Think harsh tubelights and enclosed spaces, the smell of talcum powder and deodorant, sweat and hair oil. Being pressed in on all sides by people, until it feels your lungs are about to fall through your stomach. Like I said, not always pleasant.
But like most unpleasant things, the Metro is a great learning experience. I think, in the past two and a half months, I've learnt more about people than I ever had in Calcutta (man whores excepted). I've also learnt about survival because I have to admit- if you can survive the Delhi Metro on a regular basis, you're qualified to face all the darkness and misery the world will throw at you.
Surviving the Delhi Metro: A Guide.
1. If you're waiting for a train and you're right at the back of the line, step back. Let the train arrive, let the train depart and while you're watching, wave at all the people who are packed in there, faces pressed against the doors, mouths opening and closing like fish gasping for breath. You may now step smugly up to the yellow line, secure in the knowledge that you are in a position to get yourself to a corner where there might just be some oxygen.
2. When about to board or 'de-board' the train, make sure your fists are clenched and your elbows are jutting out. This is an excellent position to counter-shove fat ladies and men with big briefcases who will do their best to push you against the walls. It is also an excellent position to detract gropers- if you feel a hand on your butt, stay in position, swing slightly until your elbow connects and you hear a groan. Then make a run for it because it's Delhi after all and there's always the danger of acid being chucked on your face.
3. Ladies, the men are not going to stand to make room for you. Even if you're carrying a big backpack and three files and an overnight bag and look as if you haven't slept in two weeks. In fact, they're going to take special pains to sit in the Seats Reserved for Ladies. Standing in front of them and glaring at them is not going to help. You need to point to the sign and then point to yourself and indicate you are a lady (I use the term loosely). Normally this works. If it doesn't work, hit them with your backpack and make a run for it because like I said before, you don't want to end up with acid on your face.
4. Grammarians, to survive a trip on the Metro, you are going to have to make yourselves temporarily deaf/blind. This is because you'll be hearing terms like 'de-board' and seeing sentences such as 'Stand clear off the door'.
5. Always carry a bottle of cough syrup with you. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky, you'll be forced to stand for at least half an hour, pressed in by people on all sides and the world will start spinning and you'll wish you were dead. Cough syrup comes in handy at times like this- it's sweet and it calms your nerves and it makes the Metro a happier place.
6. Should you not happen to have cough syrup on you, while switching lines (especially if you're heading towards the Blue Line), stop at the Nirula's or Gianni's in CP and get yourself an ice cream before you board the train. You'll need the happy feeling it gives you. Trust me.
7. When waiting for the train, always stand at the end of the platform. This way, as the train draws into the station, you'll be able to see which carriage is relatively empty and make a run for it. It is also a good idea to wear sneakers while travelling the Metro.
8. Always keep your Metro Card in your hand. If you keep it in your pocket, it will fall out. If you keep it in your bag, you won't find it until you've paid the whopping fine those Metro Criminals extort from you. Keep the damn thing in your hand and also, talk to it to keep it happy. Sing to it if you must. It's also a good way to pass the time.
9. To pass the time: A book will not help because you won't have room to read it. An ipod is always good but from personal experience, the battery usually dies five minutes after you get on the train (don't worry- it comes back as soon as you get off). Eavesdropping on other people's conversations is always a good way to pass the time. Adding your own input to them is not. Delhi people are notoriously unfriendly.
10. Take a friend along if possible. Two being stronger than one and all that. You'll not only have someone to talk to, if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you can be sure that there will be at least one person who isn't trampling over you as soon as the doors open.
11. Always carry money on you, in different places. Some money in your bag, some in your pocket, some tucked away in your socks and if you're very paranoid, other...strategic...places. Because you will get robbed one day and it's always good to be able to have access to an emergency stash.
12. Above all, look at it as a challenge. You are in a tough city and you are dealing with tough people and you are therefore, no matter what your friends and family think, tough (I should also mention that delusions and hallucinations always help you cope with the Metro Experience better). And above all, keep in mind that you won't be using the Metro forever. One day you will leave Delhi or even if, by some sad twist of fate, you don't- you will have a car or a helicopter or a bicycle or some other mode of transport. However, should this fail and you are faced with the prospect of travelling on the Metro for the rest of your life- there is still no need to worry. After all, if you throw yourself off the platform, it will be happy to run over you.