Hurrying down the steps of a Delhi Metro station, I jump into the first available train. Eyes stare at me. I am not only the lone woman in the train car but also the only foreigner.
Like 1.5 million other people in Delhi, I ride on the Metro every day. To get to work, I spend almost 45 minutes on the rail, including switching train lines, before reaching my destination.
The first couple of times I rode the Metro, I thought two things: people are staring at me and why do women not use the Metro. It took me days to realize there were 'women only' compartments at the front of each train. Since starting to use these reserved compartments, I enjoy watching men enter and look around to see only women. They quickly make their way down the train to the general compartments looking as though they mistakenly walked into the wrong washroom.
I am not sure why I didn't originally migrate towards the pink signs when I began riding the Metro. Perhaps it is because I have never seen 'women only' compartments or sections in my home country of Canada. Most times when I walk through security or ride the bus, I do so in a co-ed environment.
Although I never had a problem at the back with the men, I feel safer with other women around, especially when the train is so full there is not enough room to move. I have seen people trying to jump into trains that were full, while Metro security try to pull them out so the door can close.
Not to say the women that ride the Metro are not a little aggressive when they rush for seats. When two girls go for an open seat, neither backs down which usually results in them both semi-sitting on each other in one spot.
Even though the women's compartments are usually busy, less women ride the Metro. One day, the line for men to go through security was so long it extended outside the station and on to the stairs. There was no line for the women's security check. I was able to walk straight in.
There is no Metro in Winnipeg, my home in central Canada. The city of about 680,000 people has been trying for years to build a rapid-transit system, but does not have the funds. In order to raise the money (and pay for the transit system), the cost of riding the city bus is 2.45 CAD (Rs.125) for a regular fare anywhere in the city. Even with inflation, this is much more expensive than the Metro here, which only costs me 16 Rs for my ride across the city.
I am jealous of the Metro system in Delhi and wish we had a progressive alternative to the bus and taxi systems in Winnipeg. I have ridden on other Metro systems in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada's largest cities, and feel that the Delhi Metro can compete on a global scale.
The Metro also offers a fixed rate for everyone, including foreigners. When taking taxis and auto-rickshaws in Delhi, foreigners usually get quoted a much higher price than locals. It can get frustrating when you get overcharged for transportation just because you are not from here. The Delhi Metro does not discriminate in this matter. No matter their religion, sex or race, everyone pays the same price.
Tanya Tonning, who is from Norway, is starting her tour of Asia from Delhi and has been using the Metro to get to markets for shopping. She says it was an easy system to understand and was better than walking the streets of Delhi.
"It was very clean. I didn't expect it to be that clean when you look around outside," Tonning said.
She stays at a backpacking hostel in Saket where most clients are foreigners wanting to see the sights of Delhi. The hostel encourages its visitors to use the Metro to get around the city and provides them with a map of how to reach the nearest station.
Foreigners beware that some etiquette existing in other countries does not exist on the Delhi Metro. There is almost no waiting for people to deboard the train before rushing in, sometimes resulting in getting a shoulder push. Even when seats are reserved for women in the general compartments, I usually see just men sitting there. People hold on to their seats and rarely offer them to people who may need it more. When someone asks someone for a seat, they simply squish over and give them a portion of the seat. Then when someone on the bench gets off, you can spread back out.
On my first day ever on the Metro, two people on different trains gave up their seats for me. Maybe they saw in my face it was my first time and I was a little nervous, because the luxury of getting offered a seat has never happened again.
(Alyssa McDonald is a Canadian journalist interning with IANS. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)