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Life in a metro: Accessible yet constrained

Every day, I park my two-wheeler at the Baiyappanahalli metro station, take a train to MG Road, and then walk the last 50 metres to my office.

This morning I did the same thing, only to realise when I reached the station that I’d forgotten to pick up my metro card at the last minute. This is a good time to let you know that I don’t use a smartphone. I decided to give it up a few months ago in return for control over my mental and physical health, expenses, and time.

I figure there’s an ATM at the station, and I have my bank card. All I have to do is draw money and buy myself a ticket. There are two ATMs at the metro station. I walk up to one of them, swipe my card, and the machine says, “This ATM cannot currently dispense cash. Would you like to continue?” No, I would not. I move on to the next machine, which doesn’t bother with the social niceties and simply says “offline”.

Whom do you go to when you can’t figure out what to do? Customer Care.

Did you know that you could use your debit card to buy a metro card but not a one-way ticket? That piece of information comes to me as a rude surprise. Yes, it’s a small amount of money, but I wouldn’t try if I had absolutely any other way out of the situation.

“PhonePe, GooglePay maadbohudu madam”, she says. I tell her that I don’t have a smartphone and that she can’t expect every customer to have one.

She sends me to the ticket booth. “Ask them to take permission from the station controller to accept your card and give you a ticket.”

The lady at the ticket booth makes a quick telephone call before she tells me she can’t do that. I resign myself to my fate and tell her I’d buy a new card (even though I already have one). And she says they’ve run out of cards. Now, is that my fault?

As a middle-class Indian girl who has grown up watching my parents pick up angry fights with a government employee, I know that the only thing I can do is make a scene. And that’s what I do.

“Your ATMs don’t work, you won’t take a card for a ticket, you’ve run out of smart cards, and I’m running out of time.”

And then I am sent back to customer care. Although “care” at this point would be overstating it. Here’s how that conversation went:

Me: What do you want me to do?

Her: What do you want me to do?

Me: No, what do you want me to do?

…Until finally, she tells me to wait, then returns and asks me to follow her. Back to the ticket booth we go. There, she asks me if I’m ready to buy a day pass. I say, “Why should I spend ₹50 for your mistake?” Then she says I need to wait if I want a card. It’s being arranged. I repeat, I’m running out of time.

Now, I don’t know if it is my press ID that I sneakily let hang from my backpack or my irritating middle-class relentlessness that does it, but another man at the counter finally gives me a ticket at no cost. “Go”, he says. “And next time, carry cash”.

This is the last straw.

“What am I supposed to do if your ATM doesn’t work?”, I yell.

“It’s not our responsibility. You have to ask SBI”, he retorts.

“If the ATM here doesn’t work, you’re the only ones I can approach. I can’t call SBI and tell them their ATM at Baiyappanahalli Metro Station doesn’t work. You are responsible for the services that you promise to provide”. 

“Aithu sari hogi hogi”, he says, tired and utterly bored of my incessant ranting.

All this, just because I decided not to use my smartphone anymore. 

We’re all so hell bent upon making the world accessible with just a smartphone. Does that mean that the world is inaccessible otherwise? 

(Published 15 October 2023, 19:53 IST)

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