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Gettin’ Around

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the things that make Delhi a great place to live. Today, the New York Times is on the case, reporting on Delhi’s state-of-the-art subway system:

The Delhi Metro manages to defy just about every stereotype of urban India. It is scrupulously clean, impeccably maintained and almost unfailingly punctual. Its cars are the latest models, complete with air-conditioning and even power outlets to let commuters charge their mobile phones and laptops. Its signaling and other safety technology is first rate, and the system is among the best in the world, urban transport experts say. Despite cheap fares, less than 20 cents for the shortest ride and about 67 cents for the longest, the system manages to turn an operating profit.

The story credits Delhi Metro’s 77-year-old managing director, Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, with the system’s success. Here’s a brief snippet about his unique management approach:

Instead of dry procedural manuals, senior managers are given a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, one of Hinduism’s most important texts. But its significance is not religious, said Anuj Dayal, a spokesman for the Metro.

“It is a management text,” he said of the book, which is taken from the Mahabharata, an epic poem at the heart of Hindu philosophy. “It is the story of how to motivate an unmotivated person.”

The Bhagavad-Gita retells a battlefield dialogue between the god Krishna, disguised as a chariot driver, and Arjuna, a brave but demoralized king. Krishna convinces him that he must do his duty against all odds, and fight even what seems to be an unwinnable war.

It is a message that resonates with workers, many of whom came from India’s railway system, where bureaucratic procedures hampered even the smallest innovations. But in the Metro even the lowliest employees’ ideas are taken seriously, said P. K. Pathak, who runs Metro’s training institute.

To be honest, the first time I caught a subway train in the city, I was quite  impressed… and a bit disoriented–the stark contrast between what you encounter on Delhi’s dusty, traffic-choked roads and the cleanliness, order and machine-like efficiency you find immediately below is startling.

And though it’s incredibly pleasant, it’s not yet it’s not yet incredibly convenient–I’ve only taken the metro a handful of times, as it doesn’t yet run near my house. If Metro construction remains on schedule, however, that may soon change, as a new station is planned for a site not-too-far from home.

In the meantime, I’ve been relying on Delhi’s ubiquitous mode of transportation: the auto-rickshaw. But that, too, is quickly changing.

Now, like the good old days in Washington, I’ve hopped back on a bicycle. And I’ve set aside the American road bike for an authentic Indian ride: the indestructible, affordable, stylish, all-steel Atlas Gold Star. Here it is:

On Delhi's busy streets, the bell is crucial.

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  1. Jeremy Rider
    May 14, 2010 at 19:30

    Sweet ride, B-Weiss!

  2. May 16, 2010 at 03:31

    You forgot to mention the best part about the bike: it’s death-proof! Otherwise we would have never made it back alive when visiting the colonel that one Sunday afternoon…

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