Train Diaries: This photo project captures the spirit of women in Mumbai's local trains

Anushree Fadnavis, a photojournalist, has a deep attachment to the local trains of Mumbai. She has also wanted to maintain a diary since she was little. Three years ago, she combined these two passions, and thus was born ‘Train Diaries’, a photo-project which she carries out on her Instagram account. It seems like a mosaic of different faces in train compartment at first. But upon closer observation, one notices that each of these faces also has its own personality, documented with just as much detail.

What does she find so alluring about trains? Anushree says that her fascination with Mumbai’s locals stems from her memories attached to them, right from childhood. She says that every time she sees young children playing in the train or college students finishing assignments, she is reminded of herself.
“It’s like seeing life go by, like nostalgia,” she says.

Zainab, an 8th standard student, poses for a picture in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. I saw her dress and was intrigued. I loved it. So I asked her to pose because it was getting so lost in the crowd. She was with her mom. Arwa ,Zainab 'S mom, was OK with me taking her picture. I explained my project to her and she understood why I am documenting the stories. Arwa and her daughter rarely take the trains. Today they traveled from south Mumbai to North after around ten years. They are not quite used to the crowd and rush. Zainab is a very sweet kid and read really bubbly. Arwa told me that kids love to wear such dresses with cupcakes, donuts and pencils because it makes the dresses more appealing to kids. #traindiaries

A post shared by Anushree Fadnavis (@anushree_fadnavis) on

Another reason for her choice of the train as a backdrop is that her subjects, who are her co-passengers, share their stories with her. She finds that she relates to many of these personal histories. She has witnessed hope, despair, aspirations and dreams in the compartments of these trains, which is why she likens them to the city of Mumbai itself. Anushree also fears that there is a chance that these trains may not exist a few years later; that they may be replaced by other trains or an alternate mode of transport. This is why she documents the life in these trains in an attempt to ensure that the stories last forever. The entire project has been shot on her phone camera. She finds that when people see “big” DSLRs, they get very conscious. Some of them even get skeptical about how she will use these pictures. She says that she prefers taking candid photographs, but that she does occasionally ask her subjects to pose. “I just walk up to them and tell them that I find them interesting. Just yesterday, I saw a girl with an unusual tattoo on her back. It was the line, 'And miles to go before I sleep', which is from one of my favourite poems by Robert Frost. The girl told me that this was her aunt’s favourite poem, and that she had lost this aunt to cancer,” Anushree narrates. She perceives local trains as having a culture of their own, characterised by the lack of adequate space combined with the large number of people present in them. It is the crowds at rush hour that bring out the true nature of her subjects. “During rush hour, I have observed a well-dressed lady who you might think is also well mannered, fighting it out. Another lady who you may think is sweet might actually try to kick you. A third, who you may perceive as being snobbish, might ask you to scooch so that she gets some place to sit,” she explains. It is these interactions, this understanding of mindsets and their observance that she finds wonderful. 

Anushree has a very romantic way of looking at the local train culture. “In the train, everything is welcome and everything is also hated, but with love,” she says. She attributes this to the little things, such as the fact that it is a norm for friends to hold seats for each other, to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and to share sad and happy stories. She has also observed women in trains dance, fight aggressively and forge friendships that last a lifetime.

When asked if she focuses more on capturing moments, visuals or a story, Anushree says that it is a mix of the three. “Finding a moment in everyday life, in the randomness, is always exciting. You can always recreate everything, but it is that “moment” which life offers to you that is irreplaceable,” she says. She adds that a moment which contains a story is the best.

Scroll through her feed, and you will notice that there are quite a few photographs of transgenders, who often board trains to bless passengers, who give these transgenders money in return. She finds that most of the transgenders she has spoken to are very sweet and humble. Some don’t trust her, while others are very open. “I think it will take me a while to understand them and make them accept me,” she says. She wants to showcase how brilliant they and their stories are.

“Asking for money in the train has become more of a business for some of them. Others have even exploited it. When I ask them what if they were offered different job options, some reply by saying that they would love to explore such options. But most are really comfortable with this type of livelihood,” she explains. They claim that they are able to make more money by begging in train, which is why they would rather continue with this rather than work somewhere else.

Rupali wipes her friend, Shruti 's eyes when she broke down emotionally in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. Rupali had a verbal fight with another lady commuter . It was almost a war of words where both were not ready to let go but Shruti intervened and convinced Rupali to back down. Rupali told me that Shruti never ever gets into a fight and she's calm as a person. Shruti got emotional and broke down after the fight stopped. I could understand why she cried . It's just that sometimes all that some people want is harmony in life and when some people try to upset it you can't take it. I am not saying that's the reason why she cried but sometimes it's okay to cry and just let go off all the frustration. I have cried too sitting in the corner of the train . And found solace in the strangers around me. Sometimes you will find peace in letting go. #traindiaries

A post shared by Anushree Fadnavis (@anushree_fadnavis) on

“There are men who dress up as eunuchs and board trains; these are men who have found an easy way of making money. Some transgenders are also engaged prostitution; unlike the former type, they like to keep a low profile,” she says. They speak to her, but when she requests them to pose for a picture, they refuse. “The pictures of these women may be mere portraits, but if you look close enough, they tell you a lot.

Through these pictures, I want to show the humans behind the label that is put on them," says Anushree. Train Diaries has introduced Anushree to countless women over the course of three years. “I have realised that women who travel everyday for work, business or any other purpose are really strong… Some women have such a big heart, they will accept you as their own,” she says. One of her most cherished memories from this project is when she was invited to be part of the going-away party thrown for a woman who would stop taking a particular train that started at Malad every day. When it comes such trains, it is common for groups of people to board the same one day after day, and as an inevitable consequence, they end up becoming friends. Anushree became part of one such group.

Rupali wipes her friend, Shruti 's eyes when she broke down emotionally in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local train. Rupali had a verbal fight with another lady commuter . It was almost a war of words where both were not ready to let go but Shruti intervened and convinced Rupali to back down. Rupali told me that Shruti never ever gets into a fight and she's calm as a person. Shruti got emotional and broke down after the fight stopped. I could understand why she cried . It's just that sometimes all that some people want is harmony in life and when some people try to upset it you can't take it. I am not saying that's the reason why she cried but sometimes it's okay to cry and just let go off all the frustration. I have cried too sitting in the corner of the train . And found solace in the strangers around me. Sometimes you will find peace in letting go.

Days later, she happened to meet the woman for whom the party was thrown, in a train. She had worn her hair down, and the woman offered to braid it for her. Anushree agreed, and in the process of getting her hair braided, she learnt that this woman had lost her daughter in an accident. “She had a son, but maybe she missed her daughter. Maybe she would have liked to braid her hair, like she braided mine,” she said.


Published Date: Apr 02, 2017 10:46 am | Updated Date: Apr 02, 2017 10:46 am



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