My colleague rang up to inform me that the previous evening he had taken a bus home. News indeed! Given his fastidious fondness for his car! He had often told me how he hated being pushed and jostled in public conveyances and preferred his car over any other means of transport. A perilous passion considering the hardships involved in maneuvering a vehicle on the heavily congested roads of the NCR. But lately he had taken to car pool with two other gentlemen of the office. The one whose turn it was to cart them to and fro had left early on official task. Hence, the inevitable bus journey which left my colleague seething in disgust. I asked him why he did not take the Metro which was a much more comfortable option. “Metro commuters stink………….in summer because they sweat and in winter because they don’t bathe” was his graphic summary.

After his vehement disapproval, I could not possibly tell him how I loved to mingle with the crowd, loose my identity thereafter and be a detached spectator observing human antics for hours which sometimes would just be pure fun, at times extremely infuriating and occasionally a great learning experience. Just two days back these two, young girls, apparently ex-class mates, who having bumped into each other in the Metro, spent a cheerful half an hour reminiscing their college days – crazy batch mates, funky professors and the fun pranks they used to play on them and each other, unmindful of the twitching ears and wistful smiles hovering on the lips of many a fellow passengers.

Sandwiched amidst a herd of bodies, I invariably snatch fragments of conversation, the only source of entertainment, in an otherwise unexciting and exhausting travel. Crushed against these two ladies, the other day, who were perhaps estranged colleagues, exchanging notes on the latest happenings in their lives, I munched on their snippets unaware. One of them complained of helplessness managing a household, children and aged parents, without her husband, who, in turn, was struggling to get accustomed to an enforced bachelor’s existence, being transferred to another city. Ironically, her friend, with whom she shared her plight, was in the department which took care of placements and postings. She tried to bolster her unhappy friend up by giving examples of female employees who had to leave their husband and children under perforce transfer as per dictates of service rules. One such example (picked up from their conversation) which is still ingrained in my mind is that of a female transferee who having rented a room in the city complained of perpetual sleeplessness to her colleagues. She was not used to staying alone and would hear imaginary knocks on the door throughout the night, spent fitfully, turning sides. Being in a job wherein the dread of transfer always looms large, my heart went out to that anonymous lady who perhaps delivered her job, without a hitch, within the sterile bounds of her office, during daytime, but whose courage failed her when it came to facing lonely nights in an unknown city far away from her near and dear ones.

It would be a Sociologist’s delight to see how the Metro premises are being put to varied, alternate usages in addition to what it is actually meant for.  It is the waiting room for friends and lovers, reading room for students, and, unbelievable though it may sound, I once even witnessed a matchmaking session, carried out in its intricate details, in the winding corridors of the station building – the proposed couple having their first dekko at each other while their respective families parambulated hither and thither pretending to be invisible. But of course, Metro at that time was in its inaugural phase and was not frequented by the multitude as it is now.

Another incident, which whenever I recount, elicits caustic comments from the listeners! It was last to last winter – a time for Delhites to show off their colourful collection of shawls and woolens. As I entered the cubicle for a mandatory body scan, I came face to face with this young, DMRC Security Guard, a pretty girl with chinky eyes, chubby cheeks and a cute smile. The name on the plastic badge pinned to her uniform confirmed her native place. I had this embroidered shawl callously thrown across my shoulder, an exclusive piece of threadwork, a souvenir of the place she hailed from. Her eyes dilated with undisguised pleasure as she lovingly caressed my shawl with her fingers and asked, “Yeh ____ ka hai, na?” An unmistakable accent heightened the sweet innocence of her question. I nodded acquiescence to which her response was, “Aap jaao”. And she let me go without the routine examination. Many tell me that this is an incident which I should have reported to the Authorities given the turbulent times that we live in. But her unbridled happiness was so child like! A manifest of a heart longing for the deserted hearth! I am sure the flowers on my shawl must have reminded her of an unassuming dwelling in some remote village in the foothills of a rugged range where her mother or sister might have spun many an idle afternoons similar patterns on home woven textiles in an attempt to stitch a handy coverlet for the scantily clad children, an inadequate but love-hewn protection for cooler nights.  I would have asked the name of her village but unfortunately she was replaced by a new face soon after.

A family of four boarded the train one morning.  Father, mother, son and daughter – all well dressed in a modest way. But the only thing which pricked my eyes was the daughter’s bare feet. She pranced happily in the compartment totally oblivious of her incomplete attire. My eyes were glued to her naked feet – the cracked ankles, the chipped nails and the dry, scaly skin. The father combed the son’s oily hair with his fingers under her mother’s doting gaze. The girl was blissfully ignored which she seemed not to mind at all, perhaps, used to being overlooked by parents. I gritted my teeth in an endeavour to control my urge to rebuke the parents for being so careless with their girl child. The family got down at the next station leaving behind a pair of tiny, chapped ankles dancing in my mind’s eyes for a long, long time.

The old man who boarded the train one evening appeared to be in his seventies. He was gray haired, slim and quite agile for his age.  At first he quietly took a corner seat but after a short while started talking to the man seated next. As the conversation deepened, the old man’s pleasant voice rose slightly in pitch drawing the attention of many. Soon a coterie of unwavering attention collected around him. Most nodded agreement as the septuagenarian in his own inimitable style divulged the secrets of a happy and healthy living – a gourmet ladled with the preaching of Baba Ram Dev and various other motivational and spiritual gurus with a dash of Laughter Club Philosophy thrown in as the ultimate garnish. The gathered group had a uniform mop of salt and pepper intercepted by bald patches, hollowed cheeks, lined foreheads and darkness encircling the eyes. The old man fished out a few pamphlets from his pocket caught by flying hands. The energy reverberating in the compartment converted a dull evening into a lively, chirpy gathering, a sharing in unison of thoughts and vibes with each other and the old man.

The Metro takes two minutes to cross each station and two minutes at each platform are allotted for boarding and de-boarding. Within a short span of ten minutes the old man had marketed a taste-bud-tickling recipe of lifestyle management with ease and élan which he said was his way of serving the society at large, friends and foes irrespective, free of cost or any other encumbrances, and more importantly, making an interesting vocation of his post retirement leisure. Undeterred by the winter of life, he had preceded a drab and dreary exit by an exciting, new chapter. Who said end of a career meant oblivion?

The old man de-boarded at the next station, leaving behind a wisp of charisma and a horde of friends from whom he had suavely extricated promise of conformity to his home grown ism of an alternate life just a few minutes back.

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44 responses »

  1. gc1963 says:

    Thanks Nadi the warmth should spread like this……………

  2. gc1963 says:

    Indrani, true. I have also been able to finish quite a number of books on metro. That is one great advantage of travelling by metro. Thanks for the visit! I am glad you liked my travelogue if this can be called that.

  3. nadi says:

    Geetashree, the shawl felt warm..

  4. Indrani Talukdar says:

    Very interesting, Geetashree. I read the blog word to word as I have had similar experiences, not in Delhi but in Melbourne where I would catch the train to work. Thanks to that journey I was able to finish reading some great classics, an experience I would have denied myself had I driven. I too remember fondly some snatches of conversation, humor and tidbits from daily life. Really nicely written.

  5. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Oh we are not so deadly as a species. But yes you may look around on the platform. Please don’t risk your life and limb for me. I will not be able to bear that D))

  6. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    If you see a plump, matronly, bespectacled lady with a perpetual, lost look, you’d know it is me.

  7. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Hi Varun! Will definitely look forward to meeting you some day. Strange! Living in the same city, taking the same metro but the opposite directions and hoping to meet some day.

  8. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Thanks Mira for the visit and oh yes train journeys are always so interesting.

  9. Mira Pawar says:

    Geetashiri! Love reading your Metro piece. You are lucky to observe such interesting events while travelling in a Metro. I like your style of writing as well!

  10. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Hey Varun which station. I take that line everyday from kashmere Gate to Central Secretariat:)

    • Varun Reddy says:

      Arey wow !!! That’s a neat coincidence !!! Of course our paths don’t intersect as I take the opposite direction train (from Malviya Nagar to Rajiv Chowk at 830 am and Rajiv Chowk to Malviya Nagar at 530 pm)… But someday hoping to meet you if possible 😀

  11. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Sunita, so happy to find you here after a long, long time. You always make me so euphoric with your comments. Thanks for the unadulterated encouragement you have always shown towards my writings which have made me write better.

  12. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Sorry Malikji my typos. I meant these incidents are also portrayal of today’s evolving society.

  13. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Mallikji, thanks for the compliment – “young’:)

    These incidents also are also portrayal of today’s society.

    Grateful for the visit.

  14. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Seshuji, grateful for your visit and appreciation 🙂

  15. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Hi Lakshmi, thanks for the peep. Life itself is a journey. Isn’t it?

  16. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    You are right Snehith. I had also thought of episodic break ups. But on second thought, the incidents narrated here seemed to be tied together by a common thread. From migration for job from one end of the country to the other, transfer of female employees even in government sector, neglect for a girl child to a search for homegrown spiritualism – reflect an evolution, a transition that our society is going through.

    Sorry for the typos.

    Thanks for your little value additions.

  17. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Jitendraji, thanks for the encouragement. Just a word of information. With the increase in traffic, now its more than 2 minutes in one station.:)

  18. Varun Reddy says:

    In case you happen to see a stocky chap who looks 30-ish (although he is just 25) with a black bag on him, standing in a corner with “The Hindu” or “Frontline” in his hand (on the Gurgaon-Jahangirpuri Line) please do say “Hi Varun Reddy” 🙂

  19. Sunita Rajiv says:

    how effortlessly you slide beneath the skin of your characters and with equal ease you detach your self from them.Your style is unique and inimitable.
    Can’t miss your writings!

  20. Kumarendra Mallick says:

    As at the end the elderly man left a great warmth, a young writer, Geetshree as we know her, leaves a remarkable story for all to ponder over by her lively style! Thank you, Geetashree. True, Metro is a complete world by itself – philosophy to sociology. It is a broad canvas to paint every aspect of life, and you have done it so well.

  21. Seshu says:

    Nicely written and interesting too. Kudos.

  22. Nice article written with deep observations!!

    Traveling is a great experience, and a writer can get a lot of ideas just by observing the co-travelers. Such observations make the journey interesting, too (though not always).

  23. A good diary-entry kind of travel writing format that works here, I would probably break it down in a second draft, and make it more episodic, as per the people you encounter – each person making a separate sketch or chapter, a portriat…. (typo – second para – think it should be ‘lose my identity’ instead of ‘loose my identity’..

  24. Geeta Ji,

    Namaskar.

    You are a master narrator beyond doubt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts and experiences and I agree that studying the Metro culture and the dynamics of this travel can be a sociologist’s delight.

    Just one thing. You say that two minutes are allotted at each platform for boarding and de-boarding. It’s been around one and a half years since I travelled in Delhi Metro however I feel that the time allotted for boarding and de-boarding at each platform was much less than two minutes. It was a few seconds only (barring the exceptional stations like Rajiv Chowk).

    Thanks a ton for sharing your experiences and thoughts. You have already penned Metro Puran spanned in many parts. Just think about penning a full-fledged novel / travelogue on this plot.

    Regards.

    Jitendra

  25. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Isabel, I like your expression…………transcription of eavesdropping diffused with varied hues of emotions………..reactions………………..introspection………….thoughts of the moment. Thanks for reading and enjoying and agreeing 🙂

  26. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Shernaz, thanks and great to know that I have a signature style 🙂

  27. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Shail, these incidents touched me some way or the other. That is why I remember them vividly. And most probably that is the reason why these strike a chord ……..

  28. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Beyniaz, just a glimpse of the thoughts of strangers can really be an eye opener sometime. Thanks for your visit.

  29. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Sonal, thanks a lot for reading and enjoying. Metro is a slice of life itself.

  30. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Eva, I totally agree with you. A writer must be down-to-earth enough to mingle with the crowd so that he can peep into a slice of alternate life. Food for thought as well as write. Thanks for reading my piece.

  31. Eva Bell says:

    A beautifully described journey. A writer learns a lot by mingling with people. People are grist to the writer’s mill. If one keeps one’s eyes and ears open or even asks a question or two, at the end of the journey one would have garnered a load of ideas for future stories or articles.

  32. Eva Bell says:

    A beautifully described journey. A writer learns a lot by mingling with people. People are grist to the writer’s mill. If one keeps one’s eyes and ears open or even askes a question or two, at the end of the journey one would have garnered a load of ideas for future stories or articles.

  33. sonal shree says:

    Thanks for this kaleidoscope of interesting tit bits.Must say your power of observation is superb. Vivid description.

  34. beyniaz says:

    Enjoyed eavesdropping on the conversation in the metro thanks to you! Great descriptions.

  35. Dear Geeta,

    Nothing can beat the ride in a train when/where one is part of everything yet part of nothing. We are in close proximity with so many thoughts of strangers who we have never meet and might never get to meet to. Yet, our thoughts seem to strike a chord…..

    Nice write-up. Enjoyed it.

  36. Shernaz says:

    A lovely read, Geetashree, in your signature style. Enjoyed it immensely.

  37. isabel says:

    Totally agree with all your observations…enjoyed reading the transcription of collected ”eavesdropping” =))

  38. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Safiyyah, not only watching but listening to people is all the more entertaining and engrossing. Who said eavesdropping was bad 🙂

  39. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Thanks Vimalaji for always reading my blog first and the humorous comment. I know Bangalore has fine weather. Perhaps you will have anecdotes of a different kind to write about once you start traveling by metro.

  40. Safiyyah says:

    Well written, Geetashree. Lovely anecdotes, revealing an almost missed aspect of life. People watching can be very entertaining, and so has this story been. Enjoyed reading it. Regards

  41. vimala ramu says:

    An interesting peek into the ‘Metro’ which we will be getting shortly in Bangalore, though our city never gets hot enough to sweat to a stink and never becomes cold enough to shirk a bath !

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