Where the swanky meets the regular

Akila Kannadasan documents her first Chennai Metro ride that was filled with glittering machines, selfies and a multitude excited beyond belief.

“I almost fell,” says Sivagami, her eyes wide. “That thing kept moving.” Chewing betel leaves, she sits leaning on the wall, facing the ticket counter with her legs outstretched. Only minutes ago, she had her first experience of using an escalator. It shook her, but she’s determined to try the Metro. The automatic ticket vending machines with their blinking lights, the baggage scanning machines, the turnstiles and their swift wings… it’s a whole new world for her at the CMBT Metro station and she’s taking it all in to boast back home in Krishnagiri. Everyone, it seems, is here to do the same.

The CMBT station is teeming with people: women straight from work with their lunch bags, school girls still in their morning braids, little boys who’ve dragged their fathers along, college kids pausing every two minutes for selfies, senior citizens patiently waiting at the ticket counter… At 8 p.m. on a Monday, no one is in a hurry to go home.

The station is a glittering world of machines — some of which, a lot of people are interacting with for the first time. I join the long queue leading to the automatic ticketing machines. A Metro Rail official is stationed there to assist people. I almost end up buying tickets to Ekkaduthangal instead of Alandur. “Press the starting letter of your stop,” he urges. It’s easy; all one has to do is choose the destination from the route map on the screen, enter the number of tickets, and feed the money into the machine when it prompts. It swallows my hundred-rupee note and a few anxious seconds later, the blue plastic travel coin slips out, along with the change.

There’s a small crowd at the turnstile — commuters hesitate at the metal column bearing the sensors that control the blue wings. The wings fold in when the coin or travel card is placed on the sensors. “Go on, walk now,” encourages an official from the Japanese company that supplied the machines.

An escalator takes us to the windy platform. Up here, it’s a mad rush of selfies — everyone has their phones out. A loud bunch of medical college students squeeze themselves into the frame of a phone camera as an angry security guard blows his whistle. No one seems to be taking seriously the instructions on the yellow cross line on the platform.

All of us, however, have one eye on the tracks. When will it come? A mild gust of wind sends the green station signboards fluttering. Then, we hear it. The sound, unlike the ‘chuchuk-chuchuk’ of the suburban trains, is more like a dull whistle. She glides to a stop, the lights on the platform reflecting off the gleaming silver rakes. Bedecked like a bride in jasmine and marigold, the Metro train’s doors slide open.

We scramble into the air-conditioned coach that smells of flowers; inside too, there are thoranams strung above the seats. The train shoots into the night air carrying an excited bunch of people. “Sarrunu pogudhu,” exclaims a school girl who has come with her family from Ashok Nagar. She rubs her palms together and declares, “I love the AC”. While a gang of giggly college girls whip out their phones, Anantharaman, a retired BSNL employee, who has come all the way from Chromepet, sits smiling to himself. “It took us over an hour to travel to the station. We’ve covered the distance in less than 15 minutes,” he observes. Below, Chennai is a glittering blur of lights. “Can’t you hear that lady crying herself hoarse?” a lad chides his friend, talking about the mechanised voice that urges passengers to take care of their belongings and ensure that the train is not littered.

I drag my feet into Alandur station when the train halts. My first Metro ride comes to an end. I deposit the travel coin on my way at the turnstile and step out. Annadurai, a vendor, is selling samosas to commuters at the entrance. “Four for Rs.10,” he calls out. He somehow fits into the shimmering background of the station. This, in essence, is what the Metro Rail is all about: where everyday Chennai merges with the swanky.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 3:54:29 AM |

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