Sunday, 12 June 2011

Travailing on Public Transport #1

“If you want the seat why don't you kids ask for it?” he snarled and continued sitting.

I was snubbed, and that too in front of a friend. “No Uncle, I didn’t mean that I wanted you to get up for me... I was just telling my friend here that...”

“Don't make loud comments and hope that I vacate the seat for you.”


I walk on to the platform nonchalantly. Check my phone for messages. Check my diary for things I have to finish today. Balance my pen behind my ear lobe, as I dig in my canvas bag for my music player. Some guy is looking. That’s ok, harmless. Lots of people on the platform, its still day light.

Metro screams in. A queue falls into place, with the guy at the head of the line shifting slightly from left to right, trying to approximate where the carriage will open. The line behind him sways on his leading.

Enter. Scan the carriage. Vacant seat? Someone I can squeeze with? Nopes. Standing again, standing every day. “Please mind the gap”, the familiar voice advises me. “Passengers are requested not to sit on the seats reserved for ladies,” she carries on moralizing. I look to see if anyone’s expression changed, did anyone feel uncomfortable about sitting on the ‘seats reserved for ladies’ when she made the announcement in English and he made the announcement in Hindi? Seems not.

I find a plastic loop to hang on to. Reach into my bag and take out my newspaper. Open it carefully, mindful of the people around me. Balance my pen in my ear lobe again. Corruption. Suicide bomb. Scam. Lady Gaga. Cricket.

My hair is coming loose from its pony tail. Need to re-tie it. Will wait till I’m out, it will swish in someone’s face otherwise.

Is that his belly? Or is that his bag rubbing against my butt? It better be his bag. Is he doing it on purpose? Should I turn around and give him my stern look? Or should I try my I-will-embarrass-you look? Should I stare him into feeling uncomfortable? Then again, they don't seem to feel uncomfortable. Don't want to create a scene and attract attention…

Why can’t he turn the other way? Why can’t he face his back to me. No that’s not good either.. I wish he would stand to his side. That way we won’t rub against each other controversially.

Where’s my phone?! In the front pocket of my jeans, good. Is my wallet visible in my bag? Should not bring these open bags.. should carry my back pack so that I can zip it up safely. But a back pack doesn't look good with a kurta.. Better buy myself a jhola with a zip, this one is very easy to steal from. I pull my bag closer to my front.

Another guy looking. What? Is my button open? I try and peer at my kurta without making it obvious. Forgot my dupatta at home. Well, at least I’m not wearing a t-shirt today. Ok can you stop looking now? I pull my bag closer again. Maybe I should turn the other direction. Is he still looking? Don't want to meet his eye. Why can’t everyone just read a newspaper on the metro?


So hot, want to take off my jacket. But I can’t- Wearing a sleeveless t shirt today. Brought the jacket so that I can cover up on the road and while travelling, will take it off when I reach work.

Don't want to travel in men’s compartment today. General compartment not men’s compartment. We just automatically consider the general compartment to be the men’s. I will travel in ladies’ compartment.


Rummaging in my bag on the platform. Should I go to ladies’ compartment? Its further down the platform, I don't want to walk to it. I’m wearing a long kurta today, Ill be safe. I think I will travel general.

Blind man enters the carriage. Guy gives up his seat for the blind man. He did it spontaneously, nice of him, bless him. Blind man takes out a large book. “Shlokas, today I am going to recite some Shlokas for you.”

Guy in front of me has very large toes. Can’t help notice these things- in metros, elevators, anywhere where you are in close physical contact with other human beings, you must let your eyes wander anywhere but to their eyes. Never, make, eye, contact.

Guy looks for his metro card in his wallet. Another card is peeping out. Says IIT Delhi. Decent. What if he talks to me? What if I talk to him? He must be a decent guy.

Suddenly, “We are working with the concept of Braille, on laptops.. for blind people.. with this NGO.” What?! Who? Me? IIT Guy is talking to me? Uh. Oh that’s cool I said. Moment(s). Mm. You’re. You’re working with JAWS also probably… (?) “Oh yeah, JAWS also.” “Final year project” I asked. “No, working independently.”

“Next station is, Barakhamba Road. Doors will open on the…”

Should I say bye to him?

“.. right. Please mind the gap.”

Doors open on the right. I left. Didn’t say bye to IIT Guy. I minded the gap.

Did he get out with me? No. Good. How come he decided to start a conversation with me? Smart guy.. I should have said bye. Decent fellow..


Delhi metro versus BMTC buses in Bangalore?

Delhi metro!

Delhi metro versus Delhi autos?

Delhi metro!

Kyunki, Delhi metro is AC and clean, and cheaper. Arm pits will be in your nose but at least they are not sweaty. No pollution or traffic jam. Don't have to fist, fight or swear. Don't have to ask bus conductor to give you your ticket and full change back. Don't have to text a friend the registration number of the auto in case of emergency. Don't have to force auto guy to go by meter and then worry if he is taking you on a longer route.


Dad told me to buy a large and heavy thala and keep it in my bag at all times. So if anyone tries to act funny with me, I can swing my bag in his face or anywhere else. Dad also told me to carry chilli powder. So if anyone tries to act funny with me, I can put it in his eyes. Dad told me to not leave my hair open and always wear a dupatta. “Don't attract attention, be simple.”

A friend gave me pepper spray for my birthday.

I don't carry it with me, because I think that by the time I find the pepper spray in my jhola, I would have been raped thrice. Also, if I carry it, I will always be fidgeting with it, because it will just make me all the more nervous. I will always be worried about a shadow behind me, a footstep behind me, and I will get paranoid trying to keep my thumb on the trigger all the time!


Another day, another metro. Doors open. Enter. Scan. First I scan the seats. Then I scan the stickers above the seats, to find which one is reserved. When I find it, I look at all the faces on that row and see if anyone of them looks like the kind that will give me the seat. All men. None respond. It’s like reading the rows and columns of a complicated table of figures, trying to find your value.

Even in the special "Women Only" compartment, women are often mobbed and harassed by men.

Some of them are elderly. But they’re men all the same. Do I deserve the seat more or do they? It’s a matter of weakness is it not? I may be a weak young woman, but he is old.. thus weak, and though a man, he is weaker than a weak young woman. So he gets the seat. That’s how it works.

Someone gets up. Me and another guy try and slide into the space from different ends. I get the seat but so does he. So actually I only got the edge of the seat. Now there are nine people in a row for seven.

“Please vacate seats for old, physically challenged and ladies,” said announcer aunty.

But why THAT order of infirmities? First old, then physically challenged, and after that ladies. Poor kids, forgot to add them in the string of ‘those who are of weak capacity’.

Do I want to be grouped with them?

“Please offer your seat to someone in need,” says the green sticker in the metro.

This is really the clincher of the issue. While it provides the answer, it does not provide the solution. Because how do you find who is in need or rather, who is in need more?

I’m a healthy young woman and I can stand for the thirty minute journey. But there are some days I’m carrying lots of stuff, or like last week when I was running a temperature. I considered asking a man for his seat but realized he was not sitting on the ladies’ row. So I went to the other side of the carriage and asked someone who was. But did I have to? Did I have to justify my claim to the seat that day? Did I have to go to the areas designated for my womanliness to be treated well?


According to the latest report from the National Crime Records Bureau, out of the 3,43,749 crimes against women that were reported, Delhi alone accounted for 13.2 per cent.

Dharini was slapped across the chest, in the Delhi metro ladies’ compartment, earlier this year. She says we need to Mend the Gap.

Sonali from Bangalore was roughed up by cops in Bangalore for going home late. She says we have a Right to Choose.

Blank Noise wants women to be Action Heroes.

Slut Walk wants the public to know that no one can be raped, not even a slut.

Hollaback in Chandigarh is asking for women to share their stories of gender discrimination, and Must Bol says to do it zor se.

Jaagori is asking for women to awaken.

I would like the freedom to be safe.