A Handy Guide to Survival in the Calcutta Metro

Are you new to the city?

Have you been told that the Metro- the oldest in the country- is the best way to travel in Calcutta?

Have you tried commuting on the Metro and been put off by the struggle you have to put up with to reach your destination in one piece?

Fear not.

This article is a handy guide to your survival in the Calcutta Metro. It matters not if you are used to the swanky interiors of the Delhi metro, or are seasoned in the wilderness known as the Mumbai Local and hence are qualified on paper to brave most transports, or you are new to this form of commuting.

Let me assure you at the outset, none of that really matters. Even if you have been using the Calcutta Metro ever since its inception, you are probably unaware of many of the nuances required for efficient commuting on the metro.

Introduction: The Calcutta Metro is, as they take care to remind you, as if by way of justifying the decade old rickety coaches and the numerous rakes still without air-conditioning facility, the oldest such system in the country. Accordingly, the rules of engagement in the Metro are primitive as well.

Metro Station:

The first few points cover your desired behaviour at the Metro station to get the most out of your travel:

  1. Calcutta Metro is brutal. There are long flights of stairs awaiting you at the entrance and at the exit. You can only go up and down the escalator from and to the platform, that too, if you are lucky. At rush hours, you might often find yourself pushed to the wall. Don’t do that. It is advisable to walk in the middle, at a slow pace if possible. Remember, people will be in a hurry and want to move ahead, but you should NEVER give way. If you give way, the ungrateful idiots will push you to the side without even a dry ‘Thank You’ and soon you will feel like Simba caught in the stampede of the wildebeest. To prevent that, it is always better to walk down the middle coolly. In case people start abusing, you can always turn, glare and abuse back. This is Calcutta. It is more about noise, very little about action.  You can rest assured that the verbal assaults will never transform into physical blows. So be cool, and let those in haste find their own way.
  2. If it is summer, and the humidity has got under your skin (literally, in a way), you need to cool it off before you get in for the battle. Locate a pedestal fan, if you think spots beneath the air conditioner ducts are crowded. Make sure you stand SQUARE in front of the fan. If you find someone standing already in front of the fan, and the gap between the fan and that person is sufficient to accommodate yourself, squeeze into that gap. Stand with your sweaty back to that person and pretend he does not exist.

In case there is not gap enough for someone to squeeze in, abuse the man standing in front of the fan and get him to move back. Since he is most likely to be the possessor of skin so thick that it can put a rhinoceros to shame, just like yourself, you must attack him enough for him to budge. Once the man steps back, go and occupy the position now vacant. In doing that, you will be following the same behavioural pattern exhibited by most politicians and civil rights activist-turned politicians in this country, albeit done by them at a different stage and in a broader context.

  1. Once the Metro arrives, you will be standing shoulder to shoulder with people waiting to get in. You can, of course, forge an unlikely alliance with your would-be co-passengers and charge the wall of resistance you will face in the coach, together. However, true to the principles of a Prisoner’s Dilemma problem, this best case scenario will never happen. As the door opens and the crowd comes out, it is every man/woman for himself/herself. Except for couples in love, of course. They are quite complicated a case to deal with in this guide.

In the Metro:

  1. Assuming you have boarded the Metro successfully, you must now prevent other people from getting in. There was less space in the coach as it was, and you and your co-invaders have depleted it further, so much so that people are now finding it difficult to stand. You, and those with you near the gate, now must act as good Samaritans and protect the coach from further invasion. You should hold your belly out, position your chest outwards and with your friends at the gate, assume a formidable first line of defence. When the gates open, wily invaders will try to come in, but you must hold them back. You will find sufficient support from the back, without even asking for it.
  2. Have you ever felt bad because of your body shape? Have you been called short and fat and made to feel miserable? Well, Metro is the place where you have your revenge on the world. If you are beneath 5.5ft and thin, you are in luck. You should have no difficulty in finding gaps where other people think there are none. If you are short and fat, you have the best chance of breaking the wall at the entrance. All you have to do, as evinced by a boy with a ridiculous hairstyle some days back, is to fling your weight on the people standing at the door. On the other hand, having a large protruding belly also gives you better chance of weathering the onslaught of wannabe passengers.

Contrary to popular expectations, it does not help if you are tall and well-built. You will be roundly abused for trying to force your way in.

  1. If you have earphones, pop them in your ears. It helps that you don’t hear abuses, or the plaintive cry of some poor soul whose feet you happen to have trampled.
  2. If you are short of space to stand, you can bend down at the knees and wriggle your hips. This amazing technique was first demonstrated by a short bald man who was almost pressed to the door. He confessed that he had picked it up during his days on the local train.

Getting down:

  1. The only thing worse than not being able to get up on a Metro is not being able to get down at your stop. No matter where successive unrelenting waves of passengers at stations have carried you to, you must punch, bite, kick and elbow your way out to the door when your stop comes. If you think it is barbaric, we are sorry, the Metro is no place for a gentleman.
  2. Once out of the Metro, make a wild dash towards the escalator. When on the escalator, do not stand. Continue running up. This may appear against common sense, but you have to be ahead in the queue at the gate.

This concludes the broad guide to the tips to ensure a smooth ride for yourself on the Metro.

However, if in the heat of the moment, these rules elude you, like they did the great warrior Karna in the epic Mahabharata, here is a golden rule that will stand you in good stead even in such times.

Be absolutely insensitive to the feelings of others and act like a complete idiot.

That should take care of everything.

*The End*

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