“Welcome to Kolkata Metro Railway. Kolkata Metro Railway aapka swagat karta hai. Kolkata Metro Railway aapnader swagoto janachche”.
I heard these pre-recorded sweet words almost every day for the 9 years I lived in Kolkata. Immaculately clean platforms and trains arriving precisely a few seconds before schedule, Kolkata metro was nothing short of a “foreign country” experience. For 9 years, I observed hundreds of people around me standing, sitting, wrestling, sleeping, dating, or in different stages of action. Four years later, I went back to Kolkata and it seems nothing had fundamentally changed, except that there were more people taking the metro and the metro had lost its “foreign look”. There are not many categories I could have placed the commuters into, and when I did that, this is what I found.
The Clan Of Milkha Singh
They should have been acting in movies like Daud, Run, Forrest Gump, or Bhaag Dhanno Bhaag. These are the people who are babus by birth and sloths by nature. They spend hours playing computer games or sleeping in their offices, or watching Rakhi Sawant ka Swayamvar one after another, but the moment the metro doors open, they feel the rush of adrenaline, and come jostling for seats. In the process, they stamp on someone with arthritis, accidentally sit on other people’s laps, and collide head on with people trying to get off the train, thinking they can defy Newton’s laws of motion. They come running down the stairs and wave to the motorman to re-open the shut doors, colliding with more unsuspecting innocents in the process. Not that they are the busy people who shoulder the responsibility for the progress of the nation. Like I said, they are the same uncles and aunts who ask you to come back the next day every time you need to get something time-sensitive done in a bank, college, or government office. The only action they get in their life is by the act of running to catch a metro.
The Sloths and Sleepyheads
Just opposite to the Milkha Singhs, these are the ones (usually women) ever in need of that one glass of Bournvita or one spoonful of Cinkara everyday to give them the necessary horsepower. They will sit disorganized, with 15 cm of unused place where no one can squeeze in and sit. They will have that impassive expression on their face, unless you ask them to make space for you to sit, when their expression changes to a growl.
The sleepyheads do not get to sleep at home, thanks to demanding wives or difficult children. They catch up on all the sleep in the metro, sometimes even while standing. In the process, they invariably fall on other people and irritate them to the extent that people would rather give up their seats or be ready to stick a bamboo pole into their nostrils to wake them up. However, as if by an inbuilt alarm, they always wake up the last moment and get off the station when they are supposed to.
Platform Mein Time Pass
They loiter about in platforms for hours until the security people come and drive them away. Some constantly spit pan and throw Pan Parag wrappers on the tracks. They ask you the time despite the huge digital clock hanging right above their head. Every two minutes, they dangerously lean on the tracks to see if the train is approaching.
The Deceptive Types
These are the most dangerous types, because they actually convince you that they will get off the next station and offer you their seat, while in reality, they will get off at the last station. Every 10 seconds, they adjust their saree and rearrange their bag, almost ready to get off the next station. And they open their side bag and bring out a hand bag, open its zip, and all the while lure you into believing that they must be digging for their ticket because they are about to get off. Then they bring out a hanky from the deepest recesses of their purse, stylishly wipe off the beads of sweat, careful not to damage their make up, drink some water, and give you that “I never said I am going to get off you moron” look.
The Phoney Category
Not that they are phoney in the real sense. All that they do in their metro sojourn is fiddle with their mobile phones, play games, send text messages, and play ring tones, oblivious to everything happening around them.
“Blessed By Cupid” Types
They are the oblivious lovebirds you find hidden behind the station pillars and in the vestibules. With hormones gushing and love being in the air, they will not take a seat even if offered with a free lottery ticket. They would never hold on to the hand rails, looking for support in their lover’s arms, and stumble on each other every time the motorman does the brakes. In a society where public display of affection is frowned upon, the unexpected slamming of the metro brakes is their only hope for some proximity.
These are men who prefer standing in front of the ladies seats and gawking at women. They will not mind being jostled by women in a crowded metro. Some of them would always prefer to sit on the ladies seats. They will not get up until unless you bend their head upwards, and show them the L-A-D-I-E-S sign printed in bold red. Then they will make a face as if they have done you a favor by vacating the seat, expecting you to be thankful to them.
The Adventurous Escalating Types
They fear the escalators as if an unleashed tiger will appear the moment they step in. However, they will never take the stairs. Hence on a busy morning, you will find them standing in front of the escalators, almost putting their right foot on it but pulling back at the last moment. This will happen until other commuters start yelling. Then, one of the braver ones would just hold their hand and drag them up. In the meantime, I’d be scared shitless, wondering what if they lost balance and toppled over me!! And I must not forget to mention those unruly children and jobless adults who spend their time moving unnecessarily up and down the escalators while waiting for the train. I wish they just install an escalator in their homes for kicks and do it all day.
The Alices In Wonderlands
They see the train entering the platform, the doors opening, and God knows what they were thinking but just when the doors begin to close, they make some stunts and hop in. They sit comfortably in the metro while the doors open and then they suddenly jump off their seats and make a headway for the doors at the last moment. No wonder I have seen office bags stuck in between doors and slippers left behind on the platform while the owner manages to get into the train at the last moment.
Ghar Grihasthi Waale Gregarious Behenjis
They get on the train with trunks and suitcases and a bunch of children. They will stumble and fall, unable to decide on where to sit. And then there are moms with school kids who empty the kids’ school bags, take out the notebooks, discuss homework with the other moms, force their kid to eat the unfinished tiffin, and scream “jashna jashna” (don’t run around) and “korishna korishna” (Don’t do this and that) while the kids run around and punch each other in a train in motion. The women discuss their mother-in-laws and the daily squabbles at home. Not to mention how Madhuri Dikshit looks stunning in Jhalak Dikhlaja and what happened in the latest Koffee with Karan episode.
Yeh Seat Sirf Mera Hai (This seat belongs to me)
Think of a seat of 8 where 7 not so thin people are already sitting. Maybe a kid or a pet could barely fit in (so what if pets are not allowed in metro). Then a big, fat lady comes, scans the seats, and demands, “Chepe Boshun” (squeeze in to make space for me). The other 7 twist and turn and make some space that will not even accommodate half her you-know-what. If it was me, I’d prefer standing over pushing, elbowing, and squeezing in under sweaty armpits. But here the intimidating woman screams again “Chepe boshun”, and I look at the fat woman, vermilion on forehead, towering above me and looking like the live version of Goddess Kali, only taller. Asked and masked with courtesy, I don’t fail to recognize the underlying threat in the request if it isn’t carried out instantly. I contemplate telling her, “Chepe boshte parbo na” (I cannot squeeze in, sorry and thank you). I imagine how her facial expression would change. Suddenly, my choices are clear. Quietly, I obey her and jiggle myself some more so that she can sit. I’m willing to travel like cattle herd jam packed in trucks for the next 30 minutes. I’ll get off the train in the next station to ensure her a seat. I’ll learn to drive the next time if need be. I’ll do all this to accommodate half her you-know-what, the other half hanging mid-air. Well, anything to get that seat!
By the way, which category would you belong to?