The world inside the ladies compartment is a faithful reflection of the outside world: a world of the haves and the have-nots. Those who have a seat, and those who don’t. It does not matter whether you are educated, beautiful or an undeserving idiot. Anyone can be that person. But only a precious few can have a seat. The chosen ones; the seated ones. Right side-window seat, on the floor near the door, on other women’s laps – it don’t matter. You have a seat. And that’s all there is to it.
Meanwhile, for all the rest us have-nots, we just have to contend with standing between people’s legs, swaying dangerously betweeen soft bodies, suffering armpit stench, or jiggling stomachs, and hooking one finger on the already overloaded handle. We don’t have a seat.
But that’s not all there is to it. We are no losers. We are the dreamers, the ambitious, the hopefuls, the aspirants to a seated future.
You push towards the seats in a swelled-up train, touch women on their shoulders and begin asking, “tumhi kuthey?” (where are you?), “kahan?” (where) or “dadar?” (Dadar). At other times, you may simly raise your well-shaped brow. The purpose is the same: Find out where a seated woman is getting down, and book the spot with a “Main aathi hoon” (i’ll come). Then sit there when she gets up. Now unless you do this, there is no hope in hell (in this case, the compartment) that you’ll get to sit during the journey. You sit where you have booked. In case some ignoramous attempts to make a leap, the entire corner will erupt in a frenzy of protests. “maine bola tha”, “tumne nahi bola”, “woh hi baithegi“, “tu kaise baith sakti hai?”, “mi sangitle hote”, “mi basnaar” (I claimed the seat, i’ll sit). The ignoramous will beat a sorry retreat, the claimant will join the ranks of the “haves”, and the world will be stable once again.
As a predominantly Central Railway commuter, I have seen this since my earliest commuting days. In college, with too much of bravado, I refused to join in the pecking-at-the-seats-game. Eventually standing from Dadar to Ulhasnagar/ Ambernath began to ache and wisdom sort of arrived. Peck-peck-peck. Sometimes when you are really lucky or really fast, you could save yourself from this ignominy. But mostly its a beggar’s world out there, and you got to do what you got to do.
Now you know.