A few Sundays back I decided to go to Delhi. I decided I had enough of being pampered and taking a taxi everywhere, and I was anxious to explore. I talked to one of my friends here, Karthik, (more about him later) he cautioned against it. But he knew that I wanted to explore and understand the metro system. So after some persistence and convincing, he relented.
A little background: because I am a creature of habit, I wanted peanut butter and a few things for my dorm. Sonipat is a small town by Indian standards, and they don’t have the international delights that a foreigner (Hindi :vi-day-sheee) such as myself would need so a trip to Delhi was warranted. A list was made and the time was planned.
The car that we hired dropped us off at the nearest metro station: Jahangirpuri. The Delhi metro was intense due to a few factors: the extremely large population, the complication of the metro routes, the bureaucracy that exists to enter and exit the metro, and finally the fact that I was completely unfamiliar with the system. So it began!
First, we got out of the car, walked to the elevator. Unlike the DC metro system where people move to the right to stand on the escalator?, everybody stands in the middle of the steps. After this we arrived at the top entrance to the platforms.
The platform entrance has an x-ray machine for baggage and metal detectors so the police can make sure you are not carrying any weapons. After passing through the weapons check, we got our metro card, similar to a Smartrip card.
I need to get a Delhi smart trip card no problem, let us wait inline. As we are waiting in line, the metro station is packed, and people are going all around. Karthik tells me that Sunday is the day where most people don’t travel. I make a mental note not to travel the metro during rush hour. A woman tries to cut the line and walks to the front. A middle-aged man taps her on the arm and asks her what she is doing. An argument ensues. The man basically asks if just because she is a woman she doesn’t have to wait in line? She gives a look of contempt, shakes her head, and then concedes and submitting defeat, and proceeds to the back of the line. This little verbal altercation does not even surprise or stir the heads of anyone else; it’s too crowded for anyone to care.
Karthik and I are two customers away from getting to the counter. I lean forward using Karthik’s back as a shield,, I open my wallet to get the 300 rupees required for the metro card. The man whose constant pushing I’ve ignored for the past 8 minutes has now made a inexcusable intrusion into my personal space.
The man has come from behind me and stuck his head between Karthik’s shoulder and my body. He was practically laying his head on my chest. My personal alarms go off, I believe he is preparing to grab my wallet and run. I realize that I’d have to give chase and the scenario flashes before my eyes. I yell in English, What the $$$&! (Get creative)” He realizes that he has made an error and stares at me in shock. I roll my eyes and turn to get the required amount from my wallet. Karthik inquires as to what happened. I explain it to him, and he says that was definitely not excusable even for Indian standards, but it’s likely that he was just curious. Good. Crisis averted, and I didn’t overreact.
We go up to the platform, and allowed the train to arrive before we moved into the middle of the car and secured two seats. The Metro cars are really wide compared to the D.C. and Baltimore subway. The metro was also very clean. There were designated seats for women, elderly, and physically challenged persons. The first car of every metro train is designated for women. This is due to sexual harassment on the metro train. Indian Society is very much a patriarchal society and this presents a variety of challenges for the modern Indian woman. (More about this later).
The train gets progressively more crowded, at one point, people are leaning over top of each other, and sometimes people sit on each other’s laps just to make space for others. It’s actually very interesting to witness. The entire trip is planned to take about 45 minutes of riding on the metro.
At a major transfer point: Kashmere Gate. Two Nigerian men get on, they immediately notice, that I’m not Indian, and ask where I’m from. I tell them that I’m an American, we make small talk and then return to our respective conversations. 10 minutes later one of the men get off the train, with a large majority of the crowd. The Nigerian guy sits down and starts probing for information, at this point I recognize it, and start creating a false story about being in town only for the week and sightseeing. I inquire as to which stop he is making sure to have him commit to a plan. Then say we are going to a different stop. Next, the man invites us to church with him, stating it’s Sunday and other reasons for us to go with him, even saying he could be our tour guide. I laughingly tell him I don’t want to go to church. That I didn’t come all the way to India to spend my day in church. He relents his campaign of persuasion and we get off two stops later. Karthik and I loop back so that we are not followed and get off at our appropriate destination.
We have lunch in a mall food court. KFC is an idolized fast food place here. Then Karthik goes to run errands, and I decided to explore the area a little bit, and go to a market and get a few things such as a second power converter.
Next stop Khan Market. We take the metro again, this time uneventfully to Khan Market. Khan market is the richest part of Delhi. After coming out of the metro and walk about a quarter of a mile you arrive at a shopping center filled with western stores. Adidas stores, Nike stores, and a variety of small food markets that have western brands.
Khan Market was super westernized. The area was completely westernized; I saw a variety of luxury cars, Mercedes-Benz, Land-Rover, and even a jaguar. The area was so westernized, a woman of European descent, I have no idea where from where, even clutched her purse as I walked by. I was surprised and instantly felt like I was home in the states. How nostalgic, the smell of old school prejudice, that pervades even across continents, oceans and borders.
We walk upon a shop that looks rather clean, so we enter. I look around and gather what I need: peanut butter, bread, honey and what I don’t need: candy. The entire time one of the shopkeepers is following me around, this store, which is no bigger than the aisle, of the cereal section in Safeway. My initial reaction was one of annoyance. I thought this must be a thing like in the states when store employees follow a person of color around the store. But then I realized that here in India this is just good customer service. He was waiting on me, ready to answer my questions and have the items I selected brought to the register. I was relieved and in a better mood.
The next goal was to get protein powder. I walked into a small health shop and selected a small box of whey protein powder for about 12 USD. The service was quick and efficient. Naturally, the shop attendant tried to sell me the largest box of protein powder available, but I made it clear I wasn’t spending 80 USD for that.
Karthik and I wandered towards the metro station, we then stopped at a bookstore where Karthik obtained a cookbook, and I bought a men’s health magazine for about 1.50. The magazines in India or very reasonably priced. (Reasonable prices is code for cheap).
Finally, we get on the metro, the ride back is peaceful as we watch the sun setting over the city. Delhi is huge. During a few crowded areas, we witness a race from the doors to the seats of the metro cars. The excitement isn’t over yet.
Two old men with Islamic head coverings, have come to an impasse, about who is going to occupy a single seat that is two seats to my left. One of them points to the seat and say something I obviously can’t understand. The shorter man replies, tersely. The taller man raises his left hand and says something in response. The shorter man then opens his palm and smacks the taller man’s hand out of the way and takes the seat, with a smirk on his face. The taller man looks with contempt but gives up and concedes to stand for the remainder of the ride.
Finally we are off of the metro station and are back at Jahangirpuri. The amount of people trying to the exit the train is unreal. We literally wait in a crowd to exit the station through the gates for minutes. People are yelling and some young men who are tired of waiting then begin running and jumping the gates, police officers stop and grab who they can, but there are simply too many. The crowd gets increasingly restless. I speculate a riot is near with all the excitement in the air. The noise gets louder and so more people yell. Little old ladies are pushing and jostling for position. Then it happens.
The gates start working. The people are quiet and the pressure subsides. No riot is going to happen today. I am severely disappointed. As I walk out of the gate, an old lady who has wedged herself between Karthik and I pushes past me. I think nothing of it. Karthik later tells me that this is a place where chivalry isn’t dead it just doesn’t count on the metro.
The driver of the taxi picks us up and takes us back to campus, I arrive safely with my treasures from today’s adventure.