Binod Mairta was always fascinated by life in Metro—or, to be more precise, the Delhi Metro. An editor and translator at the Rajya Sabha secretariat, he regularly took the Metro from east Delhi’s Dilshad Garden, where he lives, to Central Secretariat.
One day, as he stood at Rajiv Chowk station, he saw a fierce tiff between a young man and a woman. “The boy offered her a rose but she threw it on the platform and hurried into a train. The boy followed her. I picked up the rose and put it in my bag. The next day, my wife saw it and there was a lot of misunderstanding between us,” says Mairta.
The incident, Mairta says, made him realise the role Metro plays in the matters of heart. “I thought I should capture it in a book,” he says.Last year he released the book, A Rose on the Platform – a story of what he calls ‘love, betrayal and revenge’.
The story is about Anubhav, a lonely man estranged from his wife and who meets a beautiful young woman, Shivali Rao. He tells her he is unmarried. Most of events in the story happen at Kashmere Gate, a station Maitra refers to as ‘Alpha and Omega of Metro life.’
“It’s so majestic, its four perpendicular lines running at different levels are like vessels carrying blood. Kashmere Gate had become so central to my life,” says Mairta.
No wonder then the book’s first chapter is called ‘Kashmere Gate.’ The book, interestingly, is dedicated to Delhi Metro.
Maitra is not the only one to have been bitten by the Metro bug. Metro is fast becoming a muse for an increasing number of writers -- some famous and some not-so-famous. And, more interestingly, most of their books are love stories set in Delhi Metro.
The Metro forms the backdrop of well-known writer Ratika Kapur’s latest book, The Secret Life of Mr Sharma. The novel opens with a chance encounter between Renuka, a married woman, and Vineet, an unmarried man, at the Hauz Khas Metro station: “I was walking up to the ticket counter to recharge my Metro card when some man stopped me,” is how the book, which has a Metro map on its cover, begins.
Talking of the Delhi Metro as a backdrop for her latest novel, Kapur says: “For women like my protagonist Renuka Sharma, who likes to feel that she is in control of the spaces she inhabits, like her home or her office, the Metro is a space where her control falls slack.
It is a space where possibilities beyond the ones she allows herself present themselves, a space where nobody knows her and where she is forced to encounter people she does not know.” Delhi-based Kapur’s book has got rave reviews globally. Her first novel ‘Overwinter’ was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize.
Kapur believes the city and its changing culture has many, many stories waiting to be told. “And the Metro serves as a window into those stories, a place where a writer who is interested can begin to get an idea of what goes on in worlds beyond those she inhabits,” says Kapur.
Like most stories set in the Metro , Noida-based HR professional Pratyush Sinha’s book, ‘Love in Metro: story of love & ego’, is a love story between a young man and woman both of whom work in Noida and live in South Delhi.
The story spans only four days. A lot of action takes place inside the Metro coaches and on the platforms. In one of the scenes, an argument breaks out between Sanjana and Arjun, the two protagonists of the story. The man faints inside the coach in full view of the commuters.
“I was always fascinated by the possibilities Metro provided to young men and women to know each other and fall in love. For Rs 30, two people can travel in closed air-conditioned comfort without attracting too much attention as they seem like any other commuters. I wanted to explore what happens when young men and women travel every day in the same space, at the same time, in such close proximity,” says Sinha, who is working on a sequel for the book.
Talking of what fascinates her most about Delhi Metro as a writer, Kapur says Delhi is a highly stratified city with relationships between different strata very clearly defined: you live in a kothi or in a janta colony or in government housing or in a housing society/DDA flat or in a slum, and accordingly, you hold some sort of status, you navigate the city in tune with that status, interacting with people from other classes according to a fixed set of rules.
“The Metro unsettled that equation when it came. People like me, my relatives, have not been in a DTC bus for 20 years but we got on to the Metro and there we could watch and overhear the kind of people whose neighbourhoods we wouldn’t otherwise visit. That’s the opportunity the Metro provides a writer like me, an opportunity to cross class boundaries without drawing attention, an opportunity to attend to the lives of those whose lives are not easily accessible to me,” says Kapur.
Like Sinha’s, writer and translator Arun Anand’s book too is called Love in Metro—a love story between an upcoming journalist in Delhi who commutes between the Rajouri Garden and Rajiv Chowk Metro stations and a young woman from Chandigarh trying to find a foothold in Delhi. Like in every other Metro novel, they too meet at the Delhi Metro.
Anand says that the Metro witnesses a lot of human drama —arguments , fights, love.
Metro stations, he says, also symbolise the rat race in the city, where people push in and out of compartments without showing basic manners and decencies. “What happens daily in Delhi Metro is also a reflection of the city. It is today perhaps the hottest platform for dating. It provides two young people in love, comfort and anonymity. It has its own unique sub-culture. My novel tries to capture all of that through this love story,” says Anand.
Mass transit systems such as London Underground and New York Subway have inspired many novels in myriad genres –murder, mystery, love story. So, what is it about mass transit systems that make them so attractive to writers? “A lot of people have talked about how the city is a place where things happen, or where things can happen--dramatic, irreversible things like murders or falling in love. Mass transit is a space where the diverse populations of a city--populations that otherwise live cheek by jowl without interacting--collide with and confront each other. I think that’s what makes this an attractive setting for writers.”