On a typically chilly December afternoon, as Delhi University student Jitesh Singh (18), boarded the last compartment of Delhi Metro from the Uttam Nagar West station and settled into a corner, he found himself standing right in front of a pretty girl wedged between a group of young students. Their eyes met fleetingly. Over the next few minutes, he exchanged a few furtive glances with her.
But their little rendezvous ended when the girl got down at the Tagore Garden station. The next day, Singh, boarded the same compartment at almost the same time and found the same girl standing in the same corner. They again exchanged glances and even had a brief moment of physical proximity as they had to move up close against each other to let other passengers get off the train. "This went on for a week and then one day I mustered courage to strike a conversation with her. The girl responded well. After a couple of months of travelling together in the same compartment, I realised we liked each other and soon we were dating," says Singh.
Singh is not alone. Rishi Kumar (29), who works with a software company in Noida, also swears by the Metro's ability to transport commuters to cupid-land. These days, Kumar is desperately trying to locate a girl he had fallen for while travelling in the Metro four months back. "I travel from Noida to Rajiv Chowk every day. I used to see this lovely girl with big eyes who boarded the same compartment as me every day at Mayur Vihar-1 station at 9 am. She always stood in the space where two compartments are joined with each other. Every time she saw me, she flashed a smile. Then one day, last month she vanished. I keep travelling in the same compartment every day hoping to find her. I wish I had gathered enough courage to speak to her," says a distraught Kumar.
Right here waiting…
Kumar has now registered with MetroMates, a portal meant for those eager to find a match or make friends on the Delhi Metro. With an objective to help riders with similar commutes break the ice in a compartment, it boasts of more than 7,000 registered members.
"Many people get attracted to their fellow passengers and want to talk to them but do nothing about it. Being a daily commuter myself, I have seen people glancing at each other but not getting the courage to speak to one other. The idea behind MetroMates was to provide these commuters a platform to interact without any uneasiness," says Sameer Suri (24), the founder of the portal.
The portal recently conducted an online survey called Train of Love Survey, among MetroMates members with a view to gauge if travelling together in the metro can lead to personal chemistry between commuters. The survey's findings, shared exclusively with Hindustan Times, suggest it is possible to find a friend, a date or even love on the Delhi Metro. To the question: "Have you ever made friends or had a date with your fellow travellers?", 23% of respondents said 'yes'. Interestingly, when asked which metro line had the most attractive passengers, a whopping 48 % said it was the Blue Line; while 40% said it was the Yellow line that had the most attractive commuters (see box).
MetroMates - a first of its kind social networking website for metro commuters in Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata - gives you a Bluetooth code after you sign up. "While travelling, all you need to do is to turn on your Bluetooth device, and set a phone name to the code and other MetroMates users will be visible on your GPRS-enabled phone. It's primarily a dating website," says Suri.
Noida resident Shantanu Goswami (28), says MetroMates helped him break the ice with a fellow passenger. "I met my girlfriend through the site while travelling in the Metro, but unfortunately we recently broke up. I am still hopeful of finding a soul mate in the Metro."
Goswami's hopes may not be misplaced as many believe that the meeting of daily trajectories of people standing close to each other in the compartment, taking the same trains, changing lines at the same terminals and getting off at the same destination create a kind of familiarity between people that can blossom into friendships and even love.
In fact, the Metro has emerged as a whole new kind of shared public platform where new friendships are being forged every day. "There is larger scope of making new friends on Metro as unlike spaces like a mall where you always go with your select set of friends, you can meet new people here every day. I first met one of my closest friends at Rajiv Chowk station last year," says Shraiya Thapliyal (21), a student of Kirori Mal College.
"Over the last decade, the metro has emerged as a social space that provides an opportunity for people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to come together and mingle," says Rashmi Sadana, who is writing a book on cultural changes in Delhi through the prism of the Delhi Metro. "People are fascinated by how strangers can meet on the Metro. Even though the Metro is an anonymous space, people who take the same route day after day can get to know one another. Earlier people developed relationships while travelling together on buses. But the Metro is distinctive because of the pace of travel and the new kind of space you find in the trains and stations," she adds.
Next destination : Love
The mushrooming of cafes and restaurants around the Delhi Metro has turned metro stations into romance hotspots. It's not unusual to see young couples hanging out at Rajiv Chowk and Kashmere Gate stations as early as seven in the morning.
"About 2,000 people, most of whom are couples, spend quite a while here every day, engaged in intimate conversations," says a restaurant owner at Kashmere Gate station. "I often meet my girlfriend at Rajiv Chowk station. It's cool and comfortable; it provides us anonymity and there is no moral police," says Mohit Gupta (24), who lives in Saket.
Romance seems to be on the right track in the Metro.