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.)