Monday, November 28, 2005

The world underground

With a roar and a blast of air, the G train appears, pushing the housewives, pushers, and loons away from the platform. In minds across the station there is someone behind, patiently waiting for the right moment to hurl them under a train. Who wants to be the next day’s headline?

The subway is a frightening place. The stairways are often lonely, the slightest shuffle echoes eerily across empty platforms, train windows are bulletproof but have holes shot through, when an oncoming train's lights penetrate through the dark tunnel before it appears it looks beastly, and there are drunk travellers muttering to themselves. As a student there, I traveled underground. There was no other choice. Buses were too slow. The train was the popular, if feared, vehicle of transport. ‘Rule one for the subway is,’ Paul Theroux wrote, ‘don’t ride the subway if you don’t have to.’ Since hailing a cab was a luxury to be enjoyed only in the distant future, students rode the subway because they had to.

The universe of the subway and that of above are separated at the station’s entrance. Some New Yorkers have never traveled here, having heard stories as if it were a foreign place. Even foreigners who have not tread in America offer a word of caution about the subway. It may seem presumptuous, but the stories are somewhat true. The rats are huge. Commuters are routinely mugged. It is safer to travel in groups and blend in with locals. It is advisable to never get lost. Being lost could mean the difference between Manhattan and the Bronx. It is a big difference.

And yet one must travel by these trains. New York has its sights and clubs and museums and shopping, but where else does one see a system that runs parallel to the one above? Both live uneasily beside, and rely on, each other. It is another face of a many-faced city.


Anonymous said...

Hi Rahul

Was pleasantly surprised when my bloglines showed 4 new posts when i logged in today.

Glad to have you back pal.

Rahul Bhatia said...

Thanks Arzan! I couldn't help it. Try staying away for a while and see what happens. :)

Anonymous said...

Travelled in there at the peak of summer a few times, you instantly know how it feels like being inside a furnace. It really made me wonder how adequate the ventilation system was, or if there was one at all!

By the way, welcome back Rahul. Great to read your stuff again. :-)

Anonymous said...

A surprising revelation considering a lot of my NY friends haven't mentioned anything bad or uneasy of traveling by the subway. I have used the subway myself on several occassions while visiting the city but never considered it fearful of traveling by it.

I guess its different opinions for different people. BTW you've got an interesting blog, one that I was introduced to by DesiPundit claiming you're "quitting" :-)

Rahul Bhatia said...

Yeah, I had quit in all seriousness. But I think a month later I was done resisting the temptation to write again.