India - Weekend Outing: Victoria Terminus

On my way out of Crawford Market the street chaos proved overwhelming, too. I elected to just start walking along the sidewalk because at this point I know how to do that better than I know how to safely cross 6 lanes of traffic for which stop lights are merely suggestions. I didn’t know where precisely I was going but I knew to head south and find a less congested spot to then hail a cab.

Did anyone catch that last part, find a less congested spot? Evidently I was having an out of body experience then and now because hello! This is Mumbai. Everywhere is congested.

Eventually I dodge some cars, cross the street, and end up on a busy but vendor-free sidewalk. I march along, trying to take in what’s around me but also trying very hard to not look vulnerable. My charming husband comes to mind. To borrow a phrase he yells while watching UVa football, I command myself to “act like I’ve been there before” and display a sense of (manufactured) confidence. In a few minutes’ time I settle down. I relax my pace and just take it all in.

While walking under a colonnade there is a sign across the way that catches my eye. “Support Day Care for Street Children.” In this same shot I manage to capture India’s version of the Ford Crown Victoria, the Ambassador. As you can see, this white car could be a stand-in for some 1940s period flick and yet this one probably just came off the line not more than a year ago. The Ambassador was designed and built specifically to withstand traffic collisions as it ferried higher class passengers around town. With newer, lighter, and yet safer models coming out of the rest of Asia I’m told this car faces obsolescence.
Back to our story.

About 10 minutes have passed since I departed Crawford Market and I am still not sure where I want to blindly lead myself next but I did plan on seeing Victoria Terminus at some point. And then I look to my left and see trains! Well, color me thrilled! I’ve somehow managed to get myself to the train station. You would think the sounds of trains would have clued me in but the street noise completely drowns out almost everything else.
Two or three steps up from the sidewalk you’re now in the main train shed. People are everywhere, trains are arriving and departing every two minutes, I see the “ladies” compartments and hundreds of handles dangling from train car ceilings.

Incoming trains have men hanging out the doors, partially due to overcrowding and partially because no one wants to wait the extra 1.5 seconds to disembark after the train has come to a full and complete stop. I wonder how these people respond to operator instructions at roller coaster rides? Amid all of this I’m suddenly very at ease. I’m not sure what it is about foreign train stations but they always feel rather familiar with and carry of whiff of romance. This one is no exception. In fact, at this point I have another moment of déjà vu.

Six years ago, on my 24th birthday, I found myself in London’s Victoria Station, exploring the city on my own. Fast forward to today and here I am again, in a train station and one that is modeled on London’s Victoria Station, to boot. Ahhhh. Now I can really act like I’ve been here before!

My aimless walking takes me through the main waiting area and past people with picnics on the ground, multiple babies on hips, and everyone – for once – seeming so preoccupied with their own business that no one puts a hand out as I walk by. It’s delightful. Am I nasty for saying that? Maybe, but it is downright exhausting to constantly fend off beggars while trying to be polite but stern, sympathetic but on guard.

Eventually I exit out through metal detectors and muffle a small laugh. I waltzed into this place off the street with absolutely no supervision. Should you choose a different door, however, you go through metal detectors. And yet the metal detectors are also unsupervised. Are they there as 21st century design features, providing technological contrast to the rest of the 19th century building? Kind of a fun hypothesis but really, who knows? Has anyone considered shifting some of the labor force off the Sea Link toll booths and over to Victoria Terminus? This train system transports 6 million people a day (that’s more than twice the population of Chicago, y’all) so there’s no shortage of bodies to scan.

But I digress, again.

I reach the arrivals taxi zone and kindly ignore the many cab drivers willing to take me wherever I need to go. Call me experienced or jaded, I don’t so much care, but I bypass all of them and their anticipated 300% fare mark ups. It’s not the expense but it’s the hassle of schmoozing that I don’t want to deal with. A foreign woman fresh off the train? Surely she must want to go shopping and I, your cab driver, am happy to spend all day driving madam around to the best places, which only I know where they are (wink wink).
So a block or two away from the station I hail a taxi and head back to the hotel. I feel I’ve met my cultural quota for the day and decide it’s time for my inaugural lounge session at the pool. This taxi driver is lovely and takes me to my destination quickly. I’m starting to get the hang of this taxi business.

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