The Cost of Global Image: The Delhi Metro & Socio-Spatial Harm by Dylan Lowry

Class: Independent Study

Major: Cinema and Photography, Class of 2013


The aim of this paper is to investigate the ways in which the Metro of Delhi is transforming the city and its inhabitants. Taking an ethno-geographic approach, this paper looks at the ways in which the Metro facilitates a spatial reshaping of lived experience, through changes that are situated within the technological, social, cultural, political, economical, biological, environmental, and psychological realms. The paper investigates 1) the city of Delhi, including its historical trajectory and its transport crisis, 2) the Metro’s role in making of a “world city” in the context of neoliberalization and how the Metro harms certain groups of people via physical displacement and increased stigmatization, 3) the ways in which the interior space of the Metro functions as a remover of cultural expression and uniqueness. The work interrogates historical and physical spaces of Delhi; the socio-spatial, economic, and cultural effects of neoliberalization; and power dynamics between classes and ways that these are connected and embodied in the Metro.


The study of transportation modality is of import as it plays an influential role in our conceiving of (and creating) space, time, environment, and (self-, gender-, national-, global-) identity. Transport modes alter human-environment interaction and create ideological frameworks for understanding the world and our place in it. For most people, daily lived experience is facilitated by transportation (traveling to work, school, grocery store) and transportation affects all users on physical (corporeal displacement) as well as cognitive levels (spatio-temporal awareness). Modal choice influences space, time, and behavior (social and cultural). Our actions have enacted modes of transport and, in turn, these modes have structured our actions and ways of thinking, and altered interaction with our surroundings. The Delhi Metro is changing Delhi in significant ways.


The Delhi Metro is a reaction to a spatial crisis and an attempt to “modernize” the city. The Metro is determining lived experience within Delhi, accompanied by social, cultural, political, and cognitive effects. This transport mode sacrifices expression and people in the interest of competition in the global economy. This paper examines these claims through an assessment of: 1) the transportation crisis in Delhi caused by rapid population growth, public policies, and transport modal choice; 2) the Metro’s role in reconfiguring the spatial arrangement of socio-economic groups and businesses; 3) the use of the Metro vs. the auto rickshaw; 4) the effects of entering into and moving through the underground—separate from cultural expression and one’s surroundings; 5) the loss of sociality in Metro use; and 6) the Metro’s effects on conceptualization of place and identity.

Population Expansion

Delhi, like many other rapid-growth metropolises in developing countries, is currently in the midst of a transportation crisis.1 Today, Delhi roadways are characterized by heavy traffic congestion, engine and horn noise, air pollution, and disobedience to traffic control devices. The city has been experiencing rapid population growth for over 50 years. The population has more than doubled every 20 years, “growing from 2.6 million to 6.2 million residents between 1961 and 1981, and reaching 13.7 million inhabitants by 2001. Today, rapid growth in the city continues unchecked, and the population of Delhi is expected to reach 23 million by 2021.”2 Migration since partition has been a major cause of this population expansion,3 which is partially attributable to “de-peasantization.”4 De-peasantization has been caused by “agricultural deregulation policies enforced by the IMF (and now the World Trade Organization).”5

This massive population growth is particularly problematic for transport in Delhi as the infrastructure of eighth century Delhi “has evolved in a dispersed, polynucleated manner,”6 and today “no clear-cut concentric zones of different activities exist.”7 A recent study on land use in Delhi explains: “Central core areas comprise not only commercial development but also high-concentration housing, and working-class developments are found in the core and vicinity of the city. Manufacturing activity is spread geographically not only in the peripheral zone but also in the intermediate and inner zones.”8 It is ordered chaos—the chaos is a result of physical ordering of spaces, which are defined by the behaviors enacted within them (e.g. commerce, housing). Concurrently, the city has spread out in all directions to both accommodate growth and decrease traffic. In 2010 the population of this conurbation, which expands beyond the census-defined “National Capital Territory of Delhi,” was estimated at 24 million.9

Traffic Conditions

In Delhi, the most popular transportation modes are buses, private autos, two-wheelers, taxis, auto rickshaws, and bicycles,10 followed by other means of transport like tractors, tricycle-wagons, animals, and pedestrians. The overcrowding, rising demand, and collision of transport modes have caused roadway conditions to become so unruly that “due to road accidents, the average number of persons killed per day has increased to 5 and of those injured to 13,” and it “is expected to deteriorate in the years to come.”11

Public policies that restrict population density via limitations on “the ratio of floor areas to land areas for buildings in the center”12 (restricting number of stories essentially) reflect an effort to decongest the central city. Collaborating with this inner-city restriction, “government regulations permit higher floor space/land area ratios in suburban developments” offering “more inducement for firms to decentralize.”13 This causes a horizontal expansion of the city. For example, 90,000 industrial units were recently relocated from the center to periphery of the city.14 The transport crisis is changing the spatial arrangement of people and places (business centers, residencies). Additionally, the government simply built more roads so that the roadway network in Delhi “increased from a mere 652 km in 1981 to 1122 km in 2001 and it is expected to grow to 1340 km in the year 2021.”15 Though the government successfully built many roads, with 20% of Delhi’s land allocated to the road network,16 this roadway expansion has failed to reduce traffic congestion.

Such public policies exacerbated urban sprawl through a tremendous increase in private vehicle ownership,17 which has increased traffic, which has slowed down buses, which has caused the “dissatisfied public transport passengers” to turn to private vehicles (especially inexpensive and high-pollution two-wheelers).18 The increase in private vehicle ownership is a result of horizontal expansion, dissatisfaction of public transit, and changes in cultural values. Urban planner Matti Siemiatycki points out recent cultural shifts in Delhi that have influenced mobility patterns. He asserts that the rising middle class and “the proliferation of western culture and imagery through such media as satellite television and the internet” have altered societal views, through which “the private motor vehicle features prominently as both a symbol of economic status and personal freedom.”19 Unfortunately, these status symbols are only making road conditions worse. In March 2008, Delhi had 1.73 million private cars—”much more than [the state of] Maharashtra, which includes the cities of Mumbai and Pune.”20 In regards to Delhi’s infamous traffic, “it is often stated that the city has more cars than Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai combined.”21

“From Walled City to World City” –Times of India22…Via Metro

In a much-delayed response23 to this spatial crisis, the construction of the Delhi Metro broke ground in 1998, followed by its inauguration on December 24, 2002.24 The Delhi Metro Railway Corporation Ltd.’s (DMRC) highly active promotional strategies achieved its goals, with the Metro acting as “a tangible symbol of hope for the local populace.”25 Indeed, the Metro is a mode utilized around the world in such places as London, New York, Berlin, Tokyo, etc.  It represents (hu)man’s triumph of the land, on its surface as well as beneath; it is the efficient, convenient, clean transport mode of developed, industrialized cities.  The Delhi Metro is a clear symbol of globalization, a true global venture “built with Japanese loans, South Korean technology, and partnerships with a number of countries, including Germany and Sweden, where the first trains were built.”26

Envisaged as “dynamic and modern, competitive and ‘world class,’”27 the Metro pushed Delhi into the future. Siemaitycki cites an article featured in The Hindu, in which Delhi Metro Managing Director, E. Sreedharan commented on the time and financial efficiency and reduction in pollution of the coming Metro.  He confidently declared: “The Metro will totally transform our social culture…and enhance multifold development of this cosmopolitan city.”28

Spatio-Economic Effects and Classist Segregation29

On the surface, the Metro is great; it is clean, safe, fast, cheap, and helps reduce roadway traffic. However, there are hidden costs, at least hidden to outsiders and upper/middle classes. The Metro resulted from neoliberal ideals, which entailed a spatial reconfiguration of the city in the pursuit of economic investment. This accompanied efforts to pit “the interest of global and domestic capital against the interest of deprived populations.”30 The Metro represents one governmental effort to turn Delhi into a “global city,” a goal which plays a direct role in the displacement of the urban poor.

The Metro affords greater exclusion as it contributes to the polarization of Delhi along socio-spatial/economic axes. It aids in exclusion and the socio-spatial and socio-economic polarization of Delhi. It facilitates a “two-sided pattern,” whereby “slum clusters [are] demolished to build upmarket flats and office complexes, shopping malls or new roads…near a metro line or station, [or] a proposed five-star hotel.”31 A truly “global city” cannot have slums everywhere, so in the late 1990s, the government aspired to create a “slum-free city.”32 From 1998-2008, attempts to “beautify” and “clean-up” the city displaced almost one million slum-dwellers.33 These efforts to create a clean slum-free Delhi, made in the interest of attracting (foreign direct) investment capital, “are leading to the intensification of class-based contestation.”34 The Metro extends outside of the city, creating new spaces for the privileged classes, enabling “further fragmentation and aggravation of socio-spatial inequalities”; what Banerjee-Guha calls the “new spatial order” a “socio-spatial disorder.”35 At the end of the lines, one finds new suburban developments with “modern infrastructure, high-end residential complexes and exclusive shopping malls, in line with the rise of consumerism and middle-class ideology.”36 Conveniently situated near Metro lines, fancy hotels also accommodate foreign investors. In order to sustain itself, the DMRC must diversify its economic pursuits through actions such as ownership and construction of these hotels.37 Subsequently, the city is literally “being built up and around the metro lines”38 to the benefit of creative businesspersons.

“The Dream of Delhi as a World-class Global City” –The Hindu39

Transforming Delhi into a “global city” means “urban regeneration and beautification [which has] dramatic consequences for those who do not fit into the model.”40 Governmentally sanctioned demolition of slum housing intensified in 2000. For example, between 2004 and 2006, riverfront development of the Yamuna river’s embankments alone led to the eviction of over 300,000 people.41 The government instated “clean-green-beautiful” campaigns, with slogans like “Clean Delhi, Green Delhi,” which effectively denied poor people the right to housing.42 Though the Metro offers “one of the cheapest metro rides in the world,” it is used almost exclusively by upper/middle classes.43 However, it is the poor and the excluded who suffered the most because the “construction of the metro [sic] depended on a lot of destruction,” as less wealthy “neighborhoods…became construction zones piled high with dust, corrugated metal sheets, cement, and cranes.”44 The land acquired for the construction of the Metro came from the government’s ongoing attempts to make more profitable use of the “‘under-utilized’ public land occupied by slum-dwellers.”45 The Metro, by virtue of its routes and spatial reconfiguration of the city, affords a “logic of exclusiveness,” a “greater socio-spatial fragmentation, reinforcing a tendency towards the ghettoization by the choice of the rich.”46

Public Policy-Induced Discrimination

The Metro plays a key role in the “modernization” (i.e. the eradication of Indian-ness) of Delhi and the aggravation of class-based inequalities via socio-economic polarization and socio-spatial fragmentation. For example, public campaigns to “clean-up” the city have reinforced desires of the upper classes to live in a space free of poverty. However, this discriminatory, segregationist attitude is problematic on a practical level; these desires contain “socio-spatial contradictions” because “[w]hile the poorer sections of the population provide essential services, including cleaning the city or working as domestic help in the homes of the rich and middle class, the perceived baggage that they carry (swarming the city, ruining urban life, creating problems in housing and services [sic]) make them undesirable to the rich and the middle class in the city.”47 Slum-dwellers and beggars were further criminalized after laws were passed in May of 2008.48 Essentially, uneducated agricultural workers migrate to the city because of changes in public policies pressured by the World Bank and the IMF, only to find that there are few jobs available to them.49 After resorting to slum-living, they now face social stigmatization, and even criminalization because of neoliberal “world class city” image-building, embodied in the Delhi Metro.


Delhi’s Metro removes culture. It does this through its use of underground space, speed efficiency, “modern” aesthetics, automation, advertisements, and security measures. Many studies show that the Metro lessens the human-environmental damage caused by other popular modes through a reduction in noise and air pollution, traffic congestion, and traveler injury (passengers and pedestrians).50 The DMRC promotes this intention through its promotional campaigns and on its website.51 It is a transport mode powered by electricity, located underground, and well-maintained. The Metro is quite safe, as there are extensive security measures taken: metal detectors, body frisks, x-ray bomb detectors. This Metro is inexpensive, efficient, convenient, clean, and the safest form of transportation in Delhi. The DMRC website boasts:

Delhi Metro is a world-class metro. To ensure reliability and safety in train operations, it is equipped with the most modern communication and train control system. It has state-of-art air-conditioned coaches. Ticketing and passenger control are through Automatic Fare Collection System…Travelling in Delhi Metro is a pleasure with trains ultimately available at three minutes frequency. Entries and exits to metro stations are controlled by flap-doors operated by ‘smart-cards’ and contact less tokens.52

The Costs of Efficiency: Auto Rickshaw v. the Metro

Delhi is a cultural center of a society with rich traditions and cultural expression that go back thousands of years. Monuments, religious temples and mosques, clothing, paintings, music and dance performances, and museums are dispersed and alive throughout the cityscape. There is much to be lost to “modernization,” with its fraternal twin Westernization. A comparative juxtaposition of the auto rickshaw and the Metro reveals some of the ways in which the Metro is causing culture-loss.53

The auto rickshaw, one transport mode not found in many Western countries, is a three-wheeled motorized passenger vehicle, partially enclosed with a thin metal frame, powered by a small engine. The passenger(s) sit on a small bench seat behind the driver. It fits two comfortably, but it is not uncommon to see four in the back and two in the front snuggled up to the driver. The sides of the vehicle are open, exposing the passenger to the city. Climbing into the auto rickshaw, passengers have company waiting for them—the rickshaw-wallah (or driver) and often at least one Hindu deity, usually three or more. The interior of the auto rickshaw is decorated with stickers of religious icons such as swastikas, images of deities, and phrases in Hindi, Urdu, or Sanskrit. Sometimes they are equipped with a radio and speakers, providing the latest Bollywood tunes or more classical Indian music. The exterior of the auto rickshaw typically sports various painted designs of flowers, stripes, and religious symbols. In Delhi, auto-rickshaws are very colorful—bright yellow and forest green. The passenger must directly interact with the wallah: give a destination, negotiate fare, possibly offer directions, and sometimes chat along the ride.

The Delhi Metro is an above and underground railway system with 142 stations located within Delhi.54 Every station looks very similar: off-white, gray, and silver surfaces; fluorescent lighting; ticket/customer service booths; metal detectors; electronic slider-turnstiles; stairs and escalators; and a cautioning yellow line between the platform and the tracks. Users must pass through a security checkpoint and stationed guards with automatic assault rifles are posted in the CCTV-wired stations.

The cars are identical to one another: gray and silver on the outside with more gray and silver on the inside. Seats are situated along the walls with dangling handles across the middle of the car.  No human interaction is required of the user; indeed many choose this option—devoid of sociality. Instead of unique travel experiences on the roads, with unexpected variations, the user will always move at about “80 kilometers an hour nearly 13 meters underground in the darkness” on unchanging, designated routes.55

Subterranean Isolation

The Metro harnesses multi-layered land use.  In theory, its use of underground space frees up aboveground space and reduces noise and air pollution. Materially speaking, this is a brilliant use/creation of subsurface space in a city plagued by spatial crises. However, these physical benefits are met with mental harm. Psychological studies have shown that the underground has some emotionally harmful effects on its occupiers. Carmody and Sterling concluded that users’ negative experiences within underground spaces can be caused by “disorientation; loss of connection with the natural world; lack of natural light” along with associations “related to death and burial.”56 This space is completely artificial—nothing “natural” can be sensed here.

Transport underground also has cognitive repercussions in users’ her/his surroundings. When the user goes underground, s/he leaves the city (and the atmosphere) and enters a confined, autonomous zone, devoid of expression, color, and social interactivity. Spatio-temporal experiences are removed and replaced with deadened deprivation.  Once inside the Metro car, passengers are unaware of their surroundings. The tracks are smooth, the turns are slight; fully enclosed, there is no airflow to determine speed. The user sits passively while being transported in space and time from one absolute spatio-temporal point in the city to another—quickly, easily, cheaply. In a darkened tunnel with fluorescent interior lighting, the passengers are unable to discern time or space, that is when or where they are. They can only understand their location in relation to the car itself, and vaguely as somewhere between station x and y. In a temperature-controlled space (e.g. air conditioning), passengers are also unaware of the climactic conditions of Delhi. The unpredictable events, travel-time, and unique encounters of the bus ride to Chandi Chowk are replaced by a fairly precise 13.5 minute sit in darkness on a gray train underground, outside (i.e. under) the life of Delhi—a new lived experience. Spaces change. Times change. Spatio-temporal relations change.

Transformations of Cultural Experience

Recall the description of bright colors, the religious imagery, and the human interactivity experienced through an auto rickshaw ride. With the Metro, that is all gone. Visualizations of art and religion are replaced by advertisements and grayness. The passenger/transport-employee interaction changes, as the social exchange of talking to your rickshaw-wallah is replaced by dis-social body frisks by a stern-looking security guard. The “state-of-the-art” aesthetic with its glossy, shiny, industrialized design and advanced technologies (e.g. LED maps and signs, electronic turnstiles, A/C) “are a tangible embodiment of the future.”57 This Metro’s facilitated future and “modernity” are not categorized by saris or kurtas, tabla recitals or Hindu deities. These cultural signifiers become expendable in the name of modernizing, which has been based on “a vision which itself draws heavily on the experiences and imagery of cities around the world.”58 “Modernization” is not cheap. The DMRC recuperates the financial costs of its futuristic elegancy (in operation, maintenance, and expansion) by exposing users to ubiquitous advertisements—on trains and in stations. Modern is silver, cold, free of expression, and plastered with desire-producing imagery.

Security Checks and Control

The extensive security checks are not all about safety. Siemiatycki maintains that those in control of the Metro are trying “to inculcate a pattern of public behaviour that accompanies their vision of modernity.”59 Stand in line, arms out, put your bag here, one at a time, no spitting, no littering, etc. CCTV surveillance surrounds users, as there are “visible cameras watching you at all times…[and even] signs reminding you that cameras are watching you.”60

This space of the Metro station is an active political tool whose spatial practices seek to manipulate the behavior of the public (i.e. calm, orderly behavior), so as to instill, through mimicry of other ‘world class’ cities, the image of “a modern society.”  In doing so, Delhi can attract multinational corporations and their attendant capital.  Via the Metro, Delhi asserts itself as “ready to compete for attention and investment in the global economy,”61 which means Westernization, displacement of slum-dwellers and beggars, removal of religious imagery.

Loss of Sociality

The Metro removes sociality. Consider this comparison between the Metro and the heavily used bus system. Sandana describes the social interaction required for bus travel:

The key figure on the bus is the ticket collector. He does not only take money, give out tickets, and return change; he manages the crowd, and with a slap of his hand on the side of the bus he cues the driver on when to start moving. He shouts at people, telling them what to do, and how to behave, admonishing them for ‘acting like children’ or ‘holding everyone up’. He both surveys and manages the crowd. And at the bus stops other riders give you information about which lines go where and which are good lines; there is a continual sharing of information and advice, as well as collective grief over late buses or nonexistent ones.62

There is no ticket collector on the Metro. Instead, users scan a prepaid “SmartCard” or token and automated doors flap open. The closest Metro users come to conversing with Metro personnel takes place through a glass window with two small holes, one for talking through, the other for monetary transactions. The user interacts with a security guard that frisks her/him,63 but that is hardly social, if anything it is dis-social, meaning it removes sociality from human exchange.

Identity and Place

Where you are from and where you feel you belong are important components of identity. Peet claims “belonging to a place (home, hometown, region) as an individual and member of a community…provides an important source of identity.”64 A sense of place gives way to “placelessness” brought on by “mass communications, mass culture, big business, central authority, and the economic system that embraces all of these.”65 Edward Relph wrote of the concept in “Place and Placelessness,” in which he explains placelessness as “a weakening of the identity of places to the point where they not only look alike, but feel alike and offer the same bland possibilities for experience.”66 The Delhi Metro undermines a sense of place and identity through “increased spatial mobility and a weakening of the symbolic qualities of place,”67 (i.e. cultural expression, social interactivity) and in doing so the Metro is in the process of creating a global capitalist “flatscape, a meaningless pattern.”68

Concluding Summation

The Metro was designed and implemented to counter traffic crises caused by population expansion, public policy changes, and Western ideals of consumerism and status demonstration, and also to help Delhi’s educated inhabitants compete in the global marketplace. As a result, over a million persons have been displaced and stigmatized; cultural expression and social interaction have given way to Western aesthetics, advertisements and temporal and fiscal efficiency; and Delhi is losing its sense of place, of uniqueness, of Indian identity.

Experiential Accounts

Using an Auto Rickshaw

I exit my apartment building and move through the alleys to arrive at the main road.  As I walk down the half dirt-covered road (there are no sidewalks) I pass Krishna Mandir, the Little Angel’s Baseball field, two public parks, a few juice stands, clothes shops, and a place renting local real estate. I take a shortcut through an alley. To my left: a crumbling concrete wall with a mural of a young woman looking upwards, her face about four by four feet. To my right: a group of 18 kids play cricket in a barren, dusty plot; there is a cow tied to a lonely tree.  I spot one! I move toward the auto rickshaw-wallah/driver and ask him to take me to Saket PVR Cinemas.  He accepts my request and motions for me to enter his vehicle. As the experienced New Delhi traveler that I am, I know he isn’t going to use a fare meter, so I check the price. “How much?” He offers a quote, “200.”  I tell him that I am no tourist. The bargaining begins: I say “50.”  He says “No, no, no…” and looks away. I move up, “70. That’s fair. Okay, 70.” and I begin to enter the vehicle. Wallahs of all kind employ this type of rhetorical strategy on a regular basis. His response: “100.”  I think to myself, “That’s too much. 80 at the most. But…this is the only guy around and the movie starts in 15 minutes. Ahhhaawwllright.” I walk around to the other side of the auto-rickshaw and climb into the backseat. The first thing I notice is the framed images of Lakshmi, Ganesha, and Krishna on his dash and the “Om” sticker on his rearview mirror.

It has been a warm day, but it’s starting to cool down. The sun is setting and everything is splashed with a wonderful orange-red golden light. Shadows are elongated. We drive by a temple and I hear cyclical ringing bells.  Stopped at a red light I notice some purple flowers at the edge of the park on my left. They look very nice in the light.  It’s quite for a moment, as the little two-stroke engine idles, so I try out my Hindi. I ask him “How are you?” He invariably answers, “Ok.” He asks with enthusiasm, “Hindi?” I tell him I speak a little. The light changes and our conversation stops. I know it may be the end of our conversation, or if we hit another light or some traffic, I’ll ask him about his family or comment on the weather. Some brief traffic, I say, “Bahut garam din he!” (Very hot day!) I can tell by his expression that he surely experienced the heat. The traffic lets up and we continue on our unpredictable journey. I can feel the air swoop in sideways as the auto-rickshaw speeds around the corner from Press Enclave Road. He swerves violently, which I am okay with, since it saved the life of a little girl running across the street without looking. My heart beats from the scare, but life moves on.

We arrive at PVR, I tilt my head down as I move through the “doorway” to exit the auto. I take out my wallet, remove a 100 Rupee note and hand it to him. He places it in his shirt pocket. I thank him. He bobs his head to the side in acknowledgement.

Using the Metro

On the walk I pass a trash dump, a beautiful park, a traffic-ridden roadway, a mosque, a guy selling two-wheeler helmets—he has arranged them in stacks, forming a helmet wall. I pass under trees, duck below an electric wire, step over an opening into the sewer, and strategically cross the street. I hear kids playing in the park, prayer over a loud speaker, and a cacophony of dissonant horns. Chillier than I expected here. I feel the slightest breeze and the temperature drop as the sun begins its descent over the smoggy, brightly colored building smattered horizon line. It’s not quite sunset time yet, but the colors are starting to warm, the shadows are starting to elongate.

The station entrance, Gate # 2, is hard to miss. It is easily identified by its sleek, curved awning, its polished silver surfaces. No other structure around has those characteristics, not that I can see. Its side parking lot is full of auto rickshaws and rickshaw-wallahs pestering potential customers. I am impressed by the escalator. As I move lower and lower the sounds of kids playing, people conversing, worshippers chanting, and horns blowing diminish. The bright green and yellow of the auto rickshaws, leafy trees, light blue sky, and red sandstone temple are replaced by off-white laminated flooring at my feet, off-white walls at my sides, plastered with giant repeating advertisements for a Hindi film.  The ads aren’t just posters slapped on the wall, but rather encased in glass, complete with an internal, independent lighting system. As I walk through the wide corridor I realize I’m less cold; there is no breeze. The warming sunlight has been swapped for hard fluorescent lighting, splashing everything with a greenish, stale tint.

It’s nice to feel safer—not going to get clipped by an auto rickshaw down here. Everything is so clean. What is this place? And what have you done with Delhi? I pass 70 people with no eye contact. As I approach a corner, a man with a machine gun sits behind a stack of canvas bags. That’s a bit intimidating. I make the turn and the security checks are revealed. I wonder if I have clearance to enter this space. What is this, sector 5?  I left my ID badge at home. I wait my turn in line, it doesn’t take long, a short line. I pass through a threshold with no walls, a doorless doorway. After stepping onto an 8 inch elevated platform and raising my arms out in the Christ position, a man dressed in tan pats me down. Not a thorough frisk.  He motions an ‘alright buddy, move it along’ and I proceed to a conveyor belt. I set my small drawstring backpack onto the grocery store rubber mat. The mat moves my bag into a mysterious angular tunnel and out the other side onto some long rolly polished cylinders. I pick it up and pass through the futuristic, no-touch, flapper turnstile.

The doors slide open. As people squish out of the train, others competitively squeeze in, myself included. All of the seats are occupied so I stand and hold onto one of the dangling handles. Every surface is either gray or silver. On the header over the door, there is an electronic map.  A yellow line is spectacled with circles.  Each circle is accompanied by a station name, like Malviya Nagar or Chandi Chowk.  Within each circle is an LED light, which is either red (the stop has passed or it is the final stop for that train), green (the next or current stop), or off (the stop is ahead by at least one stop).  The only other imagery within the train is advertisements for Air India.  We, all of the metro passengers, stand or sit in the train. We do not talk. We do not make eye contact. There are many young adults and businessmen in Western suits, often carrying a briefcase. A man comes over the speaker system and tells me the name of the next stop in Hindi. Next, a woman repeats the information, but in a language I understand.

I ride for three stops then exit delicately.The station is not highly populated at this particular moment, though that might change in two minutes. The escalator transports me from under to aboveground. Fifteen feet from my summit sunlight strikes my body. The escalator, like all good things, comes to an end, and I begin walking on my own again. My eyes, ears, nose, and skin become more alert in response to the bright light and colors, the bells and horns, the incense and exhaust fumes, the warmth and breeze. I have reentered the world two kilometres (and twelve minutes) from where (and when) I left it.


1. John Pucher, Nisha Korattyswaroopam, and Neenu Ittyerah, “The Crisis of Public Transport in India: Overwhelming Needs but Limited Resources,” Journal of Public Transportation 7, no. 4 (2004): 2.

2. Matti Siemiatycki, “Message in a Metro: Building Urban Rail Infrastructure and Image in Delhi, India,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30, no. 2 (June 2006): 279.

3. Veronique D.N. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi as a Global City,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35, no 3 (May 2011): 538.

4. De-peasantization refers to a process whereby agricultural workers leave rural areas and move to cities.  This ongoing phenomenon has resulted in an influx of immigrants and the subsequent expansion of slums.  There is simply no work for the former peasantry, as the work available in Indian cities is based in “services–particularly banking, insurance, and information processing outsourcing,” which “largely employ individuals who have had access to English education.” Waquar Ahmed, “Neoliberal Utopia and Urban Realities in Delhi,” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographers 10, no. 2 (2001): 165-6.

5. Ahmed, “Neoliberal Utopia,”167.

6. Siemiatycki, “Message in a Metro,” 279-280.

7. Geetam Tiwari, “Transport and land-use policies in Delhi,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 81 (2003): 445.

8. Tiwari, “Transport and Land-Use,” 445.

9. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi,” 539.

10. Santosh A. Jalihal and T.S. Reddy, “Assessment of the Impact of Improvement Measures On Air Quality: Case Study of Delhi,” Journal of Transportation Engineering (June 2006): 485.

11. “Need for MRTS” Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd., accessed on April 3, 2012, http.//

12. Pucher, et al., “Crisis of Public Transport in India,” 3.

13. Ibid, 3.

14. Tiwari, “Transport and Land-Use,” 447.

15.  M N Murty et al., “Social Cost-Benefit Analysis of Delhi Metro,” Institute of Economic Growth (October 2006): 2.

16. Jalihal, et al., “Assessment of Impact,” 485.

17. Pucher, et al., “Crisis of Public Transport,” 3.

18. Ibid, 8.

19. Siemiatycki, “Message in a Metro,” 280.

20. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi,” 534.

21. Rashmi Sadana, “On the Delhi Metro: An Ethnographic View,” Economic & Political Weekly 45, no. 46 (November 2010): 78.

22. An alliterative marketing slogan made popular by the Times of India, a widely circulated Indian English-language newspaper.

23. The Delhi metro had been in development for almost 30 years by that time. Siemiatycki, 280.

24. Shelly Tara, “Private Space in Public Transport: Locating Gender in the Delhi Metro” Economic and Political Weekly 46, No. 51 (Dec 2001): 72.

25. Siemiatycki, “Message in a Metro,” 285.

26. Sadana, “On the Delhi Metro,” 79-80.

27. Siemiatycki, “Message in a Metro,” 281.

28. Ibid.

29. In India, class is intimately bound up with caste, yet they are distinct in important ways with undeniable implications connected to the arguments put forth here.  A noteworthy flaw of this study is a lack of consideration of caste.  This choice has been made, reluctantly, due to word limitations.

30. Ahmed, “Neoliberal Utopia,” 163.

31. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi,” 548.

32. D. Asher Ghertner, “Rule By Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi” in Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Being Global, edited by Ananya Roy & Aihwa Ong (Oxford: Blackwell): 282.

33. “Combined demolitions (notoriously under-)reported by the DDA and Slum and JJ Wing of the Municipal Corporation from 1997-2007 lead to the conservative estimate of 710,000 displaced residents. The City Development Plan of Delhi, prepared by private consultants, on the other hand, estimates that 1.8 million residents were displaced in 1997-2001 alone. Conservative estimates suggest at least a tripling in the pre-2000 demolition pace.” Ghertner, 288.

34. Ahmed, “Neoliberal Utopia,”179.

35. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi,” 537.

36. Ibid, 550.

37. The DMRC also owns and is building Information Technology Parks. Sadana, “On the Delhi Metro,” 83.

38. Ibid, 81.

39. The Hindu is a widely circulated, English-language newspaper.

40. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi,” 545.

41. Ibid, 546.

42. Dupont, “The Dream of Delhi, 548.

43. The slum-dwellers and dalits, for the most part, do not have enough money to buy a ride. Sadana, 81.

44. Ibid, 79.

45. Ghertner, Rule by Aesthetics,” 282.

46. Dupont, “Dream of Delhi,” 542.

47. Ahmed, “Neoliberal Utopia,” 172.

48. In Delhi, begging was criminalized in 1960 through an extension of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act of 1959.  In May 2008, “the Delhi government informed the Delhi High Court that is was ready to set up mobile courts to speed up the process of removing beggars from the streets.” Dupont, 549.

49. For information on pressures by the World Bank and the IMF and the correlation to slum expansion see Arundhati Roy’s “The Cost of Living.”

50. Jalihal, et al., “Assessment of Impact.”

51. Also, it is worthy of mention that the metro is an economic space and time created to counter spatial crises (population density, private vehicles adding to traffic congestion and slowing down public transit on the roadways) caused by economic development; it exists to offer a more time-efficient movement in space—that is, it primarily works to compress spatio-temporal relations in order to maximize time utilization.  This function is apparent based the DMRC’s website, but I refrain from an explication of this.

52. “About Us” Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (accessed December 10, 2012).

53. See subheading, Experiential Accounts, for a firsthand account of using the auto rickshaw and the Metro.

54. “Project update” Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. http.// (accessed December 10, 2012).

55. Sadana, “On the Delhi Metro,” 77.

56. Sanja Durmisevic, “The future of the underground space,” Cities 16, no. 4 (1999): 238.

57. Siemaitycki, “Message in a Metro,” 285.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid, 288.

60. Sadana, “On the Delhi Metro,” 82.

61. Siemaitycki, “Message in a Metro,” 285.

62. Sadana, “On the Delhi Metro,” 82.

63. The men and women are segregated, with separate lines and female security guards for the women.

64. Richard Peet, Modern Geographical Thought (n.p.: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 51.

65. Peet, Modern Geographical Thought, 51.

66. Ibid, 52.

67. Ibid, 51.

68. Ibid, 52.


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