On January 5, Pradeep Mittal, 45, a chartered accountant who works in Rajender Nagar, boarded the Delhi metro from the Central Secretariat metro station with his driver Rohit Singh at 8 am. When he could not find a seat on the busy train, he followed Singh’s lead and sat down on the floor of the train, at the intersection of the two compartments. Mittal, in his navy blue blazer, brogues and a leather brief case, and Singh in his floaters and socks, “Kejriwal style”, he says.
At the two-seater adjacent to them, Rama Srinivas, 38, a Maths teacher in a central Delhi school and Archana, 22, a sales person in Connaught Place squeezed in, smiling at each other after a while. The packed compartment was the great equaliser in class conscious Delhi. Not surprisingly, the conversations were largely about the 15-day odd-even policy that forced Delhi into this new way of life. Conversations spread across the entire length of the metro seats as people who had never met, spoke and laughed about their experiences.
Many reasons were declared for following the policy. “It’s not about the Rs 2,000 fine. To act as a real deterrent in Delhi, the fine should be much more. I decided to take the metro to set an example for my 15-year-old who, despite his coughing and sneezing, will not hear of going for his tuitions without a car,” says Mittal. The family owns three cars. As luck would have it, they are all even numbered. Singh was looking forward to having alternate days off but found himself being his boss’s guide during the latter’s maiden metro ride. Mittal’s family was celebrating new year in Kerala, and returned only on January 4. Mittal had used the metro in Paris and Dubai, but never in Delhi. He is impressed with how clean it is.
“My boy has been throwing a tantrum since last night because I asked him to cycle the 10-minute distance to his tuition classes. He can cycle on a gym bike for hours but not on the streets. Frankly, this scheme has shown me just how obnoxiously I have brought up my son,” Mittal says. Nearby, Archana is helping Srinivas note down bus routes and metro feeder spots on her iPhone. “I am having a long conversation with a total stranger who is actually helping me. My husband was so worried because I am taking the metro alone, and well this is big, bad Delhi after all,” says Srinivas.
On January 4, the first Monday of the new year, Ashwini Bose, 34, stepped into a DTC bus for the first time in 15 years. A deputy general marketing manager at a private bank in Gurgaon, Bose decided to follow the odd-even policy with a vengeance. “My father was transferred to Delhi from Asansol in West Bengal when I was 10. God knows, I have circumvented enough rules. But even though I was officially exempt this time, I decided to give it an honest go,” says Bose, who drives an odd-numbered Ford EcoSport. Her late mother described Delhi’s buses as shobujees or greens. Her 15-minute, smooth bus ride reminds Bose of her mother. The wife of a senior Steel India official, her mother loved travelling in public transport buses.
Bose has felt the capital’s air improve after the CNG was implemented but then things worsened. “My husband, my daughter Ira, my nephew — everyone has asthma. Last year, Ira suffered a very bad attack in school immediately after Diwali, and the doctor advised us to take her to her paternal grandparents in rural Maharashtra for two weeks,” recalls Bose.
She deboards at Rajiv Chowk to take the metro. While she is a regular at Connaught Place, she has never actually taken the metro from here. After standing for 15 minutes in the queue for a token, she learns from a group of college kids, that smart cards can be brought at the next empty counter. “These kids told me they buy multiple metro cards, and whenever they are short of money for coffee, they return it to get a refund. How perfectly ingenious!” she remarks.
Elsewhere, the scheme offers a couple to turn back time, if only for a little while. Mahip Jai Singh, 45, and his wife brave the crush of a green DTC bus on route 623 and still manage to take a selfie. “I will send this selfie to my mother. The 623 has special significance for us because we met in a 623 while interning at an advertising agency in RK Puram some 20 years ago,” Mahip grins. Mahip had an angioplasty two years ago, and his family was worried. So his wife insisted on accompanying him. “It’s been so long since I went anywhere without my car and my driver. Whenever I step out of home, I get into a car. Even when we go for walks to Lodhi Garden, we are driven there,” says Mahip.
Some have resorted to carpooling on alternate days. Amol Goel, an entrepreneur, has been carpooling on the days he cannot drive his odd-numbered car. In the past week, he has used several carpooling apps. “The drives with total strangers are mostly awkward, but interesting. At other times, I go with neighbours or colleagues,” says Goel. Also, apps like Uber allow people to use their own cars for pooling. On January 11, after booking a carpooling cab via a mobile app, he was picked up by a CEO of a Noida-based company who travels from Gurgaon every day. Goel’s open letter to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on his experience went viral on Facebook last week. “It took some getting used to. Like I said in my post, after cursing and complaining, I got around to planning how I would survive this and the whole experience has been quite good. My car is parked half the days, my fuel costs have gone down, and I am meeting new people,” he says.
Doctors with their irregular work schedules have also been trying to carpool. Dr Anoop Misra, director & head, Internal Medicine at Fortis Hospital has been driving his car to work but reaching before 8 am, when the policy comes into effect. “I leave office with my colleague. He drops me part of the way, and then I walk about 2 km to my home. I planned to use this time for my evening walks anyway. The roads are less crowded and less polluted, so it is quite manageable,” he says.
Kamal Aggarwal, a Preet Vihar-based marketing professional has been juggling carpools and the metro. “It is quite convenient. Though I have an even numbered car, this past week I have not called my driver once, because I have fallen into a routine. It’s hard to drive one day and then get back to this the next. The carpooling was awkward at first and I was worried about safety. But since I go to Gurgaon, I am usually the last to be dropped off, and I enjoy some time to myself,” says Aggarwal.
She has a female colleague who works in a colony nearby, and the two have been going in the same cab, while pooling with another person through a mobile application. “So far I have only encountered working professionals, and most of the rides pass in busy phone calls, where everyone is barking instructions over the phone or reading files. There are no forced conversations and definitely no ogling, so I have been quite happy with the experience,” she says.