I walk through this small settlement(?) everyday, both on my way to and back from work. It is a narrow lane with houses on either side. Initially, I was reluctant to walk through. But it was the shortest route to work and I was a bit lazy. After having walked through it for a period of 10 months it feels less invasive and more warm. During the morning time, the path was full of activity; the air smelt of cow dung. I have only a handful times spotted the men. Even then it is usually smoking at one of the ends of the settlement. The women were all out rushing either to fill water on water days or washing clothes or vessels or putting the moggu outside their home before they head out. These mundane tasks often performed in private were done by these women in the midst of the people passing through. They offered everyone who locked eyes with them a smile and went about their business. These women unknowingly broke many of my stereotypes about tasks that must preferably be performed indoors. They didn’t intend to; I didn’t know I had them. But by making me uncomfortable and occupying that space with such grace and dignity, I realised the biases I held.
The settlement, though, transformed in the evening. A quiet place with a few kids playing and surprisingly, the smell of Maggi. The kids always looked at me and smiled the biggest of smiles. It sent warmth gushing through me.
I can’t travel to and fro from work in any other way, now. I needed those smiles. The ones of the women in the morning and the kids in the evening.