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The Ladies' Compartment
|by Prof. Arundhati Sarkar|
I had to get up on the train as soon as it screeched to a halt on my way to the office everyday. For besides me, there were the ayahs who returned home every morning and came back for work every evening. As soon as we got into the train, a mad rush for the seats ensued and I remember to have lost the chance one day resulting in my having to stand for a couple of stations.
There were a group of lady professors of a university who expected the ayahs or the other people of lesser consequence to vacate their seats out of reverence for them. They used to openly vent their annoyance at people sitting tight and not vacating their seats. They used to exchange photographs of their visit to places like Canada, Spain among themselves. I never failed to notice the wide -eyed look of incredulity and uncomprehending reverence in the eyes of these ayahs when the "visible embodiments of erudition" were looking at the photographs. Many a time the ayahs or other rustic ladies simply vacated their seats out of a reverence which I am sure they did not comprehend themselves.
Curses rained down on the proverbially wicked mother-in laws the moment everybody settled down in the ladies compartment. How wicked of her to make her daughter in law slog like a mule ! A school teacher once looked very plaintively outside the window and said"We leave behind a lot of love & affection in our father's place and look at the shoddy way in which we are treated by our mother in law!" I really felt sad for the beautiful looking lady who was soonconsoled by an elderly lady"You will get a great satisfaction in the process of bringing up your daughter.Therefore do not fret!"
An elderly widow professor of the university talked of how she set out for her honeymoon with her husband on the very first day after her marriage . She enjoyed the discomfiture of the young unmarried shy girls who looked away to hide a smile.At about this time some eunuchs boarded the train and began their earnest solicitation for money by calling ladies names."Oh my blue fairy, please part with some money!" they pleaded much to the embarrassment of the lady addressed.
These eunuchs spared no one not even the ayahs. The ayahs used to say that their husbands took away all their money.One ayah was bold enough to ask the eunuchs why they needed money since they did not have husbands?
Shortly before the train reached the last station the eunuchs started saying loudly that everybody in the compartment was happier than them since they all had husbands or would be having them in future! " But what about us? We will never have husbands! Saying that they pointed to the blank parting in their hair and said that no vermilion mark would ever adorn them!
There was also a beautiful looking professor of engineering who looked like Karishma Kapoor! She was very fair, slim with bright eyes! She soon got married and her glamorous appearance started losing its lustre.It was plain that her in-laws had got the better of her!What made things worse was that when these eager university professors asked her about having to slog in her in-laws place, she denied it. She proudly asserted that her husband was a wealthy man who could afford to have 100 servants only if her mom-in law allowed him! He might phone her any moment to suggest an outing for the two of them! Subsequently in the face of persisting queries she left boarding the ladies compartment ! Believe me her appearance underwent a shocking change ! Her complexion became burnt and she did not seem to exude any joyousness whatsoever unlike her pre-marital days.
Once I saw an aged & frustrated housewife mouthing obscenities to a young jeans- clad girl who was a student . Probably she had asked her to shift or may be had stamped upon the ladie's feet! So many elderly ladies tried to make the lady see reason but the vituperation persisted.
There were decent mom-in laws who praised the housewifely skills of their stay at home daughters-in -law."She prepares dishes of fruit slices for me as soon as I enter home from work.Our daughters in law are from good families and do not need tutoring in any respect whatsoever"
The young aspiring college girls spoke of their determination to secure a job before marriage . The nut sellers once said that they knew the lady pickpocketeers but dared not point them out for fear of losing their lives!
Birthdays were celebrated by those professors amongst themselves with chops and pakoras and rabindrasangeet. Believe me the odour of the foodstuffs filled the train and it was tempting to think of striking up a friendship with those ladies for the sake of those snacks! But therecollection of their pulling at the wares of the bangle -sellers relentlessly (as if they would have all of it) deterred me from exhibiting any signs of befriending the noblewomen!
What never ceases to surprise me is that the married ladies never cursed their husbands for their unhappiness at their in -laws' place ! The ayahs advocated marriage for one could have their kids and hear onesself being addressed as mother!
Probably the splendour of life lies in its variety!
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