Life in the Metro
That just about sums it all up in a few words. Life in the Kolkata Metro beats even “Life of Pi” by a long shot when it comes to popularity ratings. The Jamiroquai number is quite apt to sum up my feelings about it,……“I’m going deeper underground…there’s too much panic in this town.”
The Kolkata Metropolitan transport experience reminds me of the Jimi Hendrix line “Are you experienced?”
It certainly is a unique experience apart from being the cheapest and fastest mode of transport. Life in the fast lane or Life in the Metro is comparable to a passionate love affair which becomes a necessity sometimes.
The Kolkata Metro Railway has the distinction of being the first underground Mass Rapid Transit System in India. But the extension of the Metro in recent times has made the busy North-South axis between Dum Dum and Mahanayak Uttam Kumar (Tollygunge) even busier as the furthest point in the South Axis is now Garia.
This has elated Poltu`who has to travel from Garia to his small street shop in Esplanade every day. Poltu is a smart chap who is armed with a smart card which means a further reduction in the meager fare by a rupee. But his carpenter friend Jhontu is not allowed to carry his tools by the stern looking cops and still travels by bus.
But the extension has infuriated people like my neighbor, Mr. Ghosh who feels that only a certain class has the right to travel by metro. The metro according to him is only for people who reside in the city and not for those in the ‘mofosshol’ (town) areas. “Metro maanei toh tai moshai!” (Metro means that only) Silly man!
“Very soon this will be a Bonga local!” he thunders. But Mr. Ghosh’s rage is based partly on a racial level but more because he was targeted by certain members of the working class once and had borne the brunt of their cheap jokes. He has been an elitist ever since.
The reason for all the trouble was a rubber token which had been introduced to replace the paper ticket. Mr. Ghosh was not as smart as Poltu and queued up to buy his ticket instead. Why not? He was retired and had all the time in the world.
The token had to be dropped into a slot while exiting. The unsmart Mr. Ghosh had no clue how to use the token to exit and this had resulted in a large queue behind him before someone helped him out. But not before someone had cruelly commented, “What happened Dadu (Grandfather)? Can’t find a hole even after so many years of experience?”
A.C Bose travels on a daily basis from Netaji (A.C is not related to the famous Bose although he claims relation) to Park Street but always in an air-conditioned train. Hence he has been nicknamed A.C and everybody has forgotten his real name although the surname has survived.
A.C Bose is a Bangaali with a pukka British hangover who refuses to board the non-ac trains and waits for the ac train instead. He also rues the lack of a first class compartment in the Kolkata Metro on the lines of the local trains in Mumbai.
That’s the charm of Kolkata I guess. Everybody’s on an equal footing. Even the men of prominence or the first among equals after whom the stations have been named are not spared.
“Arre ek Netaji dena! Kitna? 6 rupaiye? Kavi Nazrul kitna?”(Hey, give me one Netaji! How much? 6 rupees? How much for Kavi Nazrul?)
“Dada amake ekta Mahanayak Uttam Kumar kete deben?” (Brother, can you cut me one Mahanayak Uttam Kumar?) a man requested me once when I was in a queue, explaining that he was in a hurry. This was before I had turned Smart like Poltu. (I’m referring to the Smart card here)
“Mahanayak ke ki obhabhe kete deowa jaye dada?” (Can Mahanayak be cut like that?) I couldn’t help but saying smartly.
My elderly aunt Shubhra maashi (mother’s sister) still can’t get used to the concept of the metro even after travelling in it for so many years. I guess it’s just old age. Otherwise how do you explain her screaming “Rokke rokke! (stop stop!) Dada ektu bendhe. Aami nambo.”(Brother, would you tie for a moment, I have to de-board) when she realized that she had missed her station and that the gates were closing? (Interestingly, people in Kolkata prefer to say “bendhe”, which literally means “tie down” when they want to stop the bus to de-board)
Shubhra maashi wants a separate ladies compartment in the metro as the men take up too much space. I agree! That way my wife and I can travel separately. She causes great embarrassment when she punches in her credit card instead of the smart card and the gate refuses to open. The Metro is usually packed during rush hour and it’s tough to get off with people crowding the doors.
My wife once travelled all the way to Esplanade when she was supposed to get off at Maidan.
“Dada apni ki Netaji?” (Brother, are you Netaji?)
“Na na aami Uttam Kumar! Aami aage nambo!” (No, no I am Uttam Kumar! I will get down first)
We Bongs never use guns and rarely do we use our fists to settle an argument. Why bother when we have our mouths? A typical verbal argument in the Metro usually goes like this:
You idiot! Are you blind or what?”
“Whom are you calling an idiot?” The fact that that the man had also been accused of lack of vision had probably escaped him.
“I wouldn’t have called you one if you could only watch where you were going instead of knocking people on the face with your big, ugly bag.”
“Why don’t you buy your own car and travel in it if you can’t adjust to public transport?”
“Idiots like you should be banned from public transport.”
“You shut up!”
“You shut up first.”
Thankfully, the flowery exchange has to come to a premature end as the distance between the stations is short.
Here is an excerpt of another conversation I overheard at Someplace Else, the Mecca of live music in Kolkata.
German babe – How do I learn the culture here? Where do I go? Is there something on You Tube?
Cool metro sexual dude from Kolkata- Forget You Tube and take the tube! Travel by the Metro.
That just about sums it all up in a few words. Life in the Kolkata Metro beats even “Life of Pi” by a long shot when it comes to popularity ratings. The Jamiroquai number is quite apt to sum up my feelings about it,
“I’m going deeper underground…there’s too much panic in this town.”
Editor’s Note: Swayam Ganguly’s maiden book Love, Films and Rock ‘n’ Roll was recently launched in Kolkata’s prestigious Oxford Bookstore. You can buy Love Films and Rock N Roll! from Flipkart.com and Amazon.in
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