November 28, 2006

Several of a kind

Their hands move to their hair as they alight from the train. Men whip out their combs and the women quickly preen in the nearest reflective surface.. The footover bridge is inundated with people when the train leaves the station. Their eyes are locked on the ground below. But a dissenting person might look up and notice a sea of bobbing heads. The Indian Auto-bahn.. They use an inelegant hook. Its a S-shaped piece of stainless steel. One end is attached to a rail on the window and the from the other is slung a polythene bag. And then the owner can swing alongside.. The men have clubs to play cards. Some sing devotional songs.. Women celebrate Gudi Paadva and Makar Sankrant. They sit on the floor boards in crowded coaches.. Street children rent the air with popular renditions. Other children travel to school in the midst of motherly advice from strangers..They stick ballpoint pens in the outer grill to make the fan work. They huff and puff to open jammed windows and doors.. They develop an intimate knowledge of the system over time. For instance, this particular train runs slow. It's because the train follows a Malad train that goes into the yard at Kandivali and another Borivali train that languishes ahead. And they are always glad to share their esoteric information.

November 23, 2006

Ladies Compartment : Personality trait - I

Booking goes well beyond the ticketing counter. The fast train leaves Churchgate Station yet again. First stop Marine lines. Here too, women jump in before the train has had a chance to halt. Quickly the bevy of women begin to frantically question everyone around. "Kaunsa stop?" ("Which station?") but it is not that they are confused. A great many women move from one end of the compartment to another in search for the earliest possible station that another passenger is going to alight at. But most times there isn't enough time. Within a minute they decide upon a certain seat and call out their claim for occupancy. It is a system. It has been practised and perfected. The entire exchange adds to less than five words or even five seconds.
"Kahaan?" ("Where?")
"Mujhe dena." ("Give me.")
But it is an all important affair. Ladies dozing quietly in the corner are woken up. Some even announce their destination in advance so that they will be bothered no further. This continues at every stop along the way. Even later in the route where the women believe there might be an open seat that someone missed. It can be a tricky affair too. Making sure one remembers to whom the seat has been relinquished to and closing the bid as soon as possible and discouraging further applicants.

Never in the general compartment. It could be a display of masculinity and/or decency. I really hope it's because they don't want to expend any more energy than absolutely necessary and that they are a well-behaved lot.

Next week : The defense will come forward.

November 21, 2006

The delicate balance

The train is an intimate space shared by necessity. It is not always possible to directly access the luggage shelf on the sides inside the compartment. Often it is imperative to ask someone for help. However, it is the way in which the woman asked the other lady that dissapointed me. Perhaps it shouldn't but it did. To begin with, she asked for her handbag without a 'please' and continued to chat with the lady next to her not paying attention to which bag was being taken off the rack. It wasn't hers, of course. She pointed to another bag in a nearly admonishing manner. Meanwhile, as the lady struggled with the overwhelming crowd and juggled the two bags, this woman whose bag it was, says brightly, "C'mon! You can do it!" and yet continued to chat with her friend. Soon the bag comes to her travelling through several hands. She gets off at the next station without a 'thank you'. And this is acceptable form of behavior.

Here, we don't say thank you or please a lot but more often I have seen smiles replacing those formalities. I suppose it is a cultural variation. However, it is highly inappropriate to patronize. Some things are just not done.

November 16, 2006

Do you hear a rustle?

Being female I can travel in the general compartment. So this curious incident is. The train stopped between stations; just before Matunga Road on the Western line. It was a slow train. It stopped on the track adjacent to the Senapati Bapat Marg. It was a hot afternoon and the traffic wasn't too heavy on the road. That particular point along the track is overgrown with wayward trees and rustic creepers. I turned to say something. I spoke softly. And it struck me that the train compartment was silent. The compartment brimming with men was totally silent.

It is impossible to imagine this ever happening in the ladies compartment. And one has to experience the cacophony of a train compartment full of women to truly appreciate the quiet. Women talk. I am not reiterating classic lines from popular culture. Maybe the men didn't know each other and unlike a lot of women they don't travel in twos and threes very often. Perhaps it was the muggy weather. However, I'm just as sure that a woman would have thought it was an excellent topic to begin a conversation with the lady next to her. It would begin with the weather, go on to the unscheduled stop between stations and despising the general train service and end with sharing anecdotes about their children.