Journalism as a profession is not for the weak-hearted and, from time to time, journalists are called upon to show up in zones of extreme risk. This week, duty called me to make a trip on the Metro Rail on the day of its inauguration, and I volunteered myself, despite the fact that this particular assignment was daunting as it involved actually stepping out of my cabin and going out into the real world.
Before setting out to the Alandur station, the first port of call, when I sit down to prepare a thorough professional plan for the outing, a colleague, who had agreed to accompany me, asks the most insightful question that only those who are hardcore professionals can think of: ‘Where will we have our evening tiffin?’
We ponder over the query for a few agonising minutes and eventually come to the idea that we will decide on the matter once we are through with the journey. It was a fateful decision that will come to bite us later in the day. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Right on our arrival at the Alandur station, we are extremely pleased to notice that the station boasts of two parking lots. One, official, which is mostly barren, and two, the unofficial one, which is on the main road right in front of the station, where everyone, including the police, have stationed their vehicles.
We enter the station premises, which we journos are rules-bound to describe as ‘sprawling’, and join an excited throng of to-be-passengers ‘queued’ in front of the ticket vending machine. Of course, when I say queued I use the word in its most random, loose sense. For, what is ahead of us is not a straight line but a vague one with plenty of impromptu tributaries spread out in every possible direction, including one that seemed headed towards the exact opposite side of the ticket machine.
We Indians possess many admirable skills but somehow the one to stand and proceed in a simple, single file without any confusion beats us always. Anyway, we position ourselves in what we think to be the rear of the notional queue. But after a few minutes, we realise that the line is not moving at all. Upon closer scrutiny we find that it is no queue, and in our eagerness we had just embedded ourselves into a random clot of friends standing and talking near the queue.
We eventually manage to locate the rear of the real line and proceed to the automated ticket vending machine —- a touch-screen contrivance, which in its design and operations has the same convenience and ease of the facility that would launch inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Undeterred, we punch a few buttons and press some ‘icons’ and are asked to shove the currency in its designated slot and, voila — this is the beauty of modern technology —- the screen goes blank. It could be due to the fact that we had inadvertently launched a missile or rocket somewhere. Anyway, the service gets temporarily suspended and, even as we wait patiently for the screen to come back alive, a couple of smart fellow passengers manfully step up to revive the machine by the advanced techno-savvy technique of punching and kicking it.
Luckily, helpful Metro officials are at hand and they revive the machine by the more conventional NASA-approved method of switching it off completely and restarting it and we procure tickets (plastic tokens that look like poker chips) to our destination, Koyambedu.
Upon riding a huge escalator, we arrive at the platform and find it crammed with excited and animated army of people all doubtless happy with the knowledge that Chennai has finally got a world class facility they can take selfies in front of. Seriously, this selfie business is getting out of hand and reaching pandemic proportions. On the day, I see every kind of selfie being taken, including the memorable one of people taking selfies with people already taking selfies of themselves. Go figure!
The Metro Rail, decked with garlands and balloons, as if it was assembled at a circus floor, arrives and as the automated door opens, the waiting scrum of people piles in with the enthusiasm of schoolboys on their first excursion to the local zoo. Colleague and I are, however, hardened pros. We survey the scene quietly. No cheap selfies for us either. We ask our cameraperson to take proper pictures of us. We too have FB accounts, no?
Once the train pulls out of the station, we get a great glimpse of the city from the top. If you were to ask me to use my journalistic experience and describe the entire view in one precise word, my instant response would be: No. Instead I will tell you to climb to any six (or more)-storeyed building and look from its top. It is the same, man.
The journey, overall, is easy and unfussy, as it should be, and we alight at the Koyambedu station and as we begin to check out its facilities, my colleague, who has a sharp journalistic eye for important details, quickly tells me, ‘sir, none of the Metro stations seems to have any canteen’.
‘So, where will we have our evening tiffin then?’ I ask him exasperatedly. ‘Sir, this is the question we started with, remember?’ he deadpans. ‘That means…,’ I drawl and even before I can continue, he completes it quickly for me, ‘…exactly. The Metro isn’t the answer to what we are looking for at the moment’.
I think he was being metaphorical.