[Reader-list] Notes from a Metro (Pun Unintentionally Intentional)

Zainab Bawa bawazainab79 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 3 01:27:13 IST 2009

*Enter Delhi*: The boy was about 13, perhaps less. He was riding a bike
which was about three times his size. He swerved between the vehicles on the
road at Karol Bagh, very much in the wrong in terms of which side of the
road he ought to be on, and therefore also in terms of the traffic rules and
regulations. But he could not care. I looked at him and wondered,

*Dilli dilwalon ki hai* – Delhi is a city of the large-hearted, of the
daring, the bold and the courageous.

A few days later, one of the auto drivers remarked to me during a journey,

*Kehte hai dilli dilwalon ki hoti hai. Lekin yeh jhoot hai. Sabhi log yahan
paise ke peeche pade rehte hai aur har koi aapko lootne ki koshish karna
chahta hai –* It is a saying that Delhi is a city of the large-hearted. But
this is false. Everyone here is behind money, and each person is out to
loot/cheat you.

Another auto driver mentioned to me during another journey,

*Dilli mein corruption jyada hai, doosre states aur shaharon se bhi
zyaada*– There is more corruption in Delhi, more than what it is in
other states
and cities (in India).

*Kyon* – why, I asked, in a rhetorical fashion. Before he could respond, I
already answered – *kyonki yeh rajdhani hai?* – Because this is the capital
of the country?

*Haan, is hi liye. Aur doosra yeh ki har koi yahan apne aap ko minister ka
rishtadar bata ta hai ­­–* Yes, that is why. And the other thing is that
each one here shows off as being the relative of one minister or the other.
In this way, they can get away with anything and also claim to have
‘influence’ or political capital/clout to pass by it all! I smiled on
hearing this. Maybe I knew this was coming. At one time, someone had
remarked that the problem in Pune city is that everyone shows
himself/herself off as a relative of the historical hero Shivaji or
belonging to the family of the Peshwas! That relationship needs to be
understood in the backdrop of caste, culture, cultural capital and filial
capital, somewhat different from the relationships with ministers shown off
in Dilli.

I still believe that* dilli dilwalon ki hai*. I encounter the aggressive
coldness, the aloofness, but then there are also people who talk to me, who
invite me into their homes to a cup of tea or a morsel of food. And that
encourages me to be a conduit of their stories, of their thoughts, of their
imaginations, of their aspirations, of their prejudices, of their biases, of
their fears and everything else that comes in this package called humankind.
I tell a story here, one that I have only weaved from the myriads which auto
drivers, dwellers, taxi drivers and various other people I encountered in
Delhi told me at different points in time, during different journeys. This
is a story of a city becoming. And with the city becoming, we become, we
invest, we reap and we lose. As I am writing, I am unsure how to piece the
different narratives together. At times, I pause, wondering if I am sounding
didactic or arrogant, or if I am being incoherent. So, perhaps as I write of
the city becoming, I also write of myself, and hope that Providence will
accompany me in this exercise. Thus, we go …

I landed in Delhi on the second day of the strike of the autorickshaw
drivers. This was topic enough to begin a conversation from the next day
onwards as I leapt in and out of autos.

*Toh bhaiyya, aapka strike tha kal. Strike kyon tha?* – I asked the auto
driver next day, you had a strike yesterday. Why did you strike?

*Ab aisa hai ki authauti wale hum ko fine laga dete hai agar wardi na pehno,
agar signal kaat do ya phir galat raaste ho jao. Chalan kat ta hai 5,000 ka,
10,000 ka. Aur gaadi chudwane jao woh alag. To hum strike kar rahe
the. –*Now it is like this, that the
*authauti *(authority) people, they fine us if we do not wear our uniforms,
if we break the signal, if we go the wrong side of the roads. The
*chalan*(fine receipt) is usually of 5,000 rupees, 10,000 rupees, and
then we also
have to go to release the vehicle (which is another headache). That is why
we were on strike.

*Toh aapka masla hal hua*? – So, was your matter resolved? I asked.

*Nahin, kahan. Ab to sarkar ne kaha hai ki woh hamare mamle mein dekhenge.
Dekhe kya hota hai.* – No, where? The government has promised to look into
our matter. Let us see what happens.

Another fellow told me that the strike is also because,

*Kabhi log meter se jaana chahte hai toh kabhi humse pehle hi fix karwa lete
hai ki itne mein hi jaana hai. Ab yeh to logon ki marzi hai. Bahar se jo log
aate hai, woh meter se nahin jaana chahte. To woh humse done karwa lete hai
ki itna denge. Lekin policewalleh jo hai woh hummein galat batate hai. Kehte
hai hum meter se nahi jaa te aur humko chalan laga dete hai.* – Sometimes
people want to go by the meter* *and sometimes they want to fix the fare at
the beginning of the journey itself. It is their wish. Those people who come
from outside Delhi do not want to go by the meter. They want to fix the fare
right at the beginning and hence they do so accordingly. But the policemen
always put us auto drivers in the wrong. They say that we don’t go by the
meter. And then they write us a *chalan*.

He continued,

*Aur galat kya hai jo hum aap se 10 rupaiye jyada bhi maang le. Waise bhi
mehangayi itni bdh gayi hai. Aur sarkar hai jo kiraya badhane nahin deti. *–
And then, what is wrong if I ask you for ten rupees more? As it is,
inflation has increased and the government does not want us to increase the

After a while, he said,

*Aap ko bata de ki log bolte hai ki Bambai mein saare auto wale meter se
jaate hai. Lekin unka meter hamesha badha hua rahta hai. Phir woh sahi
kaise? *– I must tell you that people tell us that the auto drivers in
Bombay always go by the meter. But their meter is not correct and is rigged.
Then how come they are right and their ways are correct?

*Toh bhaiyya aapka union kuch nahi karta?* I asked the driver whether their
union does not do anything for them.

*Ab aisa hai ki union ek nahi, bikhre huye hai. Political party walon ka
bahrosa nahin. Aaj yahan toh kal wahan. *– Now it is like that we do not
have one union. There are several factions. And we do not trust political
parties. Today they are here, tomorrow they are there.

*Bambai mein to Shiv Sena wale auto union ko control karte hai. Aapke yahan
kya BJP wale union pe kaboo rakhte hai?* – I told him that in Bombay, the
Shiv Sena party controls the autorickshaw driver unions. Then I asked, if
the BJP has a hold on the unions in Delhi.

*Waisa nahin hai. Shiv Sena wale ne hamari thodi madad ki thi. Kiraya
badhwane ki hamari maang ko unhonne support diya tha. Lekin hum jyada Shiv
Sena party se sambandh nahi rakhte. Kyonki woh logon ko baant dete hai.
Phir, kuch samay baad, unki party bhi kamjoor pad gayi aur bikhar gayi. To
hum unhe support nahin na dete hai.* – It is not like that. The Shiv Sena
party and their people had given us some support at one time. When we raised
the issue of increasing the fares, they supported us. But we don’t keep much
relation with the Sena because they are into divisive politics. And then,
the party also became weak after a point in time and it began to
disintegrate.  So we don’t give them support.

To another auto driver, during another journey, I asked again why their
tribe was on strike. He said,

*Hum galat raaste ho jate hai to chalan kat jata hai 5,000 ka. Us se bada
nuksaan ho jata hai humko. Aur sarkar bhi hai jo kiraya badhane nahi deti.
Lekin chawal aur shakkar ke daam badh jaate hai. Ab dekho, Congress sarkar
ko aaye che mahine bhi nahin huye ki mehangaayi badh gayi. –* If we go on
the wrong side of the road, they issue a *chalan* of 5,000 rupees. That
leads us to incur very heavy losses. And then the government is there – they
don’t let us increase the fare. But the prices of essential commodities keep
rising. Now look, the Congress government is in power since only six months
and the prices of rice and sugar have increased.

We were on our way to South Delhi. At one stage, both the driver and I were
unsure about whether to make a left or a right on the road. We stopped by
and asked the guard at the club to direct us. I spoke to the guard and asked
him for the address. He said,

*Madam, woh toh road ke doosre side par hai. Agar autowallah us side se
jayega to usko chalan lag jayega. U turn le lo aur phir service road pakad
lo. *– Madam, the place you want to go to is on the other side of the road.
If the auto driver goes there, he will be issued a fine receipt. Go to the
end of the road, take a u-turn and then take the service road.

My heart jumped out when I heard the security guard. Just at the beginning
of the journey, the auto driver was telling me about *chalans* being issued
to them for being on the wrong side of the road and how unfair it was to
them and their livelihoods. And now, I would become the cause of a
*chalan*being issued to the auto driver. I was very scared. The moment
I spotted the
place I had to be at from the other side of the road, I stopped the auto
driver, gave him his prepaid fare claim receipt, and asked him to speed off.

In the days that passed, and I travelled through various parts of the city,
it became evident that the transport authority was perhaps one of the most
corrupt and controlling departments in the overall administration. Different
auto drivers, during different journeys, said,

*Ab aisa hai ki Tata wale yeh rickshaw banate hai. Iska daam hota hai
1,25,000 jyada se jyada. Uske upar, aap samajh lo ki gaadi ki registration,
permit, aur kharcha mila ke 10,000 aur ho jata hai. To maan lo ki gaadi ka
bahut kar ke 1,35,000 ho jata hai. Lekin aisa hai ki dalaalon ne kabza kar
rakha hai, aur black karte hai. Yehi gaadi bikti kai 4,00,000 se 5,00,000
lakh tak. Ab hum to itna kharcha kar nahin sakte hai nah?!? Aur yahan log
hai, jinhone ne pachaas pachaas auto apne paas kar liye hain. – *Now it is
like this that the Tata guys make these autorickshaws. The actual cost of
the vehicle is maximum Rs. 1,25,000. On top of that, there are costs of
registration and permits. That comes to about Rs. 10,000. So, at the most,
the auto costs about Rs. 1,35,000. Now, there are these brokers, they
control the sales of the autorickshaws and hike the price to Rs. 4,00,000 to
Rs. 5,00,000. Now, we cannot spend so much. And here, (in Delhi), there are
individuals who have about 50 vehicles under their ownership.

*Toh hum ne suna hai ki agar aap Haryana mein registration karwaye, to auto
1,75,000 mein mil jaati hai auto.* – So, we have heard that if you register
in Haryana, you get the auto for Rs. 1,75,000? I queried.

*Haan, yeh toh sahi hai. – *Yes, this is right.

*Haan, hum kal kisi ko mile the jo hame yeh bata raha tha –* Yes, we met
someone yesterday who was telling us this.

What a difference in the prices, no?, my friend travelling with me
exclaimed. Almost three times!

At another time, I asked the auto driver driving us from Central Secretariat
whether the prepaid auto system is more profitable for them or not.

*Ab aisa hai ki prepaid mein hammein do char rupaiye jyada mil jaate hai.
Lekin yeh bhi problem hai ki hammein jaana padta hai paisa lene ke liye – *Now
it is like that we get a little more money when we go by prepaid receipt
system. But then, the problem is that we have to go to collect the money
back to the counter from where the receipt was made in the first place.

*Haan, woh aapke raaste ke bahaar pad jata hoga?  *-* *Yes, that must be out
of the way for you.

*Nahi ji, woh baat nahi hai. Ab aisa hai ki pulicewale is prepaid ko chalate
hai. Aur pulicewala to apne baap ka bhi nahin to mera kya? *– No, that is
not really the case. The deal is that the prepaid auto system is run by the
(traffic) police. Now, the policeman does not even care for his own father,
what will he care for me?

*Toh aisa lagta hai ki transport department yahan sabse corrupt hai.* – So,
it seems like the transport department is most corrupt here.

*Haan ji. Ab aisa hai ki sarkar license ke do sau pachaas maangti hai. Jab
dalaal beech mein aa jata hai, to usi ka che hazaar ho jata hai. Phir permit
lena padta hai. Sarkar uske do sau assi maangti hai aur dalaal aa jaye to
wahi teen hazaar ka ho jata hai. Woh sab ko paise khilata hai – neeche se le
kar ke upar tak. *– Yes. Now it is like this that the *sarkar* (which could
mean administration or the government in different contexts) asks for 250
rupees for issuing license. When the broker comes in the way, then that same
license costs us Rs. 6,000. Then we also have to take a permit to run a
commercial vehicle on the road. For that, the administration asks for 280
rupees but the broker gets in between and makes it 3,000 rupees. The broker
gives money to every official in the administration, from bottom to the top.

*Phir, permit ki baat hi dekh li ji ye. Aisa hai ki hammein LMV (light motor
vehicle) ka permit mil jaye to hum LMV hi chala sakte hai. Agar hammein
truck wagayreh chalana ho, to HMV (heavy motor vehicle) ka license lena
padta hai.* – Then you also take the issue of permit. Now, it is like this
that we get a permit to drive light motor vehicles. But if we want to drive
a truck or some other heavy motor vehicle, then we have to take another

*To agar aap HMV chalate hai to phir to aapko LMV ka permit nahin lena padta
hoga?* – So then, I queried, if you drive a heavy motor vehicle, then you
don’t have to take a permit for a light motor vehicle?

*Kahan ji! Tab bhi hammein lena padta hai. Yehi to ajeeb baat hai. Agar koi
graduate ho, to kya aap us se punchenge ki tumne tenth ka class pass kiya
hai ki nahin? Hamney bhi ek baar officer se pooncha tha ki sahib, agar koi
graduate hai to kya aap us se poonchege ki woh tenth pass hai ki nahi?
Officer ne kaha ki yeh kayda ajeeb hai. Lekin woh kya kare? Woh thodi na
kayda badal sakta hai.* – Where? Even then we have to take a permit. Now, if
someone is a graduate, will you ask him whether he has passed tenth class
(i.e. schooling)? Once, we had asked an officer (in the authority), that
sir, if someone is a graduate, will you ask him whether he has passed tenth
class? The officer replied, yes, the rule is strange. But then, what can the
officer do? He cannot change the law and the rules.

*Ab aisa bhi hai ki minister department ko utna nahin jaanta jitna dalal
department ko ekum andar se jaanta hai. *– Now it is also like this that the
minister does not know the department as much as the broker knows. The
broker knows the insides of the department.

*Yahan to Punjabiyon ka raaj chalta. Woh hi saare autorickshaw control karte
hai. Aur hamare transport minister bhi Harwinder Singh Lovely ji hain –
Punjabi. Aur Punjabiyon ka toh aisa hai ki saara kaam bahar hi bahar kar wa
lo. *– Here, the Punjabis rule. Most of the autorickshaws are under their
control. And our transport minister is also a Punjabi. His name is Harwinder
Singh Lovely. And with the Punjabis, they prefer to get all the work done

*Bahar kar wa lo matlab kya? *­– What does it mean to get all the work done
outside? I asked. (Perhaps he meant that the Punjabis prefer all the matters
to be arbitrated and sorted out among the contending parties, outside of the
administration’s gaze and involvement.)

*Uska matlab hai sab kuch bahar hi nipta lo. Hamare Raju Srivastava ji ne ek
joke kaha tha. Flyover banane ka contract nikala sarkar ne. Bungali ne
30,000 ka contract bhara. Marwadi ne 60,000 ka aur Punjabi ne 90,000. Phir
afsar (officer) ne teen no ko bulaya aur pooncha ki teen no ke tender mein
itna pharak kyon. Bungali ne kaha ki woh saste mein flyover banayega. To woh
10,000 ka material layega, 10,000 labour ko dega aur 10,000 apna profit
rakhega. Marwari ne kaha ki woh thoda acchi quality ka flyover banayega. Toh
woh 20,000 ka material layega, 20,000 labour ko dega aur 20,000 khud profit
rakhega. Phir Punjabi se pooncha. Toh usne bataya ki woh 30,000 bungali ko
dega flyover banane ke liye, 30,000 afsar (officer) ko dega aur 30,000 khud
rakhega. Toh lo ji, sab khush – aap bhi khush aur main bhi khush.* – That
means that the matters have to be sorted out directly between the contending
parties. Our Raju Srivastava (comedian and TV personality) had once narrated
a joke. A tender was opened for bids to construct a flyover. Bengali quoted
30,000 rupees, Marwari quoted 60,000 rupees and Punjabi quoted 90,000
rupees. The officer called them all in order for them to explain the
disparities in the price quoted. Bengali said that he would build a cheap
flyover and hence, he would pay 10,000 for materials, 10,000 for labour and
keep 10,000 as profit for himself. Marwari said he would build a flyover of
good quality. Hence, he would spend 20,000 on materials, 20,000 on labour
and 20,000 as personal profit. Punjabi said that he would give 30,000 to the
Bengali to build the flyover, 30,000 to the officer and keep the balance
30,000 for himself. This way, you are also happy, I am also happy, Bengali
is also happy and everyone is happy!

People narrated their perceptions in some journeys. At one time, I was told
that house owners prefer to rent their apartments to Bengalis because the
Bengalis are peace-loving people and do not fight, whereas Punjabis are more
likely to capture the property after living there for some time. In one
journey, the autorickshaw driver remarked that Bengalis living in Delhi’s CR
Park had all migrated from Bangladesh. He believed that Calcutta was always
a prosperous city and that the only Bengalis who migrated were the Hindus
from East Pakistan. He explained to us how Calcutta is a cheap city:

*Yahan aap auto mein 55 rupaiye kharcha karenge. Wahan Calcutta mein 55
rupaiye mein aap taxi ki savari kar sakte hai.* – Here, in Delhi, you will
spend 55 rupees to travel in an auto. There, in Calcutta, you will spend 55
rupees to travel in a taxi.

He continued,

*Calcutta accha sheher tha. Lekin yeh CPI (M) walon ne usko bigaad ke rakkha
hai. Hara aye din strike kar dete hai.* – Calcutta was a nice city (the word
*sheher* somehow indicates much more magnanimity, benevolence and vastness
than its English translation city!). But, then the CPI (M) (Communist Party
– Marxist) has spoilt the city. Every other day, they call for a strike.

I think about the disdain with politics that people narrate to me. Yet, they
engage with politics. On the surface, we may read this as the corruption
that has set into politics. And yet, people engage with politics. Does one
class this as “necessary evil”? Or political consciousness? I am not sure
how to explain this. For now, I refuse to dismiss this as
corruption/apathy/degeneration set into politics. Perhaps I see this as a
way of balancing power scales and equations …


Then I ride past South Delhi. They are building the metro rail system. Just
the other day, Mel, D and I were talking in the train from Vidhan Sabha to
New Delhi Railway station:

Moi: It is so terrible to keep hearing the same announcements at each
station each time you travel through the same route.

D: Perhaps they should randomize the announcements!

Moi: How? They should declare that the next station is Chawri Bazaar and not
Civil Lines?

D: Yes, maybe. Then everyone will laugh – hahahahaha!

Mel: Hehehe! I think the funniest announcement is when they say “Beware!
Toys, bags, etc could be bomb!” Yes, bomb!  Like everywhere, everyday there
is bomb!

Moi: The other day, I was travelling in the train from Vidhan Sabha to Rajiv
Chowk. At Kashmere Gate, lots of people got in. One of them had a suitcase
which he kept close to an old woman’s legs. The old woman began asking
around – “whose suitcase? Whose suitcase? Whose suitcase?” – but no one
responded. I felt that the owner of the suitcase was not responding because
he did not want to haggle with the old woman for space to keep his luggage.
And I assumed that the old woman was nagging because she wanted it moved.
Finally, she announced, “*Bhaiyya* (brother), you never know what this
suitcase could be!” implying that it could be a bomb. “Times are different
today.” The *bhaiyya* listening to her concurred with her. The owner of the
suitcase came forth and ascertained that the bag belonged to him. I was
reminded of my first bus journey in London when an old woman sitting next to
me almost had palpitations when she saw the police accumulated around a
roadside flea market from outside the window. She wondered whether it was a

Hmmm … such memories, such associations, such fears.

The Delhi Metro keeps extending each year to different parts of the city.
Sometimes I am fascinated and I feel wow! I am able to see parts of Delhi
which I wouldn’t have had there been no metro. Then I tell myself that maybe
I am building false hopes because it means now with the metro, I don’t take
no buses as I used to earlier. I think of regularities, of habits, of
everyday routines and what the metro does to people’s lives in this city as
also to their minds. Does it open the possibilities for new encounters? …

[The other day when I was in the train, people got inside in large numbers
at Kashmere Gate. A fellow happened to push another. The one who got pushed
turned around and asked the pusher,

*Dhakka kyon diya? *Why did you push?

*Arre bhaiyya, tum nah toh mere dost nah to mere dushman, main aapko jaan
boojh kar dhakka kyon du?* The fellow replied, oh brother! I am neither your
friend nor your foe, why should I push you!

The two men smiled and understood. *Dilli dilwalon ki hai* – it is these
negotiations which force me to peer into the city and into people and their
conversations and encounters …]

Does the Metro foster/reinforce old beliefs and ideas? I pass through the
security checks each day at each Metro station. Sometimes I find the lady
guards so bored, doing the same thing they do over and over again – feel
people’s bodies and search their bags. Most of the times, it is a half
hearted effort, like a formality. And then, as I write right now, I wonder
what would happen if there were no security checks at all at each of the
metro stations …

I also think of the implications the underground and elevated metro has, not
so much in terms of costs and effects on surrounding neighbourhoods, but
more in terms of what becomes visible and invisible as we go underground in
some areas and over ground in others? How does over ground and underground
shape our perceptions of the city, our sight, our minds and our visions? …**

We walked out of Vidhan Sabha metro station, gate number 1. Across the road
were the luxurious DMRC flats meant for the DMRC employees. I point them out
to Mel. She also exclaimed in wonder. And then she asked me, “So the
security guards at the stations and the people who sell the tokens live in
these flats?” I said no. I would imagine they are meant for the top notch
officials. Then she laughed and said, “Maybe those who guard the metro rail
stations also guard these flats!”

The train is usually filled at Kashmere Gate and it both empties and fills
up at Rajiv Chowk. The Blue Line trains going to Dwarka are crazy. You get
no seat on them to sit for most parts of the journey. The announcement goes:

“Please do not sit on the floors of the train and do not play music.”

And people sit on the floors of the train. And I wonder whether I can play
my I-Pod into my ears and if I do, would I be violating the rules of the use
of the Metro?

I talk to the taxi driver on the way to the airport. I ask him,

*Bhaiyya*, *Metro ke aa jane se aapke dhande ko pharak pada hai?* – Has your
business been affected because of the coming of the metro?

*Nahi ji. Koi nahi. Balki Metro* *ke badh jaane se hamara dhanda to aur badh
jayega. Kya hota hai ji ki log to station par utar jaate hai. Lekin unko
aage bhi jaana hota hai. Toh ab kya hoga ki hammein jyada sawari milegi,
bhale hi short distance ke liye. Lekin sawari jyada ho jayegi aur jaldi
jaldi customer milte rahege *– Not at all! Instead, with the coming of the
Metro, our business will increase. What happens is that people get off at
the station and then they need to go ahead. In which case, they will call on
us. Yes, the distances will be shorter, but we will get more customers, and

Autorickshaw fellows also concurred along similar lines. I asked one of them
whether the coming of the Metro has made a difference to Delhi. He

*Ab kya hai ji ki BJP sarkar ne is Metro ki planning kit hi dus saal pehle.
Aur phir aabaadi toh badhti jaati hai. Aur ab is Metro ke aane se, aabaadi
aur bhi badh gayi hai!* – The BJP government had planned the Metro ten years
ago (according to the then estimates). What happens is that the population
increases and now with the Metro, the population has increased further.

But the taxi driver does not concur here. He says,

*Metro ke aane se pharak pada hai? Kuch nahi ji. Ab kya hota hai ki Dilli ka
aadmi bada sust hota hai. Woh bistar mein pada pada phone lagayega taxi ke
liye. Hum taxi le aate hai. Phir woh kahe ga bhaiyya zara upar aa kar ke
samaan utha lena. Chalo ji, humne samaan utha liya. Phir hum usko station
pahuncha dete hai. Ab who kahega, bhaiyya zara coolie bulwa dena. Chalo ji
coolie ne maang liye sau-do sau. De diye. Ab in forgeineron ko dekh lo. Khud
itne bade bade samaan apne peenth par utha kar ke khud hi chalte hai aur
station khud hi jaate hai. Hamare yahan ke log bade aalsi hai. Ab dekhiye
ji, kaun sa aadmi metro mein chadhega? Jo beechara busson mein safar karte
karte thak gaya hai aur jo jaldi aur theek thaak pahunchna chahta hai. Ab jo
pachees-tees hazaar kamane wala hai, kya who metro mein safar karega?* – Has
the coming of the metro made a difference? Nothing! Now what happens is that
the man in Delhi is very lazy. He will lie in his bed and make a phone call
for a taxi. Ok, we bring the taxi to his house. Then he will call us
upstairs and ask to pick up his luggage. Ok, we have done that too. Then we
drive him to the station. On reaching, he will tell us, ‘go, call a coolie
to lift the luggage’. The coolie demands 100-200 rupees – they give it. Now
look at these foreigners. They carry their heavy backpacks on their
shoulders and backs and they walk themselves to the station. Our people are
not like that. Now tell me, who are the people who will use the metro? Those
who travel by buses and who want to travel in a clean and safe way and want
to reach their destinations quickly. Those who earn 25,000-30,000 rupees, do
you think they will take the metro?

He continued,

*Yeh public-city hi aisi hai. Jiski jaisi soch, woh waisa hi karega. Joh
gaadi mein chalne wala hai, woh gaadi mein he jayega.* – This is public-city
is like this only. Those who think a particular way, they will behave
accordingly. Those who travel by car, they will always use a car.

I think about planning, public transport and ways by which people travel the
city. The taxi driver tells me,

*Ab Dilli mein jitney road ya flyover bana le, gaadiyan kam nahi hongi. Hota
yun hai ki jeb mein hai 10,000 rupaiye. Toh bank wale phone kar ke kehte
hai, ‘gaadi bhijwa dete hai’. Kamaiyi toh hote rahegi. Har mahine paise
bharte rahenge.* – Now in Delhi, build as many roads and flyovers as you
like, the number of cars on the road will not reduce. It happens like this
that you have 10,000 rupees sitting in your pocket and the Bank fellow
knows, he will phone you. He will tell you, ‘we are sending a car for you’.
The Bank fellow believes that this fellow will keep earning. So every month,
he will pay the installments.

Then I ask the taxi *bhaiyya*

*Aur zameen? *– And land? (Can you buy land?)

He laughs, in a tone I cannot describe. I don’t know what emotion he is
going through or what thought it is. He says,

*Woh to aap soch bhi nahi sakte Dilli mein.* –You cannot think of buying
land in Delhi.

My mind races back to the man whose name I did not ask, but when we were
wandering around someone’s house, he asked me if I was in their area to
purchase a plot of land. This man had been moved from Shahadra to a
resettlement colony because his land/house was going to be acquired under
the Metro rail construction. I asked him whether he was not interested in
going back to Shahadra and residing there. He looked at me and smiled and

*Soch bhi nahi sakte waapas jaane ki! Zameen ke bhau itne badh chuke hai ki
hum soch bhi nahi sakte. Ek gaj ke 35,000 rupaiye. Kahan se laye?* – Cannot
even think of going back! The prices of the land have increased so much that
we cannot even think. One *gaj* (square meter) costs about 35,000 rupees
now. Where to get so much money?

*Kya! Itne kyon badh gaye?* – What? I exclaimed. Why have the prices
increased so much?

*Kyonki wahan ab poora market ban gaya hai* … - Because a full market has
come up there. I am not sure what the market means because as I wanted to
talk more, my host asked me to come in along with him and have tea. But he
said he did not want to come in. He asked me to look around his area and see
if I find some (plot) that I like and want to purchase. Market, I think
about that ghost and demon. It has been intriguing me what is the market?
How do we understand it? Where is the market? How do we understand the
scales at which markets operate? Do the scales have to be separated or can
we understand and narrate in a way where scales are neither overwhelming nor
absolute nor diminishing one or the other? Market …

And then, in the midst of my thoughts, I suddenly ask the taxi driver where
he lives?

*Mayur Vihar Phase III.*

*Haan, hum Mayur Vihar Phase I mein rehte the pehle. * – yes, I used to live
in Mayur Vihar Phase I in the beginning, I told him.

He then said, somewhat as a matter of factly,

*Asal mein Phase I aur II mein apartment hai aur society hai. Phase III
poora gaon jaisa hai. Wahan pe gaon jaise kothi/makaan hote hai. Gharon mein
aangan jaisa hota hai.* – Actually, in Phase I and II there are apartments
and are organized into (housing) societies. Phase III is completely a
village. There you have houses like those in villages. Some of the houses
have courtyards. As he mentioned this to me, I recognized the aspiration for
modernity. In some sense, his tone was slightly hesitant and then also
somewhat ashamed. From the beginning of our journey, the taxi driver had
been talking about how companies like Easy Cabs are now becoming popular in
Delhi because,

*AC hota hai. Aaraam hai. Auto wale jaise thodi door jaane ke liye jyaada
paise maangte hai. Ab hamare yahan kya hai ki sab facilities hai. Aur hum
poora data record kar ke rakhte hai. Dekhiye ji aisa ki is gaadi ne kab kis
passenger ko kahan choda tha uska poora data aur record hamare paas hai. Ab
aapne kahin bag chod diya gaadi mein, to aap keh sakte hai ki is gaadi aur
is driver ne hammein choda tha is samay. Aapka bag waapas mil sakta hai. Ab
auto ka kya hai ki driver ke maathe pe nahin likha hota ki woh imaandar hai
ya nahin. Aapko apna bag mile ya nahin. - * There is air conditioning. The
auto drivers ask you for a lot of money for going a short distance. We, at
Easy Cabs, have all the facilities. We maintain a complete record and all
the data regarding all journeys that a particular cab and the driver have
done. So if you leave your bag in the car by any chance, then you can call
and tell the company that you travelled on so-and-so date in so-and-so car
number and you will get your bag back. Now with the auto driver, it is not
written on his forehead that he is honest and will return your bag to you

The taxi driver had completed his Bachelors in Commerce discipline. He gets
20% of the share from the day’s earnings. It has been two years since he is
driving his cab. His father is an employee in the Delhi Jal Board (DJB). He
is trying for a position in the police services and he hopes it will work
out. He tells me about the flyover that is being built from IIT gate right
up to the airport.

*Aap dus minute mein airport pahunch jaoge ek baar yeh flyover ban gaya toh.
Lekin iska kaam chal raha hai chaar saal se. Games hone tak yeh ban jayega.
Aisa hai ki PWD wale isko bana rahe hai. Agar private wala banata, toh ab
tak yeh khatam ho chuka hota. * – Once this flyover is built, you will reach
the airport in ten minutes flat. But the work on this flyover has been going
on since 4 years. It should be ready by the time the 2010 (Common Wealth)
Games begin in Delhi. The deal is that the Public Works Department (PWD)
folks are constructing this flyover. If a private contractor were doing
this, it would be ready in the agreed upon time.

This intrigues me. I want to probe into his notions of privatization and
contract work, more so because he said his father was an employee of the
DJB, a government servant.

*Toh bhaiyya yeh DJB ko private kar ne wale the?* – So brother, they were
going to privatize the DJB, I asked him.

*Haan, woh toh BJP sarkar karne wali thi. Ab Congress sarkar aayi huyi hai
toh unhone rok rakha hai.* – Yes, that the BJP government was going to do.
But now that the Congress government has come, it has put a stop to

Then I want to probe more. Hence, I ask him about electricity privatization
in Delhi and how that has proved to be as inefficient as the DESU running it
and the number of power cuts continue to be the same. He replies,

*Ab aisa hai ki koi aadmi do kilo vazan utha sakta hai. Ab aap us ko bolon
ki chalees kilo uthaye. Toh woh kaise utha payega? Ab har ghar mein AC hai,
pankhe hai. Balki ek hi room mein kamas kam do AC hai. Cooler to the hi the.
Log bhi to jyada bijli istamaal kar rahe hai.* – Now it is like that man can
lift 10 kilo weight but you ask him to lift 40 kilos, will he be able to do
it? Now, in every house, there are air-conditioners and fans. Moreover, in
the same room, there are two air-conditioners. Coolers were always there.
You leave that. And people are also using more and more electricity.

I am left on this journey thinking about the ways in which people perceive
services provided by governments and those provided by private entities.
There is no straightforward story that we can tell of whether the private is
better than government or that the state should continue to provide water,
lighting, health and education. I am grappling with some of these issues.


I move around South Delhi and notice the frenetic pace of the Metro Rail
construction in preparation for the Games in 2010. I pass by an area whose
name I don’t know, but it appears before you hit Defence Colony. The
construction of the stadium is happening there. Shapoorji Paloonji is the
contractor. I am told that LNJP colony near New Delhi railway station is
going to be moved. Surveys have taken place to enumerate the slum dwellers.
Mel says that the dwellers feel irritated when they see a foreigner around
because they are currently coping with the stress of potential eviction.
There is no information as to when the evictions will happen. They are only
told that the evictions will happen. We go to Ghevra and at the entry to
Savda colony where the autorickshaws and cycle rickshaws stand, we are asked
if we want to go to Savda. We ask the people who ask us how they know that
we are going to Savda. They say that many NGOwalahs come here and they
marked as one of that tribe. When being driven around in Savda, people
laughed at us and mocked the autorickshaw driver,

Haan, take them around Savda. They have come to see the area. Come, see!

It is mockery at us, because we are seen as spectators of their plight. I
feel ashamed. But I hold out, because *Dilli dilwalon ki hai* and it is the
*dil* –the* *heart, the courage, the spirit – which I have to rely on. We
pass through the laughter and the prying eyes. And then we are invited into
people’s homes and their lives. I watch around in Savda. I hear the language
of capture, of building, of speculation which I hear in Mumbai. I then
wonder what happens once the games are over. I am told that the built
structures will be sold. In my heart of hearts, I hope that they are
captured by the very people on whose possessions these were built on.


I began to write my notes sitting at the airport. And even then, I find
these are incomplete. There are questions I have not asked, there are
conversations I have not told. There is the story of *khatra* – danger –
that the autodrivers spoke to me about which I have not told here. There is
the story of illegal property with legal stamping and legal property with
official stamps to prove that there is no *ghotala – *scam – in the
transactions and the resulting ownership. But I am spent for now. I am
immersed in these tales and I am still dissecting them to understand a city
that is becoming. For that matter, all cities in India are now becoming,
becoming in a way that was vastly different from what it was two decades
ago. My children will know of cities the way I did not know of them. But
then, how much did I really know of them as I grew up? …

I write with my feet … I feel to travel more …

[Dedicated to Melodi Oz with who I travelled into some parts of Delhi and
lived with during my time in the city. The Oz turned out to be a wizard –
waiting for more magic and laughter to rub on me in the times to come.

Dedicated to Ravi Sundaram and his Pirate Modernity – for the conversations,
the friendship and the understanding of cities that I have derived from him
in some measure.]

Zainab Bawa
Ph.D. Student and Independent Researcher

Gaining Ground ...


More information about the reader-list mailing list