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!)