An Intra-India Culture Shock In The Way We Commute

Posted on January 24, 2010 in Society

Rudrani Das Gupta:

Little differences end up making a big difference. The three metros of the country, namely Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have various socio-politico-cultural differences between them. At times, the diversity can become a little too overwhelming. One does not need to go outside the country to be a victim of culture shock, the very difference in transport systems between Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata can be quite disorienting to a newcomer.

One classic difference is the share auto system which is prevalent in Kolkata and is a perennial mystery to those who reside in Delhi or Mumbai. Autos are the most popular mode of transport in all the cities and especially because it is quicker but not necessarily cheaper. In Kolkata, autos are like buses. People stuff themselves in, like sardines into the space of one tiny auto. This dilapidated piece of junk then trundles on to take you to your destination for as little as four rupees. In Delhi and Mumbai however, these are like cabs. They are private, do not take in multiple passengers and run quietly on meters. There is a price for such elegance though. The minimum fare is over four to five times the one charged by the autos in the City of Joy. The humble auto is one of the most used vehicles in Kolkata whereas elsewhere, people avoid them sometimes to save money!

People in Kolkata seem to have a love-hate relationship with autos. They are always a source of controversy for polluting the city. Yet any average Kolkattan will swear by his daily auto ride. Much like the Mumbaikar who will complain about how local trains at peak hour are akin to death traps. Yet local trains are a symbol for the famous never-die spirit of the city. There are movies and songs based on these silver-and-purple heroes. Until a few months back, all autos in Kolkata were black and yellow. Following the engine controversy, these have been lifted off the roads by the state government and replaced with the environmentally sound green and yellow autos that you would generally see on Delhi roads.

Similarly, the underground metro in Delhi is viewed with much awe. Kolkata might have been the first Indian city to get the metro railway, but when it comes to the chutzpah and the sheer posh-factor, Delhi outdoes it by a mile and a half! The swank interiors, the security treatment, all add up to give one a very un-Indian (read:phoren) feel.

It is funny to note the reactions of people when they land in another city and are alternately appalled or awed by what they see. The sight of a Mumbaikar turning up his nose at the stuffed autos is as hilarious as seeing a Kolkatan stare in an appalled fashion at a local train rushing at peak hour. Each is a child of the city in some way or the other.

Little differences end up making a big difference. The three metros of the country, namely Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata have various socio-politico-cultural differences between them. At times, the diversity can become a little too overwhelming. One does not need to go outside the country to be a victim of culture shock, the very difference in transport systems between Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata can be quite disorienting to a newcomer.

One classic difference is the share auto system which is prevalent in Kolkata and is a perennial mystery to those who reside in Delhi or Mumbai. Autos are the most popular mode of transport in all the cities and especially because it is quicker but not necessarily cheaper. In Kolkata, autos are like buses. People stuff themselves in like sardines  into the space of one tiny auto. This dilapidated piece of junk then trundles on to take you to your destination for as little as four rupees. In Delhi and Mumbai however, these are like cabs. They are private, do not take in multiple passengers and run quietly on meters. There is a price for such elegance though. The minimum fare is over four to five times the one charged by the autos in the City of Joy. The humble auto is one of the most used vehicles in Kolkata whereas elsewhere, people avoid them sometimes to save money!

People in Kolkata seem to have a love-hate relationship with autos. They are always a source of controversy for polluting the city. Yet any average Kolkattan will swear by his daily auto ride. Much like the Mumbaikar who will complain about how local trains at peak hour are akin to death traps. Yet local trains are a symbol for the famous never-die spirit of the city. There are movies and songs based on these silver-and-purple heroes.  Until a few months back, all autos in Kolkata were black and yellow. Following the engine controversy, these have been lifted off the roads by the state government and replaced with the environmentally sound green and yellow autos that you would generally see on Delhi roads.

Similarly, the underground metro in Delhi  is viewed with much awe. Kolkata might have been the first Indian city to get the metro railway, but when it comes to the chutzpah and the sheer posh-factor, Delhi outdoes it by a mile and a half! The swank interiors, the security treatment, all add up to give one a very un-Indian (read:phoren) feel.

It is funny to note the reactions of people when they land in another city and are alternately appalled or awed by what they see. The sight of a Mumbaikar turning up his nose at the stuffed autos is as hilarious as seeing a Kolkatan stare in an appalled fashion at a local train rushing at peak hour. Each is a child of the city n some way or the other.

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  • Rudrani

    Just to clarify a certain point here.
    This article was written on the basis of a first person narrative and is not an attempt to exclude other metros in India, like Chennai for example. If I had had the opportunity to experience the transport systems of the other cities, I surely would have included them to make the article more comprehensive.

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