The woman in the train

The spirit of a city lies in its people. So, if Benaras identifies with its ghats and Hyderabad with its bazaars, the city of Mumbai takes pride in its locals. The local trains of Mumbai are not only its lifeline but also its spirit. They carry millions of people who commute daily from their homes to place of work and back again.
The locals, as they are fondly called, have a life of their own, they are a mini universe unto themselves. You will find many strange friendships in a local. Strange because the rule is simple, no difference. So, there is no age difference, difference of caste, region or religion, even gender or stature, all are truly equal and a friend of a friend is also a friend. The life in locals is all about humanity. People fight like dogs to get in and get out but once inside they all are one. You can learn more about humanity and human beings while commuting in these locals because this is where one meets real people.
More than seeing I smelled her for the first time. I usually preferred to travel in the general compartment but that day I got late and just jumped into the coach in front of me, the ladies’ coach. I got a seat and as I was settling my breath, I smelled the fragrance of fresh mogra. There she was seated ahead of me and all I could see was a bun adorned with mogra flowers.
Don’t know why but I got in the ladies’ coach again the next day and there she was seated in the same place. I went and sat next to her. She was an ordinary looking woman between 25 and 30, definitely married because of the mangalsutra around her neck. A nice red bindi on her forehead and hair tied into a bun, adorned with mogra flowers. She had a big carry bag and a purse. I could see some vegetables peeping out of her carry bag and that’s it. There was nothing extraordinary about her and still I was drawn to her. I took to traveling in the ladies’ compartment and would try to sit next to her, may be it was the fragrance of fresh mogra that attracted me.
She always wore the same sarees, either the pink one or the white one with small blue flowers printed on it, always carried the same carry bag with fruits or vegetables or other such items peeping out of it and always had the same amount of fragrant flowers in her hair. A few days passed and we started acknowledging each other with a smile and a nod. One day I saw a doll peeping out of that carry bag. So, she was a mother too. A good opportunity to talk since women just love to talk about their children.
“A doll for you daughter, huh!” I asked. She smiled excitedly and answered, ” Yes, for my daughter. She wanted this big doll and I promised to get it if she behaved properly in the nursery and went regularly.” “Your daughter is in nursery, that’s good.” “Yes, I want her to study and get a good job. So, I put her in nursery, English medium.” She replied enthusiastically.
With time we got to know about each other. She had an invalid husband who had lost his legs in the Bombay train blasts. Now she worked the night shift and managed the house during day. One day she told me that she always wore the fresh flowers because her husband loved the fragrance. She said, “I get all dirty in the night shift. So, I first take a bath in the Public Bathroom at the station, get ready, put the flowers and then take the train home.” She further added, “Why take the negativity of work place home? I leave my work back and then go home.” I was impressed by her thought and here we were carrying our office in our heads from home to office and back every day.
With each passing day, she revealed a little more of herself to me. She was a doting mother who dreamt of seeing her daughter go to work in an office and a devoted wife; carrying home the vegetables her husband liked. I never heard her complaining about her husband. She respected him for working on a computer and adding a little more to her income whenever the work came by. She was happy that he could teach their daughter what she could not as she could barely write her name. Her biggest pride was her own ‘one room kitchen’ house and she tried her best to make it as comfortable and homely as possible.
One day she offered me sweets as soon as I got in the train. I took it and looked at her questioningly. She excitedly told that it was her wedding anniversary. I congratulated her and asked about her plans for the day. She happily went on to tell me all that she was going to cook and what she planned for her husband and daughter to do when she left for work. “But why not take a day off? You too rest and enjoy.” I said. Her faced clouded a little as she said, “I cannot afford to take the day off. it’s a big thing that I get to go home every day.” I was intrigued and questioned her what kind of work was it that would not allow her a single day off? She looked directly into my eyes and said in a low voice, “I give my love for money. That is all that I can do to run my house.” I was taken aback as the meaning of those words sank in. Luckily, my station came before I could react and I got down thinking about morality. What felt immoral to me was a source of livelihood for another. Who was I to judge? That woman in the train was as professional as me trying to maintain a work life balance.
The next day I got into the train and there she was, seated as usual with flowers in her bun. We met each other’s gaze and she shrank in her place. I sat down next to her and asked, “What vegetables have you bought today?” She smiled and that was the beginning of another friendship with no difference!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. GopaGhosh says:

    Amazing !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much.


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