As a little girl, I used to really look forward to our annual vacation to Kerala. And while of course the stay was the most important part, the three day train trip was one of the major highlights. Oh my parents complained about the heat, and the dirt, and the long tiring journey, but for me, it was the most fascinating experience. The fast moving scenery, the eats, stations, different kinds of people added up to a magical journey. So after we boarded that Jayanti Kanyakumari from Bombay, I settled in comfortable excitement on my father’s lap. All around there was total chaos with coolies shoving huge suitcases, vendor selling their wares and people desperately trying to find their seats.
In the midst of this chaos, a very young couple, a guy with his pregnant wife boarded the train. The lady looked really tired, and the guy very lost. Perception was, and is still not one of my strong points, but even I could make out how lost the guy was, and how he tried to cover it up by being arrogant and brash. He was rude to the coolies, perhaps thinking that he needed to give an impression of being authoritative. Soon they came to our compartment, and that’s when we realized that there was a huge mess up. His wife was given the same ticket number as one of our tickets. My father immediately moved aside, offering her the seat, but perching me along with her; he told them that let the TT come, and we could get it sorted out. And then the whole thing turned ugly. The guy wanted me to move aside, and also wanted to move our luggage aside. Achai again explained to them that it’s a good idea to wait for the TT, and that he would arrive in some ten minutes. If the seats are going to be re-allotted then it made more sense to move the luggage after this. At this point, the guy just lost it. He started raining abuses, yelling that we had paid bribes to get the seat. By now quite a few people had collected and were trying to calm him down, but to no avail. His abuses just got worse, and he was almost ready to get to blows. Someone had the sense to get the TT, but the idea just backfired. The guy was now convinced that the entire railway department was a bunch of thieves, and his ire turned towards the TT. To his credit the TT did his best to be patient, but finally he just got bugged and told him to go take a hike. By now, the train was ready to move, and the guy had to get down. But even as the train left the station, I could hear him yelling and abusing my father. Through all this drama, the only people who had been quiet were the pregnant lady and me. Fights and confrontations scare me, and I was petrified by now. Achai could see that, and he smiled, and quietly lifted me and cuddled me, telling me that everything is okay.
That’s when the lady came to us and apologized. She said that her husband was very stressed, and worried about her, and that was why he had behaved in such a manner. People were totally bugged by now, and not many were appeased by it. My dad was silent, but just asked her to remain seated. And me? I was in no mood to forgive – I worshipped Achai and anybody saying against him was not acceptable. The couple was in my hate list, and I think I cursed them quite a bit.
The TT went back and forth, trying to re-allot the seats-in the mean time the lady remained in the compartment with us. After a while, my dad came to us and told us that he was moving to a different compartment. I was obviously upset, and the other people in the compartment were also quite indignant. Achai just told them that there was no need to fuss, and it will be quite okay. The lady remained with us. With all the excitement, we all turned in early, and soon the compartment was quiet. I was quite fidgety and so my mother let me go over over to Achai’s berth. We were talking in whispers, and I never realized when I fell asleep. But sometime later I woke up to hear some voices. It was Achai talking to the TT, and I couldn’t help overhear. The TT was telling him that he could have had the original seat, and the lady could have shifted to this one, that the arrogant ass deserved it, and that he couldn’t understand why Achai had offered to take up this seat which was quite close to the toilet. I adored my dad, but that when I first realized what the expression ‘my heart swelled up with pride’ meant. He told the TT that he felt sorry for the lady – that she was traveling alone, and it was tough on her, plus he wanted her to feel safe with a family crowd in my compartment. Also the toilet was close to his current berth, so the smell could make her vomit. Also, he didn’t want her to feel obligated to us, so he instructed the TT not to tell her that he had actually given up his seat. Achai never knew that I had heard the conversation, but my earliest definition of the concept of ‘niceness’ was based on this incident.
I had kind of forgotten about it, but a journey two days brought back the memories.
I travelled from Pune to Blore by the KSRTC volvo bus. Unfortunately I had got the last corner seat on the bus. As I boarded the bus, I requested the conductor if I could get a seat along with a lady. Not because I think any guy had predatory intentions, but simply because it’s much more comfortable sleeping with a girl. You don’t have to be worried about moving an arm or a leg, or dozing over the hunk’s shoulders. The guy was very sweet and said he will help as soon as we got to the next stop. At the next stop, the entire bus got boarded, and the travel agent guys came over to check the tickets. I again requested them to change my seat, but this time they said a point blank No. I was quite okay with it, particularly since the four guys sitting on the last seat were quite cute, and one of them was reading a book which I wanted to read. I grinned at them, and settled down in my window seat. Some time later, the KSRTC guys came over and asked me to go over to a seat in the front. Pleasantly surprised I lugged my bag and went over, all set to thank the guy who had given up his seat for me. There was a guy sitting next on the conductor’s seat, and I opened my mouth to thank him. But then, he rushed past me to the back of the bus. I didn’t have to wait too long, but before I could open my mouth again, he launched an angry tirade. He wasn’t ready to shift. The driver appealed to him again, saying that they weren’t comfortable because its a single girl, and it wasn’t fair to make her sit with four guys. I did interrupt them saying that it was okay and I could manage. The fact was that the seat next to the conductor was not supposed to be allotted to anybody, but since it was peak rush and they had sold that seat too. They pointed out to the guy that it was not really a seat, and if he wished he could take his money back. He refused and called over his travel agents who then created a big hulla. Then there was another family of 4 who got involved. The parents were seated together, and the teenage girl was sitting with her kid bro. The conductor asked the father if the boy could move over to back, while I could take his seat. Before the father could react, the girl vehemently protested – I don’t know why because I couldn’t understand what language she was speaking. Anyways, I was totally amused by the whole drama, and all set to go back to my cute neighbor. That’s when Mr.Red Suit Big Moustache arrived. From this point, please note that I intend to be very nasty. Because of all this drama, the bus hadn’t moved for 20 mins. Mr Red Suit loosens his tie (note a suit and tie in a KSRTC bus) and walks across to conductor and starts yelling at the conductor. I guess red suits give a lot of authority in this country, because he threatened to suspend both the driver and the conductor. He then realized that his suit did not really carry so much weight, so he threatened to complain against them. And finally when then that didn’t work too, he just got nasty. I was initially very entertained by the way he kept loosening his tie, mopping his forehead and making an ass of himself, so I just plonked myself on the seat and waited patiently. But then it crossed the limits..he started saying that bus guys had taken money from me, and worse, that I had done some kind of favors for them. Hmmmm..I intelligent sensible girls are supposed to ignore all this, say some dialogue that the dirt is within the guys, give him a dirty look and if possible a slap, and then laugh about it with friends. But it is also true that even though I did my best to shrug it off, I did end up feeling cheap and violated. Finally, I just went back to my seat after telling the guy that he can go take a hike. My only regret is that my voice trembled quite a bit when I did that.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, and I had a good night’s sleep. But what really surprised me that nobody really came to my rescue when all this happened. Oh I didnt expect anybody to give up their seats, but when a guy is being disrespectful to a lady, wont you at least protest a wee bit? Maybe they didn’t want to get involved, maybe the ones at the back couldn’t hear what was being said at the front ..whatever, it didn’t give a good feeling. Some of the passengers were upset about the delay, and I understand, but it was not as if it was not because of anything really bad. All that the bus guys were doing was trying to be sweet to a girl traveling alone. So all that they were guilty of was perhaps a misguided sense of chivalry, and for that they had to bear up with so much nonsense.
Quite a few morals to the story – While I did feel quite disillusioned with the whole business, the positive aspect was the attitude the KSRTC guys. They would continuously come and check on me if I was okay. Also, I discovered how difficult it was to live the concept of ‘niceness’, the way my father had taught me. I really couldn’t allow myself to forgive Mr. Red Suit, even with the ‘niceness’ that the bus guys had shown me. I dont know when I will learn to be that way, but when old memories of my train journey came back, I did realize that I would like to live up to my father’s idea of decency and goodness. Some day I hope I will….I also secretly hope that others (like Mr Red Suit)too will……