The very mention of the Metro Railways is enough to incite exasperation and discontentment among its commuters in Kolkata. Quiz them on the reason and they will retort in a chorus: “Overflowing population!”. If it’s an AC metro, the crowd pounds into it. Even the ambient instrumental in the AC coaches cannot soothe their vexation. An in-depth conversation divulges that it’s not just the population but the kind of population that invites a wrinkle in ones forehead before boarding the train just like there is a wrinkle in ones freshly ironed shirt or kameez when one arrives at their destined station.
The commuters feel that raising Â fare will reduce the crowd. The metro, since its inception, has mainly been a boon for the middle class citizens. However, extending the metro services to suburban areas, connecting the metro with the local trains in the Dum Dum and New Garia Stations has spelled disaster for one section whereas it has diluted the problems of the other. It also reflects the middle class attitude towards working class men especially when it comes to women, who feel violated every time they step into the train or wait at the station for the train.
There are several categories of commuters availing the metro services: The seasonal commuter, the perennial commuter and the rare commuter. The seasonal commuters are the students who weave a tale of struggle with their hefty backpacks. No sooner do they get inside the compartment, they are expected to take their bags in the front and every time a commuter stumbles while passing through the crowd, the owners of the bags are glared at, scorned or even verbally abused. The women at least find sympathy in their fellow female passengers who volunteer to hold their belongings. But men do not enjoy this privilege! They are abused for swallowing up the space during the busy office hours of 9am-11am with their hefty bags, but voluntary help is a far cry. However, these seasonal travelers can heave a sigh of relief during the period of vacations.
The perennial commuters are the worst affected, constituting of people in the tertiary sector, domestic servants and daily wage earners amongst others. Their fate is sealed for enduring routine affairs of squabbles both as participants as well as observers. Right from hurling at the co-passengers to grab an inch of the seat, coaxing an unwilling passenger on the seat to shift further, searching for a space to stand like a pelican, receiving ire for accidentally pushing the commuters in the front to being helpless to sexual harassment in the veil of the crowd. Men always have to be cautious so that their bodies are at maximum proximity even within the saturated population. Often an unintentional touch leads to severe misunderstanding followed by indignation of the female passenger. The rare commuter who boards the metro once in a while is perhaps the luckiest. She/he can eulogise about how metro guarantees speedy travel over long distances or might express shock at the teeming population.
How are the authorities are going to mitigate the problems of the commuters? When are they planning to do so? This is something that only time will tell. I won’t be surprised to find online activism culminating into a protest march against the soaring population in metro!