Another middle aged woman was sitting on the floor just beside the fat woman. A baby played in her lap. Must be her granddaughter or grandson. She affirmed the fat lady, “Yes, these men now-a-days, they never care about families. All they know is bidi and friends.”
The baby looked at Anindita, stretched one its arms at her and smiled. It uttered some sounds, maybe tried to say something in his own baby language to her. Anindita smiled back. She bent down and put her index finger into the baby’s palm. The baby grasped it, and smiled. She jerked her hand and the baby was amused. It laughed. The grandmother looked at the two of us, smiled and said, “The baby’s a she. Her daughter.”, and pointed behind her. Anindita looked. It was a young woman with another young girl in her lap, sitting right behind the old woman. The old woman continued, this time in a hushed voice, “She has six daughters. Every time, she hopes for a boy. I don’t know how she is going to marry them off. I was telling her just now to stop thinking about children again. What if the seventh one is a girl again? It is costly, marrying off daughters. Your mother will know, how the thought of marrying a daughter can take off all of your sleep. I know. I have married off my daughters. Bringing them into this world and marrying them to unworthy husbands due to lack of money… Not good. It’s better not to have so many daughters.”
Anindita asked, “She is your daughter-in-law?”
The old woman laughed, “No, No, This woman, she is not my relation; I met her here, on this train. I have just two daughters of my own. Both married. They are educated. Both have passed tenth from school. They can read write so well. I am visiting my elder daughter. She lives in Chhapra.”
Flavors of life! Anindita smiled.
The old woman suddenly said, “Can I make a call from your phone? To my elder daughter. I will just say that I am safe and in the train, and I will reach Chhapra in the morning?”
Things were fine till now. But why a phone call! When it comes to phone calls, Anindita was a miser. She usually had minimum balance and sometimes no balance even. She gave the woman a pathetic smile and said, “Okay.”
The woman fumbled into her clothes and brought out a piece of paper. She held it into the light and read out a number. A mobile number. Anindita dialed, but the connection couldn’t be established. Anindita checked her phone. To her relief, it was out of network coverage.
Anindita prayed, that the phone stay out of network coverage until she reached Jasidih. It wasn’t far. Maybe ten more minutes and she would be at her station. She said to the woman, “Abhi to network nahi hai. When the network is back, I will connect you to your daughter.”
Anindita did not know if the woman understood what she said. Maybe she thought that Anindita did not want the woman to use her phone. She hoped the phone remains out of network coverage area for the next 10 minutes. She would reach her destination by then.
The eunuch woman in the white sari said, “Yeah, now-a-days this is a common problem.”
Anindita looked at her. The woman continued, “Kaun sa phone hai aapka? Airtel?”
Anindita said, “No, BSNL”
“Same problem with all of them.”
The woman beside the eunuch woman asked her something. They talked. Anindita looking at the eunuch woman. She was the liveliest among all, laughing and cracking jokes and also the best dressed, though her looks betrayed her and showed that she belonged to the other illiterate mass in the train. Another woman sitting beside Anindita, smiled and said, “She is my elder sister. She is a good dancer. That is her profession. She looks after our family.”
Anindita realized, she had been staring at the eunuch woman.
She looked at the woman who had spoken. She had been quiet all the while. Anindita asked, “Where do you all live?”
“Kolkata. But originally we are from Chhapra. My father died when I was a little girl. He worked in a medicine shop in BouBazar. Accident! After that Didi looked after us. We are three sisters and one brother. We were very small then. She married off the two of us sisters. Our brother lives with his family… Separate. And didi now lives with mother. There!”, and she pointed to a very old woman sleeping on the bunk. “We are going to our cousin’s marriage. My Chacha’s daughter. In Chhapra.”
Anindita did not know what to say. She smiled a wry smile.
“She dances in a bar. She is a good dancer.” And the woman smiled a proud smile. Anindita smiled back.
The rest of the ten minutes Anindita wondered, what a life it would have been for the girl. She wondered how very different each of these women was. Each one of them had a different story, a different life. Though journeying to different places, yet, at that moment they all were together, like one single family. She had spent two hours with them, yet she didn’t know which person belonged to which family, or even how many families were there. One’s sorrow so easily moved another. One smile infected others. One wouldn’t find sophistication, but humanity in them. After today, they would never meet, or make phone calls, or email one another. But still they traveled as if have been living together for ages.
Most probably the women would stay up all night. The children would sleep. Mothers would talk in hushed voices, not to wake up their kids. Once in a while a baby would cry. Its mother would feed it, or stroke it lightly, until it falls back asleep. Now and then the train would pull up at a station and hawkers would call out, maybe somebody would have a cup of tea to keep them awake and energized to sit up all night. The old man who was sitting at the gate, maybe he would place his rag on the floor and lie down there itself.
And then at six o’clock (if the train be right time, which I guess it wouldn’t), the same compartment would be empty… void of laughter, cries, snores, shouts, fights. Early morning, as the platform would bustle with noise, sometimes a bird’s tweet as it would get lost into the din, and the dark, dirty, lonely compartment would wait for another set of people that night.
Anindita saw the familiar lights of a familiar station. The train pulled up at the Jasidih station. Anindita got up; smiled at the women she had been with, for the last two hours and got down at the station.
(End of one part. A new part and a new chapter starts next... But its going to take a few dyas.. I'll be out of station for a few days... See you once i am ack.. Till then... bbye!)
Another set of women had boarded at Chittaranjan. They had sacks full of something (most probably stolen pieces of coal) and they were trying to make room for the sacks under the seats. As she approached the coop Anindita was in, Anindita realized the air was getting irritating. The lady with the sack tried pushing the sack under the seat and in the process spoiled the fat woman’s saaree with her black coal laden sack.. The fat woman shouted, “Take it somewhere else. There is no place here. Go, Go.”
She snatched the sack and pulled it out of the seat and thrust it away. The lady to whom the sack belonged, shouted back, “Tohre baap ke train chho (Is this you father’s train)?”
The air turned hotter. Anindita sat there quietly, and looked at the women. Everybody there participated. The lady with the sack on one side and others against her. The only person who did not participate was Anindita, because she did not belong here. She belonged to the sophisticated society, where people don’t fight like animals, where people don’t fight for anything.
The fight continued for sometime, and then as the lady with the sack turned away losing the battle, Anindita heard the fat woman, still shouting, “Say politely, you were spoiling my saaree. Why wouldn’t I shout at you? Say nicely, everybody is traveling, everybody will have seat. I gave my seat to this girl. Why would I not let you put your sack? Now, put it under the seat.” Everybody else affirmed her.
And to Anindita’s surprise, the other ladies helped her push the heavy sack under the seat. She wondered what they fought for, after all.
The fat woman sat down again calmly. Her boy hung on her lap. She had such a big tummy that there was very little room in her lap for the boy. She held her boy to prevent him from falling. She was done talking to Anindita. She was done fighting. Now she turned to her fellow passengers.
“Don’t you know ? ‘Suraj ki Ma’ (Suraj’s mother) is a very good singer. Ae Suraj ki maa, Sing for us.”
Suraj ki Maa answered, “No, I have quit singing. They were old days. My throat hurts.”
“You sang last week, on Rupali’s marriage. I was there. Now sing us a bhajan. You know lots of good bhajans(songs to Gods).”
Suraj ki Maa smiled, started to sing in a feeble voice, “Shivji ki jai jai… Bhole ki jai jai…”
Anindita did not remember the song except these two chorus lines. It was sung in the local dialect. She listened, as one by one, women joined Suraj ki Maa in the singing.
The song was awful. She did not understand much of it. But even then there was a melody. Coarse voices sang and Anindita found a sense of togetherness, belongingness and joy. Devotion existed but on a lower note. And as she listened to that harsh unpolished melody of different women singing she wondered how many of these women knew each other before they boarded the train.
The song would have continued, but a young lady from the adjacent coop interrupted. She was young, most probably recently married, and looked less than 18 years. The lady or better the girl from the adjacent coop peeked in and addressed the woman who looked like a eunuch and said, “Since then he has not come even once. Will you call him up once?”
The eunuch lady replied in surprise, “He got down in Bandel, right? Did he not come back after that?”
The married girl shook her head in negative. “Wait I will call him. Don’t worry. Saala! battery bhi khatam ho raha hai. (Even the phone’s battery is almost discharged)”
The lady tried calling whoever the man in question was. She tried a few times and then got puzzled and said, “Its saying that the number does not exist.”
The whole environment went tense. Anindita intervened, “Put a zero at the beginning of the number.”
The eunuch lady replied, “But, in Bandel, I did not put a zero. It worked.”
Anindita explained, “When you change states, you need to put a zero. Earlier you were in
She tried again, “Now it says unreachable.”
Anindita had nothing more to say. She simply suggested to keep trying.
People discussed about the man. Anindita listened. What she deciphered from their discussion was that, this young girl’s husband was taking his wife and mother-in law to Balia for some reason and he was in the general compartment. He came to the ladies compartment once in Bandel to make sure his wife and mother-in-law were alright and has not come back since then. His wife was worried that maybe he had left the two of them and has gone away. The young girl was crying and so was her mother. Anindita could hear them. The lively atmosphere was gone. No bhajans, no fights, no leg pulling. The whole thing revolved round one single thing. The young girl and her mother. One woman sent her 11 year old son to look for the man in other compartments. The eunuch lady was trying the guy on phone. People had those worried looks. The grim looks lasted and the 11 year old boy who had gone to search for the man returned and with him came the man. A movie moment. Anindita imagined him rush into the apartment, hug his wife, look at him lovingly and say, “How could I ever leave you?” She turned to have a look. A dark skinny man in a fiery orange T-shirt, a bidi burning between his lips, eyes set in two big sockets, and pimples all over his face. He came in, looked at his wife and uttered two words, “Stop whining.” And he turned away to look outside through the door.
That was one movie moment. The girl stopped crying. For a moment the compartment lay silent. Nobody spoke.
Then Anindita heard somebody say, “Pagli, You cried like a child. Why would he leave such a nice wife like you? Now stop crying my child.” People started talking. Some consoled the girl, some cursed the man. Some just discussed the situation. It was funny, how completely unknown people could relate so well to one another. These people hadn’t met ever, before this afternoon. Yet, one problem belonged to every one of them. Yet the whole compartment seemed to be a family traveling together. Maybe, because they led a similar kind of life full of similar hardships.
The fat woman, her sleepy boy still hanging from her lap, said to me, “Mera Aadmi is not like this. He looks after me well. Very possessive about me. I was then newly married. And I was talking to a guy in the neighborhood. That night he beat me up like anything and forbade me to speak to any man. He said it made him jealous. He comes to visit me after every two station. Not like that bastard.” And she laughed.
Anindita wondered, what kind of love that could be. It was so inhumane. But she could see the sense of security in those eyes that came from her husband’s possessiveness about her.
Anindita left office at 5.20 p.m. It was late. But she was a good cyclist. She could make it to the station on time and so she did. Experience (on board Toofan express) told her that the ladies compartment was better than the others. Since she was not entitled to sleeper class the reason being that she had general tickets, it was better to stay in general compartments.
She sat on a platform bench, looked up at fan to make sure it was running. It was damn hot even at 5.40 p.m. She waited for the announcement. “Your attention please, Train number 3105, Sealdah to Balia, Sealdah Balia Express is arriving shortly on platform number 3.” There was time still left for the train to enter the platform but she got up and walked towards the edge of the platform. She stood there making up her mind to take the ladies compartment and at the same time wondering where the ladies compartment would be. The ladies compartment must be relatively less crowded. After all how many Indian women travel alone. And if they don’t travel alone they do not get into a ladies compartment. And that too women who belong to Balia, a city in Uttar Pradesh.
The train turned round the corner and revealed itself. As it stopped, Anindita realized, she was four compartments ahead the ladies compartment. She ran to it and as soon as she was inside, the train moved. The first thought that came to her was a wish that she hadn’t got into here. It was packed with women, mostly uneducated villagers. There was luggage all around, on the bunk, thrust below seats. Anindita could not find a single empty seat where she could rest her ass and relieve her tired legs. So, she stood there and the first thing she did then, was swear to self that no more ladies compartment after today.
Maybe she could find a little part of an unoccupied seat inside. Hoping, she advanced into the compartment. Women sat on the compartment floor with babies crying and playing. It was hard to imagine babies sitting on the train floor. She remembered, when she was a kid, her mom never allowed her to touch even the train window bars. Sitting on the floor was a far fetched thing even for imagination. As thoughts rained, Anindita struggled through the jungle of women and babies and kids, and suddenly she saw a ray of light, a streak of unoccupied wooden corner of a seat. She almost jumped up to it. But, as she bent her knees to rest her ass into that little corner, someone cried out, “Wahan jagah hai, bathroom
Anindita must have sat there for about 3 minutes, when a huge lady came up to her side and looked at her. Anindita did not like the look. She stood up, moved to one side, and smiled. ‘Smile It solves many problems’, she didn’t know who said this, but at that moment that was the only thing she could do. The huge lady sat down. One-third of her poured down on each side. She quietly stood there. Three more minutes most probably. May be the smile worked. The lady stood up, and said in Hindi which meant, “Sit down, I’ll manage with my son over there.” She moved over to the seat in front and took her son in her lap. The boy initially grumbled but she made him explain, “Where would that didi sit then? Her legs will ache. Would that be good?”
The little boy looked at Anindita. And gave a silent nod, climbed up into his mother’s lap and went to sleep. The woman looked at Anindita and smiled. Anindita smiled back and said, “Thanks.”
Anindita looked at the other passengers. There was one woman, lean and thin with a horse like face (long and thin), lipstick, bindi and jewelry laden. She didnt know if they were all of gold or just imitation. Then there was a lady with a white sari, properly pinned up, the makeup was better in a sense it did not make her look so much a villager. There was sophistication to an extent in her face. The face had boyish features. In a sudden look you could feel as if she was a eunuch, but on second thoughts Anindita decided maybe she was not.
Then there was one beautiful woman and she was of course a villager but Anindita thought that she could have surpassed Aishwarya’s popularity had she been born in a proper family and had been oriented in the right direction. There were other women, all villagers or at least looked liked one.
The fat lady who had given Anindita her seat, asked, “Where are you going?”
Anindita looked at her and realized the question was meant for her.
The conversation continued. In Hindi, of course, with a tinge of local dialect.
“Is that your home in Jasidih?”
“And you study here, in Chittaranjan?”
“No, I work. Job.” She thought to herself, Children study, she is a grown up now. It feels good to say to people that you are actually a professional and not a student.
“Wah, that is impressive. I like girls work. They don’t have to depend on anybody. If husbands come home drunk every night, they can simply leave them and marry a good person. But look at us. We are illiterate, so we tolerate our drunken husbands. We don’t have a way out. If I had a daughter I would have sent her to school like you. What is your salary?”
Anindita had been smiling all along, but after the last sentence was uttered, she did not know what to say. First of all the company did not pay her anything. It was just an internship, a part of her curriculum and nothing else. And even if they did pay her, it was odd telling people how much you earn. So, she kept quiet and simply smiled.
The lady waited for a minute and then said, “Oh, I understand, they pay you very less. Don’t worry, it will increase with years. Even they paid my husband very less. He works in hotel. In the beginning he used to wipe tables. They paid him less. Then he was promoted. Now he waits on customers. He gets more now.”
Anindita smiled again. That was impressive. She compared the two jobs in her mind. A waiter and herself. The only way she was able to respond, was a smile.(contd.)