I walk to a metro station every single day. Each time I stand on the platform and watch the indicator do its countdown, my eyes scan the length of the platform once; an expanse of neat and tidy vacant space. After years of growing up in railway stations that spew a vibrant informal atmosphere, this vacant feeling is unsettling. Like dynasties of the past, the metro is a contemporary relic, with some hollowed understanding of an expansive monument. It detaches you from something real and relatable. In a overcrowded city, the metro is the only space that unsettles me because of its formality. The clean bare floor where no one can sit, the long confusing signs and hallways that make you walk in circles, the escalator where you are transported in a patient line, the civil queuing up to let the passengers out before you get in, and doors that close on you uniformly.
We grow up understanding and developing ideas of formalities and informalities, which defines our society. In an earlier time, introductions were formal and relationships were mostly informal. Associations were formal, and getting a contact involved a lot of polite talk before you could get to the point. Neighbourhoods were informal, where everyone knew who you were and what has made you this. Work was formal and leisure was informal. Now you need to plan your free time and vacations, keep your doors shut throughout the day and email your society that someone is throwing garbage on the staircase. When I was young, anyone in my building would drop in even without knocking on the door. Movies, cricket matches, Filmfare, Miss World were not for quiet family time, but were an event, and it never made sense to watch it simultaneously in different houses. All us kids would just curl up in the most accessible house where the aunty was sweet and gave us chips to eat. Now my neighbours inform me via the intercom that its their daughter’s birthday and ask if I could drop in to help organize it. People inquiring about jobs can WhatsApp each other and that’s ok because its networking, but family dinners have a dress code. I can wear shorts to my workplace but I need an appointment for a spa day where I basically go to relax.
I sometimes hate the metro and the quiet crowds busy with their cellphones inside. My experiences of learning to travel have begun in a jammed train compartment, where getting in was an adventure and a constant chatter told you that the women around you were discussing the most intimate things at the top of their voices, over the roaring wheels, where a stranger can pitch in and give household remedies for a cold or how to raise a child. Where you would shift just a little more to accommodate someone sharing your journey, and also the discomfort by half.
Our informalities have become too formal and our formalities are melting away, seems to not really add up to the balance that I knew as a child. It worries me to think that my child will never know a neighbors advise on how to draw a rangoli, let alone help. Nor would the kids know how to stand on the building top and throw water balloons on strangers passing by. Their mischief will be managed with the extra time they play on their iPads and dungeons and demons will replace hide and seek.
I know progress and technology is inevitable mostly good. Its just that the things I enjoyed, may just be stories for the next generation. For whom train rides will be air conditioned and full of mannerisms.