It’s nine thirty on a Monday morning. You find yourself once more on the platform of the Guru Dronacharya metro station, suffering from a serious bout of the Monday morning blues. It’s the month of September and the Delhi heat refuses to give way to anything but more heat. You’ve taken a shower in the morning, but you’re pretty sure you’re going to bathe again, this time in your own sweat, if the metro doesn’t arrive soon.
Luckily, you just have to wait a couple of minutes before the train trudges into the station. You know it’s going to be slightly crowded, and it is. You wait until some commuters disembark before you step into the air conditioned carriage, feeling an unexpected sense of relief as you do. You’re feeling relieved to be in the metro, the heat must be affecting your brain.
All the seats are taken, you’re not surprised. But a lady who boarded with you is.
She entered with her eyes narrowed, head moving from left to right like a predator searching for prey, looking for even a fistful of space where she could miraculously squeeze her much-more-than-a-fistful of bottom. Finding none, she has no choice but to stand there, still looking from left to right, ready to strike at the first sign of any movement resembling de-boarding intentions.
You, meanwhile, lean against one of the poles as you pull out V.S Naipaul’s ‘The Mimic Men’ from your bag and settle down, best as you can while you’re standing, ready to engross yourself in the pages of the novel, and forget the undeclared war for metro seats you know is going on around you.
By the time the train reaches Saket, your back is sore, and the strap of your bag is slowly drilling a hole into your shoulder. Luckily, a woman near you vacates her seat. Unluckily, your fellow ‘boarder’, the predator, reaches it first.
You’ve been using the Delhi Metro for two years now, spending two hours a day in the mobile boxes. You’re no longer the innocent first year student, naive enough to imagine she’s going to get a seat without fighting for it.
You make your way to the lady whose taken the seat that was ‘rightfully’ yours. You signal to her to move over, surprisingly, she does. Fortunately, this leaves enough space for you to just about squeeze in between her neighbour and her.
You cry inside as you realize you’re turning into the lady you just forced to move over. Another ten years, and that would be you, squeezing your backside into spaces not sufficient for it.
At Hauz Khas, a lady next to you gets off and you gratefully take her seat, giving your bottom, and no doubt everyone else’s too, space to breath. You open your book, hoping to forget the dark ‘metro auntie’ type future awaiting you.
You’ve barely read two lines when the smell of varnish reaches your nose.
You’ve been using the metro for two years. You’ve seen women breast feeding their babies, you’ve seen bare bottomed toddlers scampering up and down the space between seats, you’ve heard ladies discussing their terrible in laws, you’ve seen women headbanging to Hookah Bar at seven in the morning, and you’ve smelled everything, from deodorant to hair oil to fart.
But never varnish.
Bewildered, you look to your right. The ‘moved over’ lady is cleaning her nails.
You look to your left, and the mystery is solved.
The twenty something girl next to you is busy painting her nails pitch black. She paints one, blows on it twice, then moves to the next. You’re fascinated by the way she manages to apply neat, even coats of the paint, remembering your own gazillion unsuccessful attempts to do the same over the past twenty years. You wonder when you last painted your own nails. You remember, you didn’t. After repeated attempts to beautify them, and after you finished half a bottle of nail polish remover, you finally asked your sister to paint them for you.
You come out of your reverie to see your neighbour has finished her artistry. You’re getting ready to return to your book when she pulls out a hand mirror from her purse, making you quickly realize she’s going to groom herself next to you.
She pulls out a black kajal pencil from her purse and removing the cap, sets about applying it on her eyelids. You can hardly apply eyeliner properly when you’re standing in a stationary room, before a stationary mirror, with your stationary face, and here she is, doing a better job than you in a moving metro. You’re starting to feel slightly inadequate now.
You open your book once again, realizing you’re staring at your neighbour far too much, meaning your transition into ‘metro auntie’ types is almost complete.
A couple of seconds later, your neighbour begins to make loud popping noises. You try to pretend you haven’t noticed, but the repeated sounds are so inane, you just have to look.
She holds a bright red lipstick between her fingers now, and is carefully turning her lips into something resembling cut tomatoes. You look at the lipstick, and wonder what you were thinking.
The last time you used lipstick was when you were ten, and all dressed up and dancing with your sisters. Your fetish for makeup finished then itself. Stereotypically, with your love for books and your undying desire to be prescribed a pair of glasses, you’re the ‘simple’ girl, the epitome of Deepika Padukone’s character in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, one of the few differences between her ‘Naina’ and you being you would never date a ‘bunny’, pun intended.
You’re approaching Central Secretariat now, and your neighbour is finally feeling beautiful. She dumps all her makeup into her bag, and with a last popping of her lips, makes her way to the door. Your other neighbour, the ‘moved over’ lady gets off too, and as new commuters enter, the seats on both sides of you stand empty.
They’re taken by two girls your age, one alone, another with a friend. You’ve barely read ten pages the whole way, you’re hoping they’ll be uninteresting enough for you to complete the chapter you’re on at least.
They are, but their appetites aren’t.
You’re at Rajiv Chowk when the girl on your left pulls an apple out of her bag. The smell of food early in the morning sickens you anyway; you’ve never been one for heavy breakfasts. But the smell of apple, so close to you, and the sound of your neighbour taking humungous bites from it, is enough to make you commit suicide then and there. Durkheim was obviously wrong when he declared integration and regulation to be the causes of all suicides, apples kill too.
You have no choice. You’re going to have to sit there and take it. But you can reduce the impact of the smell. You lean slightly towards your right, knowing it won’t make much of a difference, but something is better than nothing.
Unfortunately, the girl on your right is ridiculously competitive. She’s noticed the apple, and she’s not one to be left behind. You’re still recovering from the fruity stench when she opens her bag and pulls out, wait for it, an apple.
You look at her face, convinced this must be some kind of a joke; hoping it is.
There are about ten minutes between you and the Vishwavidyalaya metro station, and those ten minutes are a serious test of your patience. Things are so bad you’re actually even willing to exchange the situation you’re in for what you thought was your worst nightmare- being locked in a room with Shobhaa De, Chetan Bhagat and good ol’ Arnab Goswami.
You sit there, resisting the temptation to pull out the solitary pen in your bag, uncap it, and pierce your throat repeatedly with the nib till you die.
The vicious circle of apple consumption, meanwhile, continues around you.You hear a bite on your left. This is followed by a second of silence. Then you hear a bite on your right. Then there’s some serious munching for a minute, and the cycle begins again.
You shut your book, lean against the window behind you, close your eyes, and hold your breath.