says that the idea for the book literally came about in his daily travel between Andheri and Churchgate. Daruwala would sit in a corner of the train and sketch certain characters, until it struck him how unique they were to the train system. “In terms of character development, there was a lot of fodder from the trains itself.”
The idea started as a small project for Filter Press, the advertising agency where he works and also the publisher, but as it grew more and more in scope, they decided to bring out a book. Finances for the publishing were also raised through crowdfunding platform wishberry. “Crowdfunding made a lot of sense on many levels because we could recover a lot of our printing costs before we even printed the book and also presell copies,” he says.
A map in the beginning of the book separates the city's areas by way of color coding which Daruwala terms 'delineation through unspoken social strata'. There's the elitist South Bombay, the suburbs and even Trombay and Thane. “There are so many different worlds within Mumbai as opposed to other cities..it's so multifaceted that I thought it'll be interesting to break it up,” he explains.
All hail the trains
With eight years of copywriting experience behind him, Daruwala knew just what it would take to keep character descriptions succinct, sarcastic and zany. The Litterbug, for example, where Daruwala writes 'Isn't it repulsive when people chuck their trash in those ugly garbage bins? It should be criminal to shove all that waste into one plastic box when there's an entire city that's filled with empty spots. Those hippies clearly don't understand how plastic is biodegradable.'
The short, snappy description of each character is supplemented by a striking caricature, done by Daruwala himself. “Besides being an advertising copywriter, I have this other side to me, which is cartooning,” he smiles.
Besides the description, every personality has a key talent.
Sample this: Dada.
Key talent: Picking nose/fights.
Description: YOU THERE, YOU TALKING TO ME? I don't like the way you're looking at the view from my window seat. If you have a problem, we can always take it outside. Inside the train is good too. Yup, my daddy never loved me and it's all your fault.
When asked about his favourite character, Daruwala is hard-pressed to pick. “I definitely love the Starer. I think I've captured his devious sort of gaze perfectly. And the rosebud lips to accentuate the perverseness,” he laughs before adding, “I also love Wet Wet Wet. I think he resembles me sometimes because he perspires a lot.”
The ladies, please
Interestingly, Daruwala has also given prominence to the kind of women one sees in the ladies compartment. While he mentions in the beginning of the book that there is a greater representation of the male gender, he slips in a note of caution for feminists-would-be about how he dismissed all thoughts of disguised espionage when he though about jail time and social ostracism. “Since I had obviously not travelled in the ladies compartment, except as a child, I didn't think about including them. However, my wife convinced me how important a part they were of the trains too,” he states.
So there's the Feigner who loves drama; the Judger, a bespectacled old woman assessing the behaviour of young girls and the soul sisters. Amongst the ladies, Daruwala is partial to 'Fishy', the Mumbai fisher-woman whose key talent is to induce sea sickness.
The book ends with handy phrases in English, Hindi and Marathi that commuters use like dhakka mat maar and gappa bas and I was here first. Iconic symbols at every station like the now defunct weighing machine and the food stalls are also mentioned in the book. Daruwala gets nostalgic about the phasing out of the weighing machine when he says, “They were a part of our childhood and it's very sad to see them lying unused at one corner. I thought it'll be good to remember them through the book.”
There's also a picture of a man getting his shoe polished where the polisher and the man seem to be sharing the same thought – how dull the other's life must be. Daruwala clarifies, “ I think they're so unrecognised at every station. They work so hard and for so little but at the end of the day, it's a profession so I thought this perspective was interesting.”
A quick read, Daruwala says that the book is like a collectible and a lot of people have bought it for gifting to others. When asked about the response he's gotten so far, Daruwala beams, “It sounds self-serving but it's been incredible. Everybody who read it loved it. In fact, I went to a friend's house recently and she introduced her mother-in-law to me who had read the book. She was so happy that she gave me a hug and said she loved my book. That made me feel awesome.”
(I Take This Train Too is available at Filter, Title Waves and the Art & Design Book Store. You can write to email@example.com for couriered copies.)