Anti-car policy and a story of The Woman with Two Kids

Mumbai’s local trains are a constant source of entertainment and inspiration. When I first decided to get back to work and take the train instead of driving, MK was a little worried about the crowds and what they would do to my once paralyzed arm. Frankly, I was a little worried, too. But I was much too sick of the protected, comfortable world I was living in. Apart from zapping my confidence about small things, it was making me fat (er). In car, at work-in car, home; in car, supermarket-in car, home was how I functioned.

But the worst thing that the car did to me was take away from human contact. I don’t mean that I attribute the drop in meeting friends or relatives and general decline in social meetings to the car (for that, I am to blame entirely). I am referring to the mere act of watching people; knowing people and yet not knowing them. The closed world of the car makes one a loner, I think. Now that I have been taking the train to work for two weeks, I know this to be true.

The ladies’ first class compartment of the 7:50 ferries several kinds of women—young girls off to college, middle-aged teachers off to school, women like me off to work. And within that first class is a whole new world with its own class system of strata and sub-strata. The young, middle-class, zesty women in practical shoes and synthetic salwar kameezes, who can run and get on a train before it screeches to a halt; the slightly more “elite” types who’d rather stand the length of the entire journey than clamber into a moving train and balance themselves on ridiculously high heels and scowl at the leaking train roof; the novice out-of-stationers, who actually have a second class ticket but don’t know the difference—the works.

And in the middle of all this mess, she stands.

She must be about 35; and she is, most definitely, a single parent. Armed with a windcheater, a large handbag, another kiddy bag, and two sleepy kids, this woman gets on the 7:50 every morning, seemingly cussing the rain and the gods for the ordeal that the day is turning out to be. She shouts at the children to stay awake so they can balance themselves in rapid swings of the crowded train, reminds them of which tiffin box should be opened for which meal of the day, reacts in shock to homework that a sleepy child admits to not having done, and keeps an eye on the approaching station while mentally listing up the tasks she has to do at work.

One station before the train’s last stop, she gets off with all her baggage, her kids and their baggage, and starts on the long journey through the day. From her conversations with the children, I know she drops them to school first, from where they go directly to the babysitter’s. The children look undernourished, tired, and almost slow. Maybe she doesn’t have the time to cook full, nutritious meals for them. Maybe the babysitter she’s paying for the meals is just making do with carb-heavy junk food. Maybe that’s why they look so unhappy. With her? With how their lives are going?

And then, yesterday. I saw her in the 7:10 in the evening. And what a changed picture it was! She hopped on to the train, almost with a spring in her step, orchestrated with her children’s small steps and a united “aah!” The children’s faces, still weighed down by the water bottles around their necks, were brighter and happier. The train was still full, stinky with rain and tired sweat, and they had to stand at the entrance as they usually do. But yesterday, when the train pulled out of the station, she started singing her daughter’s favorite nursery rhyme. The daughter pitched in; and the son, by now squeezing himself through the sea of fat women’s legs in pursuit of window standing space, raced back to join his mother and sister. They sang right up to the last station, increasing the volume a few notches with every realization of new-found energy, unaware of the zillion faces watching them and enjoying their happiness.

Maybe something got solved yesterday. Maybe she got a pay raise, or fell in love. Maybe she just decided to be happy now on.

Maybe it really happened. Or maybe, I’m just weaving something around a face that I see on the train everyday.

Comments (9)

  1. baBa July 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

    yeah i like local trains… i trade my window seat for samosaas … this north indian group of mixed ages..highly animated and they share seats on rotation basis..unlike other first class fatties… really killah… the oldies and the youngies…i dont know who gets those samosaas…but everytime there are samosaaas…i can eat upto 3…while others in the compartment are not even offered even there are spare samosaas… i take the 0912 vashi 😀

    i always get a window seat…i jump in 15 seconds b4 the train stops…and after the khadi pool… give the seat to some oldie…

    i was even given vodka (on the rocks) by a sardarjee… Mr. Jhonny

    0750 is too early man….. how do u get up so early….

  2. Saee Koranne-Khandekar July 26, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Samosas and vodka shots on the train can only happen to you, Khasu. But I'm so glad to see you writing. Would've liked to talk to you some more on Ebu's reception night. And we will. Some other time. Until then, keep coming here and keep commenting :p

  3. Shilpa July 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

    that was a lovely post… i love train stories

  4. Saee Koranne-Khandekar July 28, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks, Shilpa! I hope to write more of these–keep stopping by! 🙂

  5. SJ July 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I have been meaning to read this post ever since it was published now I got the time 😛 I think u should do more of this! You write very well.

  6. Sonia October 8, 2009 at 11:05 am

    What a nice post!! I like happy endings 🙂

  7. Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar January 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Hi Saee, I am so glad things worked out for her. When you described her initially about how sad her kids seemed and how harried she appeared, my heart went out to her. It is only us mothers who know how much of effort is required to keep everything going. Whatever the cause that brought about such a sweeping change in her day, I'm glad it happened. May such marvellous things happen to all of us. Great post.

  8. Pankaj August 4, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I’m going to read every story listed on your fiction page.

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