Saturday, July 11, 2009
MUMBAI LOCALS AND CHAOS THEORY
I remember coming across the concept of Chaos Theory in ‘Jurassic Park: The Lost World’. I was just finishing my Eleventh standard, a juncture I remember quite vividly as it was then that I developed a platonic interest in Mathematics (Platonic for surely so…I don’t want to elucidate on that). I might be roiling miserably under the incomprehensible burden of Permutation and Combination and integral calculus, but my mind, it seemed, was oriented for something higher. I was fascinated with advanced mathematical concepts such as this. And who better to clear my fog-shrouded mind with knowledge on this matter than Pinakida. I still remember, when I went to him, he placidly showed me a traffic that was furling into a jam and then unfurling in some unbelievable way, without colliding with each other. He told me that’s chaos theory-‘a sensitive dynamical system which manifests itself as an exponential growth of perturbations in the initial conditions, making the behaviour to appear random’. In other words, there’s a natual semblance in a chaotic process. I stay in Mumbai. For every ordinary Mumbaikar, the local train is the lifeline. People travel long distances, and somehow manage to reach destinations in time simply because of मुंबई उपनगरीय रेल्. Now, if you look at a regular station on one fine morning, you’ll see platforms cramped with people as all of them prepare to take the train. From a distance you’ll find three rows along the length of the platform, a gap in between, and then another two rows. The lacuna’s because they are thoughtful enough to keep a space for new entrees to walk through without bumping into someone. When you’ll place yourself in close proximity with the crowd, trying to go through the process yourself, you’ll suddenly witness a peculiar phenomenon. From the time of the building-up of the crowd till the moment the train reaches the platform, you’ll find a congenial crowd happily interacting with each other, like companions. But the moment the train enters, there is a noticeable change in their behavioural pattern. The genial crowd suddenly turns hostile, with each person vying with the other to enter the bogey first so that they can seize a seat before anyone else. And all hell break loose (an apparent realization in the first instance) when the train slows down. Those a little more able than others, jump into the bogies. The rest of the crowd narrows down like the tapering edge of a funnel to enter through the door, and running along with the moving bogey at the same time. When the train comes to a halt, the rout gives way to four-five frenzied people at a time who get stuck on the threshold, tug their bodies to release from the clutch of the pack, and then run for seats. When the initial frenzy is over, you’ll find the last two rows jumping on to the train to find a suitable place to stand. When this process is done with, a few lurking foxes would leap onto the foothold of the doorway at the last instance and hang somewhat precariously while the train resumes its journey towards Churchgate. Now, the purpose of this description is to bring forth the strain of verisimilitude in it. For you’ll see that throughout this entire chaotic process, not one soul being taken to the grave for slipping underneath the tracks, or some hanging bloke getting smacked to a post. And, most importantly, when the train deserts the platform, if you look back, you’ll see nothing more than two or three urchins sitting in a far corner, and a few stray dogs sniffing around.