Life in a metro

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Like the city’s lifelines…

I wonder how Lahore will change if it gets as cool a metro train service as Delhi.

The construction of the Delhi Metro began in 1998. In 2012, the subway system has 200 trains running on 190km of tracks daily from 6am-11pm, carrying around 1.8 million commuters every day.

The Metro has changed the way we Delhiwallas tackle our city. The Capital has arrayed itself into a rainbow of lines – red, yellow, green, blue, violet and orange. The pillars under the elevated Metro tracks serve as landmarks and, on occasion, as a guiding system for lost sheep, e.g. “Haven’t reached yet? Just follow the Metro, and turn left at pillar No. 125. The wedding venue is right opposite.”

The Metro track also marks the boundary between stifling tradition and relative liberty. At least one Bollywood film (Dilli 6) has documented that the modestly dressed girls of Old Delhi fling off their veils as the train leaves the Chawri Bazar station.

That the Metro is convenient for more than just commuting became evident in 2011 when a management student launched MetroMates. The website helps travellers find love on the tracks. “The idea of MetroMates came when I noticed people staring at each other, wanting to strike up conversations but not knowing how to do it,” said Sameer Suri, 25, who started the dating service. It has more than 8,000 registered users.

In the old days of getting from A to B, Delhi’s Blueline buses were romantic only in films. In real life, they were dreaded for rash driving, overcrowding, jostling and groping. Usually, if a girl locked eyes with a man on the bus, it meant she was glaring at him.

Anayana (name changed on request), who commuted in buses during her college years, told me: “I looked ugly on buses, but look like a babe on the Metro. You also smell better. You reach on time and have fewer fights with your boyfriend.” Praising the anonymity of the Metro, she said, “If I’m spotted with a boy in an autorickshaw or on a bus, I might be in trouble. But if I’m seen talking to my lover on the Metro, I can always say I met a friend on the train.”

The malls and multiplexes in the vicinity of Metro stations have become popular meeting points for people in love. Some action can also be spotted right inside the coaches. It is far from unusual to see youngsters holding hands, whispering into each other’s ears and sometimes even embracing. A TV ad for a toothpaste has a couple pretending to kiss in what looks like a Delhi Metro compartment. A discreetly shot YouTube clip that shows a pair kissing each other on the Metro has received more than 1,00,000 hits. Smooching is still an extremely rare sight on the trains though.

“The daily proximity and exposure to each other helps build a relationship, which could bloom in an office café, a college canteen or on the Metro train that you catch daily at 10 am from Rohini,” said Samir Parikh, chief psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, a premium hospital in Delhi. “The Metro is air-conditioned, more comfortable, and has commuters from all walks of life, which makes it easier for you to find someone like you.”

Ex-radio jockey Rochie Rana, 31, made a friend in March last year when she took a train from the posh Saket. “This American was sitting next to me. I was reading a Murakami, which gave me a good excuse to banter with him (‘Have you read Kafka on the Shore?’). Soon, we started traipsing the city together.” In this too the Metro helped them. “We regularly met at the Nehru Place station, where we would stand in front of the Metro route map. He would put his finger randomly on some spot and we explored it that day.”

Priya Bhattacharji, a 24-year-old brand consultant is practised in what she calls “passive interaction with good-looking boys”. She told me, “In the underground stretches, it’s dark outside the windows, so you stare at all the eye candy. They know I’m looking, but – and this is the best part – these boys don’t make me feel self-conscious.”

Every night, Anayana gets down at the Noida Sector 15 station. If she is late, she calls her father as the train reaches Yamuna Bank, four stops from home. “I don’t want to think of the day when I would have to tell mummy-papa about my boyfriend,” she says, waiting for the home-bound train at Rajiv Chowk.

As the train arrived, the recorded voice announced, “Please mind the gap.” The doors opened. Anayana got in. The train pulled out.

Friends, next time I’m in Pakistan, let’s meet at MM Alam Road metro station.

Mayank Austen Soofi lives in a library. He has one website and four blogs. The website address: thedelhiwalla.com. The blogs: Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, Reading Arundhati Roy and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos

2 COMMENTS

  1. I visited India for the first time from London to attend an International conference. I stayed three nights in Delhi. I loved Connaught place and its atmosphere. I also had an opportunity to take metro from Connaughts; to somewhere near Qutub minaret. I was pleasantly surprised to see modern clean and user friendly trains, The stations were brilliant. Pakistan should learn lesson how Delhi has tackled its commuter services. Delhi has efficient modern fleet of buses for commuters as well.

  2. There was so much to relate and the writing was very eloquent too. Looking forward to reading more of these snippets in the life of a Delhite.

    Love from Lahore

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