No, it's not Paris or London.... but Delhi's swanky new metro. In fact, at the moment, it's better than Paris or London. Tickets are 12 rupees each (about $0.25). It's quiet, mostly empty during the day and can whizz you from Connaught Place in the centre to the cramped lanes of Old Delhi in ten minutes. And there are no screaming city buses to kill you (yet!) I was mightily impressed, until we pulled into a popular station, where otherwise respectable passengers, if a bit portly & middle aged, pushed and elbowed each other out the way to try and get seats, even though there was plenty of room. It was Punjabi Musical Chairs. I am Punjabi, but I'd like to know why it is that educated, adult Punjabis have the capacity to behave like they're fighting for the last scrap of bread in a famine when they go to buy cinema tickets, or get on the Metro... anything that requires them to wait their turn in line?
The other day, we went to the cinema, and a large woman, swathed in an expensive purple sari barged her way to the very front of the queue and tried to get ahead of us. I'm usually docile in such matters. But some deep seated sense of injustice suddenly reared its head (or maybe I was just being selfish).... and I put myself squarely between her and the ticket counter, damned if I was going to let her get her way. (She did anyway, and everyone behind us just shrugged and said, 'What can you do with such people?') Then today, a motorcyclist nearly crashed head-on into our car, because he was on the wrong side of the road. His reaction? He stopped short and gave a lovely, sheepish smile. (I guess he was thinking, 'Fate has spared me again.' Not, 'I should stop driving like an idiot.')
So I got out of the chrome and glass Delhi Metro system and took a bicycle rickshaw to the Physics labs at Delhi University. The University is set around the stately home of Britain's last viceroy! Wow, talk about post-colonial. Now the university is helping India churn out millions of science graduates every year, who are driving the world's knowledge economy. At a time when the western world is struggling to attract kids to study science, Indian and Chinese students are willing to put in six hours of study on average per evening to score that one extra mark that will catapult them into the best institutions, and the best jobs (even if they get paid a fraction of their western counterparts). I spent a day at Delhi Public School, where no one's every heard of a 'geek' or 'nerd' and no one's got time for a boyfriend or girlfriend. Yet still, here in India, teachers and parents are worried about the quality of education children are receiving. Much like in Britain or America, they're worried on the one hand about too much stress and an overemphasis on exam results.... and on the other hand, of students not working hard enough, because they know - with India's booming economy- they'll get a decent enough job. Who needs to discover the next cancer drug, when you can make enough at a call centre to buy you a house and a decent car?