The train rhythmically drones on it’s way. All the passengers are staring at you. One teenager nudges her friend, points and both of them giggle.
You fidget in your seat and wonder what’s the problem. Is it your clothes? Have you worn your shirt inside-out again?
You pull at your clothes, and the lady next to you turns her face to fix you with a hostile glare.
You sink back into your seat sheepishly. People are still staring. Small smiles are playing around some of their lips, like they’re at a circus and you are the freak.
You wish you could, like a chameleon, merge with the ugly blue colour of the train seats and gain some modicum of invisibility. You wonder again if it’s your posture – are you taking up too much space? You shuffle your feet and straighten your back.
To no avail, people are still looking.
And then you realize………….your earphone jack isn’t locked in properly. Your mp3 player is blasting music not only to your ears. The entire train compartment can hear Shakira crooning.
From in between the half a dozen Nike and Adidas armbands, the symbol Oum tentatively peeks out
– this is the arm of the modern Indian woman. The red tikka or vermilion mark contrast sharply with her GreenDay t-shirt. She is just as punctual for the first day, first show of the latest Tom Cruise thriller, as she is for every puja or religious ceremony in the temple. She revels in her culture and is unapologetic of her bold sexuality.
The way the young girls in Indian metropolitan cities have assimilated the modern day trends with the traditions of the past is admirable and worthy of being written about.
In my college, for instance, girls have the option of choosing between two ways of dress – ethnic or western. A girl can, if she so chooses dress in tight figure-hugging jeans and a tee or a short black dress, but she would look just as attractive in an azure blue salwar suit with silver lace on the duppata and dangling silver earrings, with a tiny diamante bindi to finish the look. You could also, and many do, combine both forms and mix ‘n’ match – an ethnic kurti over jeans, a duppata thrown casually with a dress, or something as insidious as a traditional block printed dress or a tie and dye shirt….options abound, and the modern Indian woman is determined to make best of all of them.
If you move from her wardrobe to her food habits a similar fusion prevails. For instance, today on the train it was the birthday of a passenger. She is in her early 40s and travels regularly to work with a group of her middle-aged friends, who all wished her with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!’ today. She distributed packed chocolates and wafers among them, and they gifted her a packed red box that contained coconut barfi. Or the other day, I overhead a 30-something woman tell her friend that the manchurIan balls she prepared for her son’s birthday party had been praised by all, as had been the rice payasam she had cooked.
Just like the sacred thread which hides underneath the more modern accessories, underneath the modern exterior, the Indian woman has preserved her heritage and culture. Over the years, instead of discarding one for another, we have chosen to learn from all that’s new and modern while not forgetting the wisdom of the ages. Be it in her wardrobe or her kitchen – the modern Indian woman has skillfully fused the best of both worlds.
1. Flirting 101 or How To Read a Guy’s Mind – This would definitely have been more useful to me in life than algebra. However when I told this to my friends they were dismissive. They told me “there is only one thing on a guy’s mind”.
2. How to Get On or Off a Crowded Local During Rush Hour – Life skills if there are ever any.
3. Making Brownies – Why you ask? Why not! Brownies are tasty.
4. Bargaining – Getting a good bargain, I firmly believe, requires talent. A LOT OF talent!!
5. Untangling Your Earphones – The number of times I wanted to listen to music, and found my earphones in such a hopeless tangle, that I stuff them back in my bag, and tell myself, “You didn’t really want to listen to music anyway. Plus it affects hearing, remember? ”
6. Matching Your Clothes And Accessories – I am hopeless at this! You see, colour co-ordination isn’t enough anymore. I wore a green necklace with my green kurti last week, and was informed by those who know that it was a statement piece and would look better with a white dress….
7. Break Dance Without Breaking Your Leg
8. How To Get More People To Read My Blog
She got on from Dadar, and sat in the corner seat, tapping her toes and fidgeting with the strap of her bag.
Suddenly she asked, “What time will this train reach Borivali?”
“45 minutes”, I answered with the suave ease of a seasoned Mumbaikar. She blanched so visibly that it was evident she was running late for an appointment.
“Tell them – wherever you are late for – that it was raining and all trains have been delayed” I tried to reassure her. “It’s true.”
“No – actually I have to catch an express train” She confessed, and now both me and my friend (who was accompanying me) could empathize with her situation.
Who hasn’t experienced the nail-biting stress of being late for a train? Trains are the most heartless of all beings on the Earth. They never listen to excuses, or justifications, no matter how ‘justified’. Sometimes they will leave the minute you step onto the platform, just so that they can have the sadistic satisfaction of knowing they made you feel like a loser.
The three of us together tried out 3000 different hypothetical possibilities, but no matter which way we looked at it, it was a bleak situation. At the best, it would be a very close shave.
Our train, being the sadistic thing it is, didn’t make things easier, by suddenly becoming a slow, which means that it would now stop at 5 extra platforms!
My friend’s station arrived and she alighted. A few minutes later, she called up to tell me that the S Express (the girl wanted to catch) had just thundered past. We were only a few minutes ahead of it.
What followed was agonizing 15 minutes as we waited and silently urged our train to reach before S Express. After every few seconds, we would share a nervous smile. I wasn’t going to catch the S Express, but I could almost feel my co-passenger’s tension, like it was mine. I wanted her to be on time for the train almost as badly as she wanted it.
2 stations later, the S Express thundered past our train, past our dismayed eyes….till I had a hopeful thought: There are a lot of signals outside Borivali. Most express trains are forced to wait for a while before entering the station. Ours being a local had no such compunctions.
Another hopeful against hope 10 minutes later we reached our destination. The S Express was still at its platform.
The last I saw of the girl was her running towards the overpass, till I lost her in the mass of black heads and colourful backpacks.
In life, we like to have a happy ending; and so I hope she got the train.
For all I know, maybe she was going to take the train to meet her lover; maybe she was a secret agent, in hot pursuit of a criminal aboard the S Express; maybe she had a life-saving drug in her backpack that she had to take to her sick sister; or maybe she was going to participate in some sports tournament, and years later I will see her onscreen playing at the Olympics – there is a thousand distinct possibilities, and if this was a movie one of them would even be true. But who says life is any less dramatic than a movie? It may not be as obvious, but life has its little dramas…and all I hope they have happy endings.
Mumbaikars, especially those staying in the suburbs spend nearly an hour or more everyday traveling. How do you utilize this time?
The lady whose hands I have captured in the above picture is typing out the name of Hindu Gods on a special notebook with grids, that help you keep count of the number of time you have written the name. After you finish a certain number (I think it’s 108 but am not sure; and it may also vary) you get to have one wish fulfilled; or one sin forgiven. Kind of a neat practice, don’t you think? Like reward points on a shopping card!
But jokes apart, I still find it admirable that within the crowded rush-hour, this lady manages to find God and spirituality,