Ladies special

I recently moved to Bombay to work on a project. Bombay itself is a beautifully, well-connected city. It has been just three weeks of taking the trains and I’ve already been pushed against the door, fallen flat on the platform and broken my phone’s headphone socket. But it still has not deterred me from taking the trains everyday. Only cause it’s the easiest way to get to work and the most suitable for me.

Last week, I moved to Chembur which is on the Harbour Line. This line seems to be relatively calmer than the Central Line which I earlier took. What is a joy about the Harbour Line is the Ladies Special train. (I’m not sure all the lines have it. At least the Central one didn’t. But I digress.)

It has just been three days of taking this train and I’m in love.

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The alert woman announces the arrival of the 12 dabba ladies special pulling into Chembur at 9.04 am. Women step forward and occupy the entire platform, otherwise restricted to the markings of First Class or Ladies coach. A sea of colour is one’s first sight. Once I board the train, I patiently look for a corner to sit down and scribble this post or read, a little in awe of affirmative action.

What this special has done is fill a train with women going to work. But that is just not it, is it?

It is a train where women can occupy seats with abandon. A train where women know each other. The gentle nods of recognition. The smiles. The hellos and goodbyes. Some talk about their work, partners, homes. Laugh. Joke. Accomodate each other. Play on their phones. Listen to music. Read. Pray. A variety of working women all possibly looking for a little less hassle in the morning.

The train stops at every stop and ambles it’s way to CST. For those ten minutes in the morning, platform number 1 at CST is mostly women. Going to their respective workspaces. Hopefully in a better mood.

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Can you have two soul mates? No? Oh you know nothing. I have two. Two wonderful women. I doubt if they have ever met each other. I must ask them this. Oh briefly I think. Would they hit it off, like I do with them both? I wonder how the conversation between them would be. But put me in a room with either of them and I never want to leave. They aren’t similar though I could describe them in many similar ways. Smart, funny, intelligent, creative, huge animal lovers, feminist, loyal, energetic, beautiful both in and out, musical, well read and just plain lovely. But my conversations with both of them are vastly different. Though in both these relationships, there are hardly any topics not touched.

Where did I meet two such women you ask? Good question. Very pertinent too. Since context is everything. In a place that resembled hell. Yes. Both of them in the same place at different points in the same year. Oh! What a year it was. I went from love to love that year. Despite having sunk to new lows in my self esteem. But two of them were special. In ways in which I have never expressed to them, either. They got me through the year and more. If they are so similar, yet so different, why talk about them together? Well because in my life now they co-exist. The thought of seeing or spending long periods of time with either of them fills my heart with immense amount of joy. As one of them returns from a long sabbatical in a cold faraway land (no seriously!), I realised how much they both mean to me. How much I wish I lived in the same city as them. How much I want to see them immediately. Without even talking about my problems, they found ways to take it all away. Both of them in their own unique ways.

So let me tell you a little more about them. I can’t keep saying there is nothing like them and give you nothing to believe me.

One of them is a perfectionist and she reads a lot. Not like the normal a lot. A LOT. She devours books to say the least; small books, difficult books, fat books, easy books, children’s books, academic books, adult books. Not the books that you think should be called adult. I never asked her if she reads erotica. A conversation for next time.

The other one is passionate to the core. She is principled and very dedicated. She is not one to make compromises on those for she lives by them. We have had many a conversation on negotiating between choices and compromises; the boys we date; love, life and loss; and feminism in our lives.

When I break it up this way, I’m afraid I’m giving the impression that one is not passionate and the other doesn’t read. That is a faulty impression to be polite and completely wrong to be correct. But I am fully aware that no matter how hard I try, I cannot explain these relationships as well as I wish to. So permit me that flaw.

My life would be a depressing place without them. I am sure everyone says that about their soul mates. My love life is a confusing place because of them. Not sure anyone says that about their soul mates. But I am pretty sure, despite the circumstances under which we met, I will be grateful to the closest to awful woman I have ever met for bringing these two into my life.

Yes. I have two soul mates. And I love them both similarly and very very differently.

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She never focussed her energies too closely to analyse the gendered spaces while travelling in a bus. Mostly, buses had seats especially for women; so this made things easy. But this time the situation was different. She was on a district bus without ladies seat allocations and she was alone. There were too few women travelling by the bus to have separate seats. The conductor and bus driver did try to ensure the women were seated together. But some of the women got left out. She, however, was seated right behind the entry way near the aisle when a man came and asked her to budge. She obliged and tucked herself close to the window, her bags on her lap. She watched the view outside, on a mission to tune the man next to her out.

After a few brief moments, he settled into his seat and fell asleep. She kept looking between him and the changing landscape. Contrary to her adjustment and uneasiness, he occupied the space with a prerogative. She marvelled at the way he sat with his legs apart, head titled and completely at ease. There was an advantage that existed in his posture. One that he didn’t seem aware of and until recently, she hadn’t even noticed. They had both paid the same Rs 93 for their seat. But he owned the space he sat in. She sat conservatively in hers.

Why did she not feel the comfort that he did? Was she scared? Or did men occupy space with more authority than women? She couldn’t place her finger on it. But throughout that four-hour bus journey she studied his active body language opposite of her passive, pulled back one. Maybe she could learn a few tips from him.