Imagine a battlefield, only instead of soldiers and weapons, it's a swarm of everyday commuters and the coveted prize is a cold, metallic seat on the Delhi Metro. Welcome to my reality.
With my new job came a new challenge, a 30 km commute to the office, a journey which takes around an hour and thirty minutes. I have traveled by metro for over a decade, but only for short distances and in less crowded conditions. Now, it's a long distance and more crowded. The commute takes a toll. Securing a seat becomes critical. As a young man - the odds are against you. But as they say, where there's a will, there's a throne - a cold, metallic throne.
I write for the Delhi Metro, but I am guessing this will apply to other metros as well. And it is my sincere hope that people from different metros or at least from different commute times will read this more, for this knowledge, in the wrong hands, could very well be my undoing.
The quest starts long before you actually enter the grey dungeon. The peak rush is between 6-9 in the morning and 5-7 in the evening when hordes of employees are released into the metro substrata from their respective corporate kingdoms. Now, obviously, you can't tweak your office arrival times by a lot. But if you can do it - even half an hour makes a difference. Many veterans at my place leave before 5 in the evening. But you are not that lucky. Read on.
As soon as you enter the metro station, move swiftly through the gates - have your awkward frisk at securities - swap your plastic card and start the trek. You have to get yourself in a good position to board the metro, ideally, a minute before it hits the platform. After making the trek, you must strategically position yourself on the platform. Now if I ask you which coach to board? You will probably say the last coach. I used to always go to the last coach as I liked walking and it was easier to coordinate with someone you are meeting. Also, old folks (unless they're a battle-scarred uncle), will avoid the extra miles as it's away from the stairs. But most people know this. And they all target the last coach. And it always feels like it can take a little more as there is space in front of the end wall. So, the last coach ends up being more filled. In my opinion, the ideal coaches are second/third to last.
So, you are at the station. Hopefully, the right platform. Now, don't just stand there and enjoy the pollution. The battle has only started. Position yourself at the place where the metro gate will open. Like prize horses, take your position behind the yellow line. If you are a douchebag, you can stand directly in front of the gate. Otherwise, stand in the direction opposite to the stairs to seamlessly get in. Take a moment to look around - know thy competition. If you are surrounded by middle-aged uncles/aunties or god forbid a full-blown family with small chihuahuas (kids), especially one of the new-to-city types who think it's a local train - you are out of luck. It's a battle you can't win. Just surrender and take an Uber.
At any time, the automated voice will kick in - brace yourself - the metro is near. It hits the platform. Wait for it to start slowing down. Scan for potential seats. The best seats are corner seats, but these seats are the most susceptible to being left for charity. Half are anyway reserved for the elderly and females. Go for the middle. Play the long-term game. Even if you sit on the unreserved corner seat, uncles and aunties of all sorts will try to make eye contact and pressure you into giving up your seat. Some will downright ask you to get up as if it's their ancestral property. And unless you are a sociopath - you give up. It's the right thing to do (actually you have to maintain your image as a gracious young man)
The gates open, and the games have begun. Move swiftly, and avoid extra steps. Don't run. Or else you'll bump into someone and give them an outlet for all their pent-up frustrations. You have to be fast but gracious.
Now there are three situations you could be in : #1 you got the seat - holy crap, enjoy. Take your small fluorescent thingy out (cellphone - yes I have to write it explicitly) and put on some show on Netflix or just doom scroll. If you are a bald, middle-aged uncle, get that Whatsapp going - you own this place - screw others - bang that thing at full volume. Okay, enough. You obviously did not get the seat.
Maybe you are around the gates only. What an amateur. You have two choices: You can take support near the gate (if it's not already occupied) and call it a day.** But if you dream big, dream of the riches, dream of that cold metallic kiss on your ass, then you must get in the thick of it. Bide your time. Surf through the waves of humans. Into the middle muddle. There is a checkpoint. Middle pole. Take some sahara. You will have to. With a screwed-up physiognomy, you can't stand straight for more than a minute. Now I know you were out in the heat and pollution carrying your medium metallic thingy on your curved back and are about to collapse but don't. You must persevere.
The hard labor is done. It's time to use your brain. Now, if you are a psychopath, you could ask the people on seats where they're headed. It's a social faux pas. You risk being perceived as Stalker-san. Don't do this. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes. See the people around you. Judge them hard. What are they wearing? What are they carrying? What station are they likely to get off at? Do they look worn out with strands of grey in their hair, have an expensive phone reverberating with *knock brush* sounds, donning worn-out company T-shirts and ugly sports shoes, a comrade-in-arms - they are probably going to the Cyber City station to build Atlantis (actually shiny buttons and checkout flows but a man must cope). Try to avoid standing right in front of them. Find people who look like they will be getting off early. You are a tiger in the deep savanna. Alert. Eyes on the prize. Nothing should go unnoticed.
If they are sleeping or don't give a rat's ass about which station the metro is at - they will probably go long. Avoid. Find those alert deers. With their breath sharp and eyes on the board, checking which station is next. They are your prey. Position yourself in front of them. Again, an unsaid social rule: if someone old is standing right beside you - give up the seat. But if not, it's time to close it baby. Wolves around you have also caught the scent of sweat on the seat. Stand in a way that is opposite to the way they will get off, and be close. Cut unnecessary gaps. There is slight movement. They are getting off. Swiftly occupy the seat.
Hopefully, you got it. Hopefully beside a digital majdoor minding their own business. Hopefully, no big fat mass of carbon is taking up half your side. Hopefully not beside a big fucking joint family with their kids swinging by the rods. Hopefully not beside a middle-aged uncle who hasn't bathed for weeks. You can relax now. You have arrived. The journey is still long, but now you can rest. Just don't forget to get off at your station, my sweet summer child.
Disclaimer: Give seats to people in need, hit the gym, stand and suffer in dignity. Or strike deals with the rich - ask them money for a seat (I don't know, may work for you - humans are weird)
**There is one exception here: Do not, I repeat do not be near the gate at junctions - (think Rajiv Chowk) A tsunami of humans will drown you in sweat, fart, and bad breath.