City Life – No Gas Masks in Delhi Metro

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No Gas Masks in Delhi Metro

Smelly commute and other woes in the city metro.

[By Sanchita Guha; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

There’s just one thing I forgot to pack when I came to Delhi about 15 months ago—a body armour. Now I sorely feel the absence of a solid Joan d’Arc type of steel creation in my limited wardrobe. And a gas mask would have been useful, too. Who knew, though, that the Delhi Metro, the most impressive work of technology this side of Bosphorus, would be so hazardous to one’s health?

Being a restless sort of person, I’ve travelled a bit and tested out intra-city railway networks of all sorts—but nothing rivals the Metro experience.

Here I am on my first day after finding accommodation in Dwarka Sector 11, waiting on the spotless platform, admiring the tracks, the ceiling, the electronic time display in a slightly goggle-eyed manner. “Very much like abroad only,” observes an equally impressed fellow commuter. Yes, indeed. Even better, I think, when the sleek train pulls in.

The ride through the next couple of stations is peaceful. The chap three seats away to my right is picking his nose, but it’s not difficult to shut him out if I look left. The following station is Dwarka Mor. As soon as the train stops, there’s a sound like an elephants’ stampede. Oh, I see. It’s merely citizens of an overpopulated country rushing to grab the nearest rationed commodity—seats. Am I feeling snooty this morning!

It’s difficult to maintain a stiff upper lip, I soon discover, when you can’t breathe. My ribs are being crushed. Because nine people—nine?!!—have squeezed into a row meant for seven and some of them look like they should have bought three tickets. One very fat woman has parked her bottom on most of my right leg, smiling at me gently. My leg is being crushed, too.

When the pressure eases a bit, I gasp for a bit of air. And gasp it out immediately. The air smells—in no particular order—of mooli, hair oil, bad breath and flatulence. Hair oil, in fact, has a special relationship with the Metro. It’s everywhere. Like territorial animals leaving their mark, commuters on the Metro leave rich, thick smudges of grease on every glass surface. If they have forgotten to oil their hair, they rub their hands relentlessly on the glass until it is sufficiently dirty. There, a job well done, the satisfied faces say. The children contribute significantly to this exercise. Nation-builders from a very young age, no doubt.

A seductive female voice on the PA system tells commuters from time to time to be careful as “pickpocketers have been identified in the train and stations area”. If they have identified, why aren’t they in jail? Whatever.

Now we are nearing Connaught Place, or Rajiv Chowk, if you will. There’s a ripple in the crowd, a bit of jockeying for position to get to the door. One elderly gent, first in queue, pushes his index and middle fingers into the slit between the doors, trying to force them open. But the train has not stopped yet. Bad timing, grandpa.

The doors open, the crowd turns into an avalanche, people at the back sort of trying to climb over the backs of those in front.

Why the rush?

This being a democratic country, all commuters will be allowed to leave the train with equal opportunity. Ah, the escalators. Everyone wants to get to it first. One man throws the punchline. Urged by his companion to take the stairs, which are nearer, he spits out: “Paisa diya hai tikat ke liye, siriya kyon charna hai (I’ve paid for my ticket, why should I take the stairs)?”

Well said, sir!