For the first time in Delhi, I feel comfortable. I have felt comfortable in other cities in India where I have lived, because I have lived alone and had complete freedom to move about as I wish, but somehow Delhi has escaped my favor. Until now. In every trip before this, I have been entirely dependent upon others to get around (not that I’ve ever needed to go places on my own before, but still I’ve always been a “minor”). This lends to the feeling that I am not at home, I am a guest, and need to be taken care of. This time, though, the Delhi Metro was available for my use (there is a stop just two minutes’ driving distance from Shilli Uncle’s place). This brilliant piece of technology is a wonderful addition to the available means of transport in Delhi thus far. It is fast, efficient, and its stops are located in the most prime spots throughout the city.
Delhi is huge! My first solo trip in the Metro was a trip from Noida to Saket. I had to change at Rajiv Chowk, and I did not want to take chances. I am very familiar and comfortable with city rail transport systems (the “L” in Chicago, and the Tube in London), so I had a general picture of what I had to do. In its efficiency and speed, the metro definitely exceeded my expectations. I traveled from the Noida City Center stop to Rajiv Chowk without hassle, and was aware that I had to get off well in advance, not because I was looking at the stop list, but simply thanks to the announcements. The countdown timers that are present at each platform to indicate the time remaining before the next train arrives are perfectly accurate. The interior design of the train is also brilliant; it is very wide, with a few seats along each wall but most space for standing passengers. This is most useful in India because there are so many people that to make seats for everyone would be impossible. So they made provisions for standees and I respect that.
Another interesting feature of the Metro is the all-women’s compartment. This is usually the first or first two compartments on the train, and guards stand outside the doors at every stop so that only women can enter. I have heard stories of men entering and getting beaten up by women with their shoes in hand (even if they entered by accident!). I must admit, I nearly entered the women’s compartment by accident once during my first solo ride, but got yelled at by a guard in time. All he said was “EYYYY”, and even though at first I had no idea what he was yelling about (I thought that he was trying to tell me to be careful, since the doors were about to close, but they weren’t, so I was confused), I looked into the compartment and realized that I was the only guy, and it dawned on me that there was an all-ladies compartment. I have not seen this feature in any other public transportation service. Since this feature is so strong in the Metro, it makes for a reliable resource for women to travel, even by night. I was impressed with the overall layout and execution of the Metro system; it is a very nice addition to the city.
The people on the Metro, however, are another story.
It makes sense that because of the unfathomably large population in the city, there will always be a rush on the Metro. But the people in that rush are so confusing! They will, invariably, hustle in front of you if you leave a gap of even an inch between you and the person in front of you in a line or between you and the door (if you are inside the Metro waiting to get out). But sometimes if there isn’t enough space for you to get on, the people will squish each other so that you can enter. They are at once competitive and generous. Everything seems like it is a competition to them, perhaps stemming from the population crisis India is facing today; for every seat available for position x, there will be 1000 applicants. It seems to me that they believe that if they don’t fight for every inch of space that they own/occupy/can gain at all times, they will lose that space. And to be honest, it’s true. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s happened to me. Fortunately, I’m not in a rush all the time, nor am I worried about losing my space, so I am not bothered when it happens to me. But I do think there are better ways of doing some things, and this is definitely one of them.
Alternatively, one can view it as a game. I have watched groups of boys getting on and off of the train in a rush, pushing each other, but smiling while doing it. I get the feeling that they recognize the ridiculousness of this maneuver, but enjoy doing it anyway, just for fun. Everyone seems to enjoy the push and pull of the mob. Once you let yourself go and stop being annoyed by it, you can be comfortable in the Metro. Just make sure you maintain a vigilant mind, and never act in this way senselessly.
That said, I have been zipping around on the Metro since I arrived in India by myself, and it has been very enjoyable. I’ve explored the blue and yellow lines. It is refreshing to see Indian words as the names of stops; they seem very friendly to me, as I am familiar with all of them. I feel like a local. I knew that other people thought I was a local too when I got asked, “Bhaiya, yeh train Hauz Khas jaati hai?” (“Bhaiya, does this train go to Hauz Khas?”) and “Bhaiya, mujhe Kashmir Gate ke liye kahaan utarna padega?” (“Bhaiya, where do I have to get off if I want to go to Kashmir Gate?”), and I knew the answers.
All in all, the Metro is a great way to get around; just watch your valuable items and stay cool!