"I've got us tickets for first class," my colleague said at Mumbai's Churchgate station. "And I'll try and find a train that is not too crowded." There was no such luck.
The commuter trains of Mumbai hold several records. One, surely, relates to the number of fatalities. While more than seven million passengers ride these rattling, overcrowded trains every day, every year at least 3,000 people are killed. Many fall off as they cling to the edges of doors, others are flipped out one side of the train as passengers surge in from the other.
There are separate cars for women and the disabled, but the only difference between first and second class is the price of the ticket; so while second is madly, hideously squeezed, first is a mere crush.
As we set off, I stood near a door, gripping a steel bar. I'd assumed that as the stations rumbled past – Grant Road, Lower Parel, Elphinstone Road – things would ease up. But, no. People pushed past others in their way. Yet there was no sense of aggression; people knew that to make it back to their homes in the suburbs they simply had to get on.
You could easily spot the regulars. They clung to the chrome handlebars and shut their eyes. One man, obliged to perch in an uncomfortable position, was somehow managing to read a legal document.
Mumbai's roads are a scrum, so for most people there is little alternative to the commuter trains. Relieved when our station, Vile Parle, rumbled into view, I leapt on to the platform with a spring in my step.