This story is the story of many women in India, who commute via public trains and buses to work places, schools, colleges and wherever it is they need to go. It is not the first time that someone has chosen to tell this story. Nevertheless it is important to share this again and again – how something as simple as a daily commute could be a brutal struggle and many a times even disrespectful experience.
Our storyteller draws an uncanny similarity between her situation and the Hindu scripture, Geeta / Gita.
I was rushing from the central line platform to the western line platform. I had to catch the 9.30 train to Andheri. It was already 9.25 pm. That day Indrayni express was a bit late to enter the Dadar platform. May be 10 minutes late! But those 10 minutes were the most expensive 10 minutes of my life. Those 10 minutes showed me the brutal reality of life also taught me to believe and have faith in the supreme power that rules the universe.
I took the risky way of running across the railway tracks to reach the platform on time where the train would halt. It was 9.28 and I could see the train approaching the platform. I was still on the tracks attempting to jump up the platform that was a bit high for me. I saw someone from the corner of my eye lending me a hand to pull me up to the platform. I grabbed it and jumped up. By the time I could brush off the dirt from my hands, my helper was gone. Felt like a strong masculine hand…
I felt the gust of air on my face as the train entered the platform. But I was not in front of the ladies compartment. So I had to run towards it treading the heavy crowd, pushing people coming across the other way just to reach on time. Being new to Bombay, I was not used to the “train systems”. All I knew was I had to be in the ladies compartment or the 12th coach. I kept running with my backpack filled with all my study materials for Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and my purse with very little money and train passes. I had to save all of my assets in this struggle of boarding a trainin the busiest city of India.
When I reached the 12th coach, it was jam packed to the brim and with several hanging women who seemed well practiced in that position. I tried to board the train but was pushed away only to crash land on the moving crowd and take down few with me on to the concrete floor. Bruised from my elbows and knees, I felt numb from the thought that I missed the last train to Andheri and the next train was “Viraar Fast”. For people who never lived in Bombay, it’s just a train. In reality, it is the most crowded train and the toughest to get onto and it doesn’t stop at all stations.
With my apprehensions building up and in preparation for the unknown, I spent the next several minutes remembering all the shlokas (hymns) I knew from Geeta, trying to muster as much courage as I could. Though it seemed like a long wait, Viraar Fast entered the platform with the same gush of wind and the loud whistle, making its presence felt through its ground rumbling vibrations.
I was terrified to see that the 12th coach was already overflowing and I had no courage to hang on to anyone’s hand. It suddenly occurred to me that this train had another ladies compartment, the 9th coach. I didn’t remember why I was advised against 9th coach but got tempted to check on it. To my surprise, it was almost empty with few women at the door. I jumped into that compartment with a feeling of achievement and worth for the wait. Two other girls also followed me and they seemed as confused as I was. Probably they were new to Bombay too and were not aware of the rules for the “9th coach”. And neither of us could imagine how the next half hour would be!
“Viraar Fast”, as the name suggested, was headed to “Viraar” and it stopped only at major stations and hence was “Fast”. The next stop was Bandra and then Andheri, my destination. The train took off and I was enjoying the cool breeze after a long day. I traveled to Pune 3 days a week to attend GRE coaching classes and rest of the days I was in Bombay working odd jobs to stretch out a living. Closing my eyes, I just wanted to relax and let go of all the exhaustion and look forward to a sumptuous dinner. I was famished…
It was a fruitful day and it all seemed to be falling in place for me. I was doing well in my classes and mock tests and I was feeling hopeful to make it through the GRE that year and be in the United States of America to pursue my master’s degree. As my mind was reflecting through the eventful day I felt the train slowing down. Bandra was approaching and the train was about to stop. Then it would be Andheri and I would be home.
As the train entered the platform I could hear the cacophony of rushing people mostly men, trying to beat the crowd to make it to the train as soon as it stopped if not before. I was still quite relaxed thinking that I was in ladies compartment and I would be immune to the mob. But, as the train was coming to a halt, I saw a multitude of men barging into the “9th coach” ladies compartment and filling up the entire coach in no time even before I could even react to whole situation.
Why are men coming into the ladies compartment? How will I tread this mass and reach the door? What will these people do to me? Those were the few questions along with several that raced through my mind at that moment and I had no answer to any. I exchanged glances with the other two girls and they were equally confused if not more. Neither of us knew that the 9th coach was ladies compartment only till 10pm and it was 10.01 pm when the train entered Bandra station.
9th coach was filled with men in no time and I was being crushed from all sides. I held on to my purse across my chest as tightly as I could. It was also a reaction to protect myself from being vulnerable. Needless to say, I could already feel several hands on me and all over me and I had absolutely no power to defend. It was a mixed feeling of disgust and anger that was gradually taking over my mind. The feeling of helplessness was unbearable to the point of hatred. My mind wanted to numb me down to deny the feel of the hungry cannibals around me and wanted to take me to my eternal abode of sustenance, the Geeta.
As I started picturing the scene of the battlefield of Kurukshetra and Krishna explaining Arjun why he should fight, I realized that I was trapped in the Chakraview, labyrinth, which was impossible for me to escape without Krishna’s help. At that moment I felt a sudden sense of anguish surging in me, questioning the Almighty, why I had to go through this test of disgrace; what had I done to deserve the worst form of insult to womanhood? I demanded an explanation from Krishna for bestowing this misfortune unto me and questioned his existence. It was only Krishna who could save me from disappearing from the face of the earth and only a miracle could restore my faith in Him.
As I felt my blood boiling through my veins and rushing to my brains my ability to think was gradually slowing down and my helplessness was killing me even before my windpipe would be choked. Sucked between gripping hands I felt my clothes getting torn and my chest getting heavy with each passing moment. All I could scream in my mind with my eyes tightly shut was “hey Krishna”! I had totally lost the sense of time and had no idea how far I was from my destination.
” Do you want to get off at Andheri?” I vaguely heard a voice. I couldn’t open my eyes in an unknown fear. I heard the voice again and this time I wanted to make sure it was real. So I looked around and saw a handsome gentleman formally dressed in a lemon yellow shirt and navy blue and cream striped tie pushing his way through and trying to reach me and asking the same question which I initially thought was part of the cacophony. I replied “yes”. As soon as he was close enough, he pulled those starving men off me and said, “Hold me tight and I’ll take you to the door”. I immediately told him that there are two other girls behind me. He asked me not to worry. As advised, I held him tight around his waist and my head sunk in his chest. My eyes were tightly closed to deny the hideous truth around. I felt him freeing the other two girls and asking them to hold him from his back. Wading through the thick swarm of men he rescued all the three girls out of the ugliest dungeon and was set to reach the door of the “9th coach”. The 20 step journey from one end of the compartment to the door seemed endless. I didn’t want to think any further. All I knew was, it was then or never.
I imagined the battlefield of Kurukshetra where Pandavas were surrounded by a huge army, hundred folds bigger than their own and all they had was their charioteer, Krishna. With Krishna on their side they could win any battle against the entire universe! So is the strength of Krishna, so is his charisma!
Twenty steps became ten and then five. Our struggle to reach the door started to seem successful. Once again I could feel the cool fresh breeze on my back as we almost reached the exit, my hands still clutched around his waist and my legs tightly curled around the strong calves of my “Krishna”. My eyes were still closed and my mind was still in disbelief. I didn’t have the exit mantra to the Chakraview but with Krishna on my side, the battle of Viraar fast was no less than a piece of cake.
The train started slowing down and finally came to a halt and he got off the train along with three girls clung to him. After landing on the platform, I dared to open my eyes and release my clasp. I looked at my angel and said, “thanks”. He smiled at me and said nothing. In his silence he spoke a thousand words and in his smile he had a blissful assurance. I stood there in awe as he merged in the myriads leaving no trace. Against the humongous army of flesh eating men, stood one man with his immense power of morality to squash the blasphemous intentions of his peers.
Restoring my faith in his omnipresence, Krishna came for my rescue proving yet again that he resides in every man! It’s not the strength of the enemy but the faith in ourselves that helps us to win any battle. And every battle ends in the victory of dharma (righteousness) over adharma, be it in Kurukshetra or Viraar fast.