As an early career professional (yeah, I have been reading too many of those resume tips online), I frequently use public transport to move around the city. Currently living in Delhi, the Metro is the singular thing about the city I am enthusiastic about. It has proved to be well connected, frequent, inexpensive and one of the fastest ways to travel. Even when I go home to Chennai and take the Metro home from the airport, I constantly find myself comparing the two services – the costs, the frequency, the lack of usage, even the language used for announcement!
Introduced in 2001 in Delhi, the Metro is a matter of pride for most residents of the city – an integral part of the lives of most people. Initially inaugurated with the Red line running from Shahdara to Tiz Hazri, today it boasts of nearly 5 lines, criss-crossing the entirety of the Delhi NCR, with 3 more new lines to be inaugurated within the next few months.
I usually use the Yellow line for my daily commute – living in Central Delhi and working in the South-west diplomatic area. My daily travel is not merely punctuated by the earplugs blaring music/TED talks in my ear, or the sights of early morning Dilli-wale rushing to work. As I walk into the Metro, I am greeted with exhibitions – the Metro museum, textiles of India, handicrafts from India, cartoons detailing the UN SDGs and so on.
The use of public space effectively to demonstrate art and culture is an agenda that has long plagued the Indian scene. Very few spaces have been successfully able to dispel the aura of elitism that surrounds art and to make it accessible to the everyday. Prominent pieces of art displayed in Phoenix Mall (in Chennai) are still inaccessible to large sections of the public given the exclusivity of the mall-space. To this end, Delhi’s Metro stations are a commendable step towards this effort. An article in the Hindustan Times a few years back tells us the story better – of which stations have what display.
With my travels so far, I have noticed the Metro Museum at Patel Chowk, Textiles of India at Lok Kalyan Marg (formerly Race Course Road), Handicrafts across India at INA, artwork from prominent artists and billboards explaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by the 2030s at Jorbagh. As a daily commuter, I rarely have time to admire the beauty of each of the displays. While most of the exhibits are framed prints rather than interactive pieces, they still exude a blur of colour and warmth that appeal to the passer-by, rushing to catch their Metro.
As a student of the urban, culture as an inherent aspect has always fascinated me. Public art is a uniquely urban idea that has been in and out of vogue for a long time. From street art and graffiti (including the ever fascinating “P.James Magic Show” across Chennai!), to our colourful cinema posters, a myriad of hues make up for a uniquely Indian perspective on public art. Perhaps it is now time for the Government to look beyond allowing students to ‘decorate’ public corridors (one might remember the OMR expressway in South Chennai, especially before TIDEL Park where students from NIFT have expressed their creativity) and embrace a more inclusive form of art, giving space to graffiti artists as well as high art, in pre-approved places and beyond. A Chennai-ite will remember the walls of Spaces and graffiti around the Besant Nagar beach (Bessie to localites) as a ‘unique and authentic representation of the city’ the moment street art is mentioned. It might do well for the image of the Indian city, especially given the emphasis on branding and local culture in the recent Central Government policy discourse, to encourage engagement with art in public spaces.