New Delhi, Sep 11 (PTI) The screeching brakes of a metro train and the announcements of its arrival were a throwback for Priyanka Sharma as she eagerly waited at a station to use the service to reach office, the first time in over five months.
Three days before the first nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25 to contain the spread of the pandemic, metro services were closed, only to be resumed in a graded manner after a long hiatus, on September 7.
In this 169-day period, the familiar sights and sounds and touch of the life in a metro were suddenly taken away, as people were left confined to their homes while coronavirus wreaked havoc in the country.
Sharma, who works at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), on Monday said when the Yellow Line services resumed, she decided to take metro to go to office as two stations are in the vicinity of her workplace.
'The moment a train came whizzing past me by the platform, I suddenly became very conscious of the sound the wheels were producing until the train came to a screeching halt. It wasn't unfamiliar, of course, but to hear it after five-and-a-half months suddenly, it felt something new in a COVID-hit world,' she told PTI.
The light inside the coaches, the buzzing sound of opening and closing of doors, the regular announcements made on public audio system, and the typical blue colour of all station name labels, it was very strong on the senses, said Sharma, as she boarded a train at Jor Bagh station on Yellow Line.
Nine corridors of the Delhi Metro network have now been reopened as part of the stage one and stage two of the phase-wise resumption of services, once again connecting Delhi with the neighbouring cities on the network.
Yellow Line and Rapid Metro were the first to be reopened on Monday. Blue Line and Pink Line resumed services on Wednesday and services on the Red Line, Violet Line and Green Line commenced operations again on September 10, and Magenta Line and Grey Line resumed services on Friday.
This correspondent spent three hours inside stations premises and train coaches of three major corridors on Thursday to get a real sense of the new normal.
Shirleen, 47, a Kerala native who lives in Dilshad Garden here, anxiously asked for directions on Thursday evening to the Kashmere Gate station falling on the Violet Line as she walked hurriedly across a rather empty concourse of the Red Line of the same station on regular days bustling with a sea of commuters.
As she descended the squeaky clean escalator, she fished out a small sanitiser bottle and disinfected her hands.
'My daughter is coming from Badarpur after writing her B.Ed exam. She will be coming by the last metro. She is 22 and born and raised in Delhi, and very bold to travel alone, but I am a mother and life is so uncertain these days,' she said, adding that it was her first ride in the metro post the lockdown.
At Kashmere Gate, Rajiv Chowk and Central Secretariat stations, three major interchange facilities, infamous for their swirling crowds with passengers jostling for space to board or alight a train, hardly one or two passengers were seen exiting the coach.
Trails of sanitising chemical left behind on the floors of platforms typified the health emergency the capital is battling since March 1 when the first novel coronavirus case was reported in Delhi.
Round steel benches at platforms remained unoccupied at majority of the stations as commuters preferred to stand while waiting for trains to avoid surface contacts, while commercial advertisements on small and big screens have been replaced by heath advisory videos.
Jag Prakash, 30, a DMRC staff who lives in Faridabad, waited for a train bound for HUDA City Centre while Himanshu Kumar, who works in a private company, awaited arrival of the Samyapur Badli-bound service to reach their destinations at Jor Bagh station.
'I am undergoing training at Metro academy, but today (Thursday) was the first time I boarded a metro train since the lockdown. In the morning, a colleague had dropped me to the centre. Life must go on, COVID or no COVID, and life in metro should also go on,' Prakash said.
On Thursday, the city also recorded 4,308 fresh cases, the highest single-day spike till date in Delhi, taking the COVID-19 tally here to over 2.05 lakh, while the death toll mounted to 4,666.
With services available on most of the metro lines now, the total ridership recorded on Thursday (from 7 am to 11 am) in the morning and then from 4 pm till 7:30 pm in the evening, was nearly 84,841.
On regular days, the average daily ridership of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is over 26 lakh.
Trains are being made available at peak frequency throughout the day but crowd in coaches are largely thin and women's compartment saw either no passenger at all or hardly two or three riders in most of the trains on Thursday when the service hours were staggered in two parts, from 7-11 am and 4-8 pm.
During the 169-day hiatus, the DMRC had 'kept in touch' with people through social media, using interactive quizzes and posts and urged people to gear up for the new normal soon after announcing the services resumption plan.
Chhange Kumar, a train operator, who had been working with the DMRC for the last 11 years, said everyone is adjusting to the new normal, in and out of trains, in and out of metro.
Asked if he feels scared while doing his job in this scenario, he said, 'Yes, a bit.' 'But life for me has always been anything but normal. You see, I have six fingers in one of my hands,' he quipped and flashed his extra digit as he walked away towards the control room to report for duty.
Life in a metro goes on. PTI KND KJ KJ KJ