I get into an elevator that takes me to a huge concourse below. I get my token and swipe it against the sensor. The gate opens and allows me in. I take the escalator further down. Once there, within a minute, a four-coach train quietly enters from one of the tunnels and comes to a smooth halt. The automatic glass doors open and I enter the air-conditioned coach. Within half a minute, the doors close and we speed off into the darkness of the tunnel.
Seems straight from a sci-fi Hollywood movie? It is not. Welcome to Delhi Metro!
Clean, convenient, cheap, classy- just some of the adjectives that can describe this modern day wonder that has totally changed the way Delhi travels. And how! Ask any old-time Delhi-ite how much time, money and effort would it take a tourist new to the city to go from Akshardham near Indraprastha to Chandni Chowk at the other end of the city in the evening hours and he would be flooded with images of rickshaw-drivers trying to fish out exorbitant fares, shabby Blueline buses prowling across the streets like roadside monsters, red-light wielding neta-log holding the traffic to ransom at will, bumper-to-bumper traffic spewing out noxious fumes and finally he would just suggest that the tourist gives up this plan and go somewhere else. But not anymore. This is what I did- board the Metro from Indraprastha, cruise over Pragati Maidan on the elevated tracks, alight at Rajiv Chowk underground, take the connecting service headed to Vishwavidyalaya from another Metro line running right below the earlier one and intersecting it, alight at Chandni Chowk station, take the escalator up and bingo! I was right in the middle of the bustling bazaar in 20 minutes flat! That too in air-conditioned comfort for a meagre Rs 17!
Delhi Metro has not only made travelling easier but also brought about a paradigm shift in the general behaviour of the travelling junta. At Rajiv Chowk (which is nothing but the famous Connaught Place renamed to satisfy some political bigwigs) station, I found dozens of passengers standing calmly in queues in front of markings on the platform showing the location of every door of every coach of the Metro train, waiting for their turn to board after the alighting passengers have made their way out. A bigger pleasant shock awaited at Chandni Chowk where no less than five hundred office-goers were waiting in a single serpentine queue extending from the underground concourse, up the stairs, right upto road level, for their turn to swipe their Smart Cards and enter the Metro. No line-breaking, no shouting, no nagging!
These scenes brought out an interesting question- can this happen in Mumbai? And my answer is- Highly unlikely! There are reasons why I feel so-
Firstly the amount of crowds that Mumbai Metro will have to deal with (the day it comes into existence) is far more and densely concentrated compared to Delhi. While Delhi is spread out in all directions and as a result the population is spread out, Mumbai is a narrow strip of land with all businesses tucked away down south. As a result, almost the entire traffic will be jostling on the all-important north-south corridor virtually choking up Churchgate and CST Metro stations, if ever they are made that is. Also worth noting is the fact that Mumbai is a city that never sleeps. So while at Chawri Bazar, I found my Metro train stopping with not a single passenger alighting and boarding at 9:45pm, I do not see this happening at ANY Mumbai Metro station at any time of the day!
The second (probably amusing to outsiders) reason that may be detrimental to Mumbai Metro emulating the Delhi model is the fact that Mumbaikars are born restless. They are used to jumping into trains even before it can stop, grabbing seats in seconds and jumping off the locals at their destinations the moment the train enters the platform. In fact, I myself got frustrated on my first Metro journey when the train came to a halt at New Delhi Metro station and for five seconds the doors did not open, even wondering "Why is the bloody door not opening?" only to realise that this is the norm on the Metro!
A third, and possibly trivial reason why Mumbai Metro may never reach the standards set by Delhi Metro is the fact that while Delhi Metro runs on state-of-the-art trains from Bombardier, Germany, Mumbai Metro is to run with cheap Made in China coaches. The notoriety of both- Chinese products and Reliance makes me skeptical, though I would love to see Ambanibhai proving me wrong!
It is said that strict policing on Delhi Metro has brought about this remarkable change in passenger behaviour there. I so much hope the same happens in Mumbai too, though it seems too much to ask for. But there is hope. I am banking on only one factor- If junglee Delhi can do it, why can't my Mumbai?
PS: The photos (from Top to Bottom) show 1) Underground concourse of New Delhi Metro Station, 2) A Metro train going towards Central Secretariat on the 'Red Line' enters New Delhi, 3) Interiors of a Delhi Metro train running from Indraprastha to Dwarka on the 'Blue Line', 4) A 'Yellow Line' train speeds off from Chandni Chowk station.