Monday, December 03, 2007

Delhi Journo: My First Impression

My workdays at Delhi consisted of either going to the Supreme Court or paying a visit to my senior’s chamber in Noida. The first glimpse of the Supreme Court left me absolutely awed. The majestic building, teeming with men (and of course, women) in black robes instantly filled me with a sense of great pride. This is the seat of justice where different lives are made or broken, laws are formulated and legends are born. During my tenure of internship, I had caught glimpses of legal experts like Mr. Arun Jaitley, Mr. K K Venugopal, Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Mr. Harish Salve, Mr. Rajeev Dhawan, Ms. Indira Jaisingh and many more. It is indeed a wonderful feeling to be able to walk alongside them in the corridors of the Supreme Court.
I was also required to attend the Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal, being heard among the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. I had to take a bus from my hostel in Mandir Marg to Bhikaji Kama Place and traveled for about 1 hour, enjoying the highlights of the city. The wide roads, lined with abundant greenery were an extremely soothing sight for the eyes. I used to pass landmarks like the Parliament and the India Gate and never ceased to crane out my neck to drink in the wondrous sights.

My real woes began when I started going to my senior’s place at Noida. I had to reach Barakhamba, from where I surrendered myself to the only available bus no 355. Not only was it always extremely crowded, but also the journey lasted for more than 45 minutes. Sometimes, I hardly had space to keep both my feet. Sometimes, I desperately wished to get down even before reaching Sector 17. After braving this torturous journey in the sweltering Delhi heat for almost 30 days, I was not unhappy when my internship came to an end.

I also had my share of unpleasant experiences that come with traveling in public transport in Delhi. It is rightly said that a woman cannot be aboard a bus for 2 minutes without being felt up. I have heard many girls complaining about roving hands of Delhi male crowd, but thankfully I did not face it. What I was always putting up with was constant stares from all sorts of men everywhere. It was extremely disconcerting to find them staring at you, even at the danger of twisting their necks at a degree of 180. Most surprisingly, they never flinched if I glared back. As if staring at a woman was the most natural thing to do!

May be because of this reason and much more, Delhi buses had more seats reserved for women than what I have seen in Calcutta. But it hardly seemed to solve the problem. Men occupying the ladies seat refused, more often than not, to vacate them for a woman. I had seen two young men offering an elderly woman their lap (!) to seat instead of vacating the seat for her. A woman got barked at by a perfectly gentleman looking male, after she requested him to let her occupy the ladies seat in a particularly crowded Noida bus. I now knew why the women in Delhi never asked the male species for the reserved seats. I guess it is better standing and jostling in the crowd than get a rude answer on the face. A woman did not let her grown-up son to vacate the seat for me, saying ‘agar sab seat ladies ke liye reserved hain to bacche (!) kahan baitheyenge?’ It is not hard to guess how polite that ‘baccha’ will be towards women once he really grows out of his mummy’s pallu.
But it would be entirely wrong to assume that all men in Delhi behave in this appalling way, but this is definitely the general picture. The men used to be miffed at the scenario of reservation and cited the feminist argument of gender equality as a reason. But I feel that as long as there is no equality in the way women are treated in a crowd, then we are still a long way away for a society with no gender reservations.

Another thing about the Delhi population that put almost all of us in some kind of trouble was their sense of direction. Since we were new in the city, we had to depend a lot on the local people for information on direction. But the surprising thing is that even if they did not know, none of them admitted that and gave some kind of confusing direction! Many times it had so happened that we have been moving in the wrong way for quite sometime until someone put us in the right track. The traffic sergeants also fall in the same category. So if you are in Delhi and need help regarding direction, always go to the panwallahs, and other such small vendors. They have never failed me till date.

I should also mention my experiences as a single woman in a city notoriously famous for the most number of instances of sexual violence. As a precaution, we always returned early to our hostel and hardly ventured far once it was dark. But it was not always so for me. I took almost one and half hours to travel from Noida and more often that not, I returned late. One particular incident scared me out of my wits. One day I was caught in a dust storm, while returning from CP at about 8 pm. I was walking against the wind and could hardly see anything in front me because of the flying particles. Suddenly I found two men on either side of me whispering ‘akeli hain? chalna hain kya?’ I momentarily froze on the spot expecting the worst, but felt them brushing past me. This happened very near my hostel and god only knows, how I felt once I reached its safety.
My friend faced a nasty situation on the second day of arriving at Delhi. Her senior had arranged for a cab for her and another woman lawyer who was coming the same way. After the latter got off near Bengali Market, the cab driver informed my friend that he did not know the way to CP, let alone Mandir Marg. She reached the hostel at 9 pm after directing the driver herself using her scant knowledge of Delhi roads. There were times when she made the wrong guess and found herself in completely alien roads. But we could not help but wonder how a cab driver could not know way to one of the most important places i.e. CP.
Here, it is needless to comment on the scenario of security in Calcutta, since this journal is not about it, but I can say one thing that, there is absolutely no place called a ‘safe city’ for women. I guess that says it all.

One thing about the city, which I really loved, was the signals and marks on every bus stand and road indicating where exactly one was. We never had any difficulty in knowing which bus to take, or whether a particular bus stopped at that stand, as it was all described on the board. Also all roads had signposts spelling their names. But the rash traffic took some time for me to get used to, despite the fact that I have lived my life in one of the most crowded metros. Even in Calcutta, motorbike riders do not perform stunts (like riding on the hind wheel only) on busy thoroughfares, as they do in Delhi.

But there were some basic flaws with Delhi roads. Most often that not, they used to be plunged into darkness due to absence of streetlights (at least this was the case with the roads all around my hostel and some more). This meant that all you could see of the oncoming traffic was specks of headlights and it became difficult to ascertain how far they were, while crossing. Another inconvenient feature were the narrow dividers on Delhi roads. While crossing a road one evening, I found myself on the divider waiting for the rush of traffic in front of me to stop. A bus went past behind me with such velocity and force, that I felt almost pushed onto the road due to the impact. That memory still makes me shudder with a chill that has nothing to do with the weather around me.

But there are some things, which took my breath away, and Delhi Metro Railways is certainly one of them. Coming from a city with the oldest and first underground system, I was absolutely amazed after a ride in the Metro. May be because of the stark contrast between the ill-maintained, technologically-deficient and suicide-prone Calcutta Metro and the new, super fast and efficient Delhi Metro, I absolutely fell in love with the latter. I think the city has overcome most of its traffic problems due to this three-line underground system, which covered a wide area. Last seen, the city was working fast to extend Metro till Noida for the Commonwealth Games 2010.

So it can be said that, while I absolutely loved the sight of the capital city, the population there put me off in a big way. Be it for their attitude or their rude disposition, I would think twice before I decide to settle there permanently, if the situation so arises.


WHAT'S IN A NAME ? said...

A descriptive documentary colored with hues of personal likes. Every city has its own charms and deficiencies. People's attitude add to that or summarily deduct from that 'likeability' quotient. Delhi might be a 'Stiff Wonder' of concrete,but personally speaking, Kolkata has life. Period.

DreamCatcher said...

wow!! wow!! wow!
well thanx to technorati..i got to knw my blog linked here...n when i visted here..i saw my city everywhere..cheers!!!!

loved this superb description every word!! ..n good to have u in my city..!!!
Delhi rocks! ;)

WHAT'S IN A NAME ? said...

you have been tagged, mademoiselle.