The tube. Our city’s jugular.
I always enjoy watching those little metal boxes swallow up my bit of yellow paper. And how you sail through the barrier and the slit in the metal produces your ticket with a flourish. Add to that a light nudge from the flustered commuter behind you (who’s always in a hurry) and it’s the perfect prologue to a pleasant ride.
From the hanging television sets chanting the same commercials to the weary mother calling her son to safety and then finally the much awaited dragon rushing into the platform…bringing with it that tempest which threatens to knock you off your feet.
What follows is a mad rush of people trying to shove their way in before the metal doors rattle to a close and I find myself inside the dragon’s belly surrounded by a lot of blank stares desperately trying to hold on to the shiny steel bars above, my thin frame swaying and my backpack pulling me down as the train continues it’s relentless journey into the murky depths of our city’s underground.
My home to St. Xavier’s College. Kalighat to Maidan. Three stations in between. Enough time for me to indulge in my daily morning ritual. Looking around.
If you’re pressed against the dirty transparent panes on the metal doors or close enough to peek through the half open windows, you’ll notice the dim, flickering lights; the tracks snaking their way in the darkness and sometimes, if you’re lucky, another train whizzing past.
And then the people. Sitting, standing, leaning.
The kids in starched school smocks. Chattering, running about. The docile ones usually stick to their mothers.
The regular office goer. A loud necktie. An even louder phone, constantly flipped open. Shiny, pointed black shoes
The skinny man in dusty overalls juggling a thousand packages.
The plump lady, wrists and neck swathed in jewellery. A bright nylon dupatta. A flashy purse. Squeezed in between two men hiding behind newspapers.
The lovers in the vestibule. Fingers interwined. Shy smiles. Hurried whispers. Oblivious to the curiously stern glances of the faces which surface occasionally when those newspapers are put down.
The college punk. Greasy hair, black nail colour. Baggy denims and plugged ears. Che smiling from a black T shirt. Hands in pockets, legs crossed, lounging against the door.
The wizened old man with papery skin. Large glasses. A vintage watch dangling from a thin frail wrist. Clutching on to a crushed plastic packet. Trying to read the print on the yellow ticket.
And then there are the rest, who, unlike the others, manage to make their presence felt. Sometimes it’s an outrageous bit of clothing, sometimes a phony laugh or a violent sneeze, sometimes a popular hindi song blaring from a phone, sometimes an unwanted accident like slipping or dropping something and so on.
Promptly, the dragon pulls into the Maidan station. I am washed along with the tide of commuters into the crowded platform. A long trudge up the stairs and I’m out in the Monday morning sun. A few minutes from college, thanks to the tube.