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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Public Transport in Faridabad and New Delhi

"Passengers are requested to not sit on the floor."
- An announcement on the Delhi Metro.
That sums up, to a great extent, the dichotomy between the latest addition to public transport that runs on a pair of iron rails in India's national capital region and the older constituents, which, like the Metro, are electric multiple units (commonly known as EMUs). It is not uncommon on the EMUs that travel between Faridabad and New Delhi or even beyond, for instance, for a group of passengers to spread a sheet of cloth on the floor of the carriage and sit down to play cards. Often, they also munch ground-nuts and leave the shells behind. On the Metro, on the other hand, consumption of food and/or drink is prohibited.

Some of the regular commuters on the route have formed bhajan mandlis and recite their prayers loudly every morning and evening, to the accompaniment of musical instruments like the dholak and the chimta. The first member aboard usually unfurls a cloth banner outside the window, for the rest to know which coach to get into. The end of the session is marked by the distribution of prasaad. On the Metro, however, passengers are not even allowed to play music on their mobile phones or iPods.

It appears to me that Delhi Metro Rail Corporation need not have worried too much about any of the above, for most of the passengers on its trains seem to be from the upper middle class and less likely to indulge in such activities (since they tend to be rather conscious of their social status). That could have a lot to do with the fact that the fares for travelling on the Metro are 5-6 times higher than those for the older EMUs.

Then, there are those who hardly ever purchase a ticket to travel on the trains plying between stations in Delhi and its satellite towns. They include ground-nut or poppadom sellers, beggars, and, at times, even performers. The entertainers are generally children with brightly painted cheeks and caps with long plaits attached (which they can spin with dramatic effect, through corresponding movements of their heads), who do a few somersaults on the floor of the train or pass themselves through iron rings, to the accompaniment of a song or two sung by an accomplice who often plays a dholak as well, before they pass the hat around. I suppose they are quite incapable of getting past the Metro's tight security arrangements. That should also apply to the milkmen who carry canisters full of milk, which they load and unload with amazing speed, to various parts of Delhi, every morning, from their villages on the peripheries of the city. They return with the empty vessels in the afternoon.

Similarly, the small-time businessmen who transport consignments on the EMUs without paying for freight are unlikely to be able to do so on the Metro.

So, there already appears to be a distinct class divide between those who travel on the Metro and those who travel on the other EMUs, although an intersection does appear likely in the form of students and others like me who may not make a distinction even when the Metro begins to serve the population of most parts of Delhi and its surrounding areas and both services are in more of a direct competition.