The Delhi Metro is a physical symbol of India’s modernization. Yet living in Delhi and regularly taking the Metro, for me, the intimate significance of this progress real and alive.
Today, just as I have done in New York, Boston, and Philly, I transferred subway lines, from Yellow to Violet, to get home today from NIFT, the university where I work. As usual, I forced my way off the train like a running back, leaning hard into the crowd of shoving, boarding passengers. Successfully through the defensive line, I headed for the nearest escalator, ignoring the “Keep Delhi Healthy – Take the Stairs!” sign. Unperturbed by the normalcy of the moving staircase, I brushed past a middle-aged woman who was hesitating at the first step and boarded the escalator unconsciously.
As I ascended, I looked behind and noticed the woman, still at the bottom of the stairs. She clutched her sari skirt in one hand and the escalator railing in the other, as she rocked forward and back, willing herself to step onto this evidently unfamiliar contraption. Her husband and son waved her on from the top of the stair, more impatiently than encouragingly, as they looked toward the next train platform. I don’t know whether she overcame her hesitation or turned away to find the nearest staircase, for I walked on from the escalator once I reached the top, not wanting to cause a pile-up.
Standing on the platform, waiting for my next train, I thought about the thousands of escalators I have taken in my lifetime: in malls, in airports, in museums, in stadiums. I’ve never thought twice about this mode of transport. Just a normal part of life. Watching the woman struggle with a “normal part of life,” I wondered when she would step without reluctance onto escalators and feel that moving staircases truly were normal.
Ironically, as India modernizes, some “normalcies” of Indian life will disappear, for better or worse. Many Fulbrighters who previously visited India five or so years ago say that Delhi is a changed city. Pollution and litter are far less omnipresent, for example; a positive change by just about everyone’s estimation. On the other hand, you don’t see as many cows roaming the city (a negative change in my opinion). And many young women in Delhi have traded their daily wardrobes of colorful, sparkling saris and kurtas in favor of jeans and t-shirts. When women in India no longer hesitate at the bottom of escalators, I wonder what cultural traits will have been gained and what will have been lost.
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