Order after chaos

Published October 28, 2013

It’s a bit of a crawl on sections of the inner and outer Ring Roads in Delhi. A tunnel boring machine has begun work in the South Extension area to excavate an underground section of phase three of the Delhi Metro.

In other places, the Delhi Metro has taken over large bits of the road and even parks as it adds 120 kilometres of new lines to the existing 190 kilometres.

This 120 km will crisscross existing lines while bringing new sections of the city under Metro coverage. While the issues of last-mile connectivity remain, there’s no doubt that the city will expand its transport options with the new lines.

There’s little doubt that the Delhi Metro is world class and an example for other cities in India and South Asia to emulate.

Let me say that I am an unabashed fan of rail travel – whether the slow train in rural India or the spanking new metro that can be seen speeding through the city of Delhi.

Reading Bill Aitken’s Exploring Indian Railways, I came across the following lines written in 1994:

"Today, the main line steals into Delhi unregarded, hesitant to follow the traditional Barakhamba route that it briefly touches at Nizamuddin. Like a ticketless traveller it slinks by to avoid the Supreme Court and disappears behind Bengali Market and an approaching Cola company.

It almost kisses Connaught Circus at Minto Bridge but then, realising it is unwanted, veers away to a no-man’s land between the old and new cities [of Delhi]. The blank space in the middle of Connaught Place yearns for a centre-piece and had a worthy terminal come up here its presence might have triggered off the logical follow-up of supplementary lines radiating to Delhi’s outskirts.”

More than 10 years after Aitken’s book, it is not the Indian Railways that has finally occupied the centre of Connaught Place but the Delhi Metro in the form of a key junction station known as Rajiv Chowk.

A wrong has been righted.

Finally, the old centre of Delhi – Connaught Place – has a Metro rail head even if inter-city trains still sneak around the city centre to New Delhi railway station, also a Metro stop now.

In fact, with Delhi spreading to Noida, Gurgaon and beyond, the Metro has reversed the decline of Connaught Place as the ultimate shopping and hang-out hub of Delhi.

As a few-times-in-a-week Metro user, yours truly never ceases to be amazed by the change it is bringing about in the city.

It throws together the upper crust and the working class, the smart and stupid phone users, the corporate suits and the painters – the Metro cuts across all barriers.

The upper crust in Delhi doesn’t use the bus, but the Metro is swank and inviting enough to be used. Above all, you can (mostly) make it from Place A to B in a particular time-frame now elusive in road travel.

Most metro stations I have visited have autorickshaws parked around along with an assortment of hawkers selling golgappas and aloo tikkis, even the odd dosawallah is in evidence.

The order of the metro station is at odds with the chaos outside.

For the metro ride, the passenger seems to be transported: far away and beyond the disorder of the city.

There are regular announcements that you shouldn’t sit on the floor or use speaker phones.

I’m not quite sure whether a connected mobile phone is a bane or a boon. Just as you are getting into your newspaper, the neighbour might get into a long and loud conversation on his mobile that you end up listening to.

People (including me) regularly peer into the mobile phones of their co-passengers as they SMS, BBM or WhatsApp during the course of the journey.

At metro stations, you will encounter the young couple in no rush to catch the train as they chat away, forgetting the class that they should be in.

Similarly, young people can be seen waiting for their friends and partners at metro stations, breaking into animated conversation the moment the metro door opens.

And, my God, how we lie. Given that where you are is an important part of mobile conversation, most of my fellow commuters always give the wrong location – if you are at Rajiv Chowk, the tendency is to say Udyog Bhavan.

Just as Bill Aitken wrote about Indian Railways being a big news story, the Delhi Metro is big news too.

A Delhi Metro Rail Corporation employee walks through a tunnel at an underground construction site for the Janpath metro station in New Delhi. -Photo by AFP
A Delhi Metro Rail Corporation employee walks through a tunnel at an underground construction site for the Janpath metro station in New Delhi. -Photo by AFP

If you do a google search, the latest antics of the tunnel-boring machine, the arrival of Chinese metro coaches or the attempt at suicide by jumping in front of an approaching train will be among the latest headlines.

As a newspaper reader, I am familiar with the father of the Delhi Metro, E Sridharan, its current chief Mangu Singh and spokesman Anuj Dayal.

My heartfelt thanks to these three gentlemen and the thousands of others who make the Delhi Metro tick from morning to midnight.

And, to end, here’s to fewer breakdowns on the Metro.



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