Metro trains have become an important part of the urban imagination of Delhi. It would be impossible to imagine Delhi without the metro; Delhi would then be a body without its lifelines. With the expansion of the metro network, the facility of movement and negotiating spaces has improved. These means of mobility that make it easier for us to negotiate the vast city also provide a medium for our desires to flow. Public transport then becomes a place where desires meet, a place where along with us, desires also traverse the city.
People in the city move from their homes to their workplaces and back to their homes. The production of this everyday rhythm of the city makes people accustomed to the sexual overtones that come with it. In the metro, during the evening rush hour, bodies stick to each other as there is not an inch to move. There is continuous touching, caressing, and pushing, which may sometimes be helped along by the jerking motion of the metro. There is a thrill and sense of adventure in the air. The entire setting of this means of public transport creates a script of desires. A script of desires that is only written and read by certain bodies.
As a queer person traversing the city, one becomes accustomed to the public gaze. The act of walking around the city or even travelling in the metro could invite unwanted attention. But many a times you gather the courage to return the stare, and this act might intimidate the other person and they might look away, but sometimes, it results in the meeting of eyes and passing of smiles. You get to know that the person is interested in you, and most of the time it is sexual. Prolonged eye contact would mean that you are interested as well. Inside the metro, one gets to see a variety of strangers who are curious to know you, who want to interact with you and pursue their desires. However, there are no words in action here, it is only the unsaid that does all the work. This compact space inside the metro gives room to these ephemeral desires. The duration of these desires might only last till one of the two reaches their destination. The ephemerality of these desires is what makes it stand out, makes it queer.
In conjunction with the metro, the coming up of dating apps like Grindr have been significantly conducive to the pursuance of these desires. Mobility provided by both the metro and the dating app facilitates the entire process even further. People on Grindr often set their profile names to the names of places they are at –it is sometimes the name of a metro station, or otherwise, just ‘metro’, letting other Grindr users know that they are now on the move. The metro network for them hence becomes a map of desires. Being on a metro line would then mean that one has access to any location that falls on the entire network. You go wherever you want. As the app lets you see the people who are closest to you, with every changing station comes a different set of people. A different set of possibilities.
But one might want to know why public transport such as the metro becomes a place for desires to meet. From making friends with someone in the metro and calling them their ‘metro friend’ to potential sex dates, the possibilities that this compact space might bring with it are endless. For many, privacy can be a luxury or a privilege they may not enjoy at home. For someone staying in a small house with family, there might be no scope for sexual encounters. The pursuit of sexual pleasure, hence, becomes a difficult transaction. The brief time spent in the metro is an escape for them –a respite from the reality that they have to go back to. Often, the people who partake of this respite are also married men (touching and caressing cis men in the crush of bodies during rush hour) who, may be, have somewhere repressed their same sex desires.
In the metro, there also comes a sense of entitlement depending on what you identify yourself as. If you are a cis man, you would have no difficulty in exploring your desires and pursuing them, whereas other bodies that do not pass are susceptible to violence. Desires in this case are mediated through ‘visibility’, meaning how you wish to dress and ‘perform’ your gender in the public space. The cis man feels entitled to this space and does not feel vulnerable. But for queer folks and women, these spaces can sometimes become violent and trauma-inducing. Hence, the negotiation of pursuing one’s desires comes at a cost. These geographies of pleasure for some cis men are built on the fear and violence that many other bodies experience.
But, this means of public transport still produces geographies that would not be possible otherwise. It makes space for queerness by blurring the lines of public and private spaces.
Cover Image:(CC BY 2.0)