I am sitting alone in the corner seat of a coach and reading an ebook. On the seat across me, a smartphone has been kept for charging. The train stops at Indiranagar and a crowd pours into the coach. A couple prepares to take the seat opposite mine and notices the orphan phone. They look askance at me. Within seconds, a young man, who had hitherto been sitting with his wife/girlfriend on a seat two paces away, comes to claim the phone and charger. Why the man did not sit on the seat if he wanted to so desperately charge his phone in the 15 minutes available between Byappanahalli and MG Road, remains a mystery to this day.
A family comprising three couples and two children ran down the staircase as the train prepared to leave the platform. Seven of them rushed into the train, but the automatic doors closed on a woman. After a few moments of panic, the husband, struggling with their son in one hand, was told by a passenger that there’ll be another train in 10 minutes. He dialled his wife and told her to wait. The poor man and his wife were travelling in the metro for the first time.
Travelling by the metro rail is fun. There won’t be a large crowd – because of the small distance that the train covers – and there will always be a metro novice to entertain you. Currently, the metro is as much a sightseeing or tourism experience for the people, as it is a utility. There will be people taking selfies, children discovering the law of inertia, people holding on to the bars with great caution, boisterous children wanting to measure the train’s length by running. There are confusions, assumptions, expectations.
I travel around 4:30 pm, when the number of passengers is fairly less. Families with children are the most fascinating to observe. Most mothers hold on to their children tightly to prevent them from falling or “getting lost” in the train (I’m so relieved to know people believe that is possible). Some children, especially toddlers, plonk on to the floor, their eyes wide with surprise, when the train starts from a station (the mother will immediately hold on to the child like it’s going to fly away). Everyone in the family gets excited when they first see the matte-silver interiors of the train till the last coach, as it turns a bend. Everyone gets equally excited to see the skyline of East/Central Bengaluru from a height of over six metres – the clumps of trees on the Defence land along the route are quite invisible from the ground. Another exciting scene is the view from inside, of the train approaching a station – particularly at Indiranagar.
Once, a father and mother raced with their son across the train; that one raised quite a few eyebrows, but I fell in love with the couple.
One afternoon, a girl and a boy – both around 8 years old – got into the metro from Byappanahalli with their brother/cousin in his early twenties (and by the looks of it, quite bored with the kids). They sat next to me, and the girl, apparently continuing her narration of the experience of travelling in a metro, was initiating the boy into the cult. “Watch when the train starts. If you’re standing, the train will push you forward.” The boy nods. “No no, you stand up, and feel the push!” The boy is reluctant, but he stands up. And when he is jostled by the inertia, she claps happily. “See, I told you! Nice, na?” Then she tells him which side of the train to look (“See, this side there are more trees. It’s a forest!”), shows him how the sky looks (“See the clouds? They’re black! It’s about to rain!”) and keeps assuring herself that he’s having a wonderful time (You’re happy, no? Getting in the metro has made you happy. You’re happy, no?). The boy took it all with great fortitude.
This patronizing attitude is not limited to children. Anyone who has travelled in the metro at least once, likes to talk about how much s/he knows about Namma Metro, never mind whether the information they give out is true or imagined. The best story I’ve heard about the metro is that the Byappanahalli-MG Road route is the longest route in the whole country. I say, pity the Delhi Metro for being so tiny!
Whatever the technology, we’re only happy to apply our middle-class instincts to it. Although the metro stops at each station for 30-45 seconds, even without a crowd, we are eager to stand near the door one minute before the train even approaches the station. We’re too used to crowded BMTC buses and have seen many movies featuring Mumbai locals. We’re only just getting used to life in a metro.