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Retro metro: Kolkata's time travel machine

On the 17th of May, 2019, my illustrated story about Kolkata Metro got published under the 'The Illustrated City' series of the Guardian.

The story illustrates my experience and observation about the Kolkata Metro through my years of growing up in Kolkata and juxtaposes that with the new and modern metro system in Delhi.

Thanks to my wife Anisha Thampy, my brother Baikunth Nath Sinha and Tash Reith-Banks (from the Guardian) for their invaluable feedback on making this story more well rounded.

Click here to see the story on the Guardian's website.


Digital Illustration

Visual documentation

The Kolkata metro system opened for business in 1984, making it the oldest in India. Unfortunately, having been the first to boast a metro, the city seems to have rested on its laurels somewhat — compared to the metro in any other Indian city, travel on the Kolkata system now feels a little like travelling back in time.

Illustration of the Indian Museum in Kolkata

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some updates to the lines over the years. But undeniably other cities have overtaken Kolkata. For example, the Delhi metro only opened in 2002, but is now much more extensive than Kolkata’s single line system.

Route map of the Kolkata Metro.

When I think about the Kolkata’s retro metro now, it particularly reminds me of a period around 2002 when I was a teenager and used it every day to go to college. Most days I would arrange to meet my friend Imran before school started so we could hang out. We used to sit for hours on end on the platform stairs and talk about random things (as is often the way with those sorts of conversations, they seemed important at the time, but I don’t remember what we discussed now, really). But any journey on the metro feels a little like time travel because nothing has really changed.

*Some stations in the Delhi Metro have recently started to sport photographs or murals but none of them are at platform level. And in my view none of the images on display can compete with Kolkata’s in terms of artistry!

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