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.