Every Delhiite worth his or her salt roots for the Metro rail. My children call me its spokesperson. Why not? I love the mode of transport and at least for now, the crowds are manageable. One certainly can’t say the same about the local trains of Mumbai and the DTC buses of Delhi, for instance (at least when I used them to commute a couple of decades ago).
Therefore it bugs me when the users crib about the crowds, the delays and occasional snags in the still new mode of transport. Also there are those swanky low-floor buses and AC buses plying sedately on the roads of the capital, which is a far cry from those days, especially when the city did not have so many flyovers to ease the traffic congestion.
I still remember the traumatic transition I had made from the choked confines of the Mumbai locals to the ‘killers on wheels’ aka the DTC buses of the Capital. I could not be blamed if I’d been conditioned to hate the buses of Delhi. Why, when I’d told my friends back in Bombay that I was shifting to Delhi, they had all cluck-clucked sympathetically. “How will you ever get used to the DTC buses?” they had sounded horrified, even as they fought for a toe-hold amidst the assortment of baskets and humans sitting on the floor of the local train compartment!
“Do you know what DTC stands for?” asked one friend, elbowing a fishmonger who was trying to get in with her basket. I shook my head dumbly.
“Death to the commuters!” she said triumphantly. Looking at the crush around me, I had naively believed that I might be better off in a DTC bus!
But the warnings had seeped into my consciousness and when I actually landed in Delhi, I looked apprehensively at the innocuous looking light green and yellow buses, imagining diabolical monsters hidden behind their façades. So scared was I of them that for the first few days I couldn’t pick up enough courage to even wait at the bus stop, leave alone board one. The alarming rate at which my purse thinned after my spins in the ‘Scooty’ (autorikshaw), finally made up my mind for me.
So one fine morning, I bade fond farewell to my family before bravely walking down to the stop.
When the bus going my way came, I was horrified at the sight. The over crowded bus approaching the stop, tilted so dangerously to the left, that I did not try to get in fearing that it would topple over any moment. And I swear I could hear the scraping of the last step on the roads with sparks flying! After cooling my heels for ages for the next one to teeter along, I had learnt my lesson — ‘Never miss a bus, no matter how tilted or overcrowded.’ The buses defied all laws of physics as they bravely transported the desperate commuters.
And the bus stop itself was something else. There was a jostling crowd there. For someone who came from a city where people stand in a queue to get into a queue, this was nothing short of a horror. But what the hell! ‘When in Rome do as the Romans!’ So I got into the act with gusto. Besides, wasn’t I a veteran Mumbai local train commuter?
Once I got in, though, I felt very much at home. It took me a while to realise why. The crush, the seat ‘adjustments’ were all so much like the dear old local trains of Mumbai, only it was like a general compartment with people of both the sexes squeezed together. There was a major difference in the seat ‘adjustments’ – it had to do with which part of your bottom stuck out of the seat! While in Apli Mumbai the fourth commuter got the last seat, in the DTC, one got to sit in a small triangle between two passengers. Picture the scenes yourselves! 😀
One has to admit that there was variety in commuting in the capital: One could travel by the ordinary DTC and be crushed; or one could take one of the ‘special’ buses and get squeezed into a pulp, or one could travel by the ‘Mudrika’ and get suffocated or then one could go by one of the private buses and hang on to dear life!
Talking of private buses, there were those that used to ply with an STA (State Transport Authority) permit. The abbreviation was telling, for it could have easily stood for — ‘straight to the Almighty!’ The drivers were apparently chosen with great care from among the truck drivers whose licences had been revoked due to negligent or rash driving or some other offence, and stunt drivers who had retired from films or circuses.
Some were mini buses but the drivers and conductors had apparently not been told that they were. So they stuffed as many as a regular bus would accommodate and careen along merrily! The Guinness record for the maximum number of people a motorbike can carry is 32 or so. Now, if a motorbike can carry that many people, can’t a private mini bus in Delhi carry the small number of 132 people? Well it did, and how!
The contraptions had the most basic of seating arrangement: so narrow were the seats that even if you pushed yourself up ram-rod straight against the backrest, half of your bottom hung in space and you kept sliding down every other minute. The seats were placed on three sides of the bus leaving the centre bare for the conductor to stuff as many desperate commuters as possible. These buses spent more time at the stops and in between stops, trying to outdo each other in getting as many people as they could stuff inside, than actually running. And the drivers made up the lost time by driving at breakneck speed. The commuters held on to dear life — hearts thumping in their mouths!
When the administration found that the number of buses was not enough to cope with the rush, they introduced the Redline buses, which were privately owned and run under DTC directives. Painted a bright red, these were the most sinister contraptions ever put on the roads. They resembled bloodthirsty monsters whose sole aim was to mow down as many people as they could in one run. They earned the sobriquet of ‘killerline’ buses since the news was incomplete without news of a couple of such accidents every day.
Alarmed at the turn of events caused by their hasty step in introducing them, the government brought in another category of buses — the blueline buses but with the same results. But a killer can come dressed in any colour, can’t it? As a last ditch effort, the Whiteline was introduced. If ever a dove has been a symbol of death, this was it! Ultimately, the poor Delhiite reconciled himself/herself to the fact that a killer by any other name or colour is still a killer. And another ironic fact emerged. I was among the thousands of commuters who would desperately wait for the good old light green and yellow buses of the parent corporation, instead of taking the risk of boarding these killerline buses!
So my dear fellow Delhi commuters! Don’t knock the Metro rail services. You don’t know how fortunate you are – for the present at least!