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A chance journey in the ‘Venus’ compartment (‘for ladies only’) makes for an unusual experiences and leaves this author with some lessons too.
The AC compartment was far away and the Railway Ministry had not been constructive enough to provide covering for the entire length of the platform. So I boarded the compartment that stopped where I was standing to avoid the rains; we Indians always find our way around the available facilities. I decided to cross to the next compartment from inside the train but that was an ending and not a beginning. Here, I was glad that the ladies compartment had no access from either side of the train. Some amount of safety had been catered to. So, until the next station I took a seat on the same compartment which was a haven for ladies; a compartment filled with colours and emotions.
In a matter of 60 minutes, I lived 60 different lives and enjoyed every second of those minutes.
Seated opposite me was a lady clad in a starched cotton saree, pleats still intact after the battle of the day. As the train moved, she took out a knife, some carrots, beans, onions and garlic from her bag and went to wash them in the washbasin. Then she came back and sat to cut them turning her her steel tiffin box upside down to make a cutting board. Women, I tell you, are very resourceful. She finished all the cutting, turned the tiffin box over and put them into her tiffin. Wow, I was really impressed; ladies having raw salad on their return from work? That was some health conscious lady, I thought to myself.
Then, she surprised me by closing the tiffin box and keeping it back into her bag. Curiosity killed the cat in my stomach. I decided to ask her why she cut the vegetables and didn’t eat them. And I heard a most impressive story along the journey of my life.
She had cut those veggies to be cooked when she reached home. She gets down the train, then takes a bus for 20 minutes, and then walks another 10 minutes to reach home. She gets home only by 7:30. So I asked her if there was no one at home to help her. She said her husband gets home by 6 ( So? Plenty of questions on my mind), makes a cup of tea and sit tutoring an array of kids from 5th to 12th grade, juggling numbers and maths formulas. This ordeal apparently goes on till 10pm.
On reaching home she concocts a quick dinner and gets online from 8:30 till 11:30. No, she is not Facebooking or tweeting – she does online tutoring in science. She has no time to cut the vegetables at home and therefore she utilizes the one hour journey on the train to cut them.
My jaw nearly dropped. She says two regular incomes do not meet the financial demands of the private medical college their twin daughters go to. Their day begins at 4 am and ends at 12 am. Parents…they never cease to amaze me. I made her a bow in my mind.
As I was doing a mental calculation of the financial requirements of the daughters in private medical college, someone approached us and asked, “Chechi,did the blouse fit well?” She is apparently the Ritu Kumar of the compartment. She was carrying a bag filled with stitched and unstitched clothes, orders to deliver and her catalogue. She works in the daytime at an insurance company selling financial guarantees for future crisis. In the compartment, she takes orders for Salwar suits from the catalogue, gets them from Mumbai and sells them to these ladies on an installment. The icing on the cake is that she gets their salwars suits and blouses tailored on her own at home after she gets back home. A full time job, a railway compartment boutique and late night tailoring unit…how enterprising can one be?
Seeing the amazement on my face, I got introduced to some eminent ladies onboard, by the lady sitting opposite me.
Shaadi.com was called in first to get introduced. Don’t mistake her – she is not a marriage broker; she works in a bank as an assistant manager but fixes marriage alliances for her family members and acquaintances as her corporate social responsibility (CSR). She is a social butterfly and keeps track of every girl and boy in the marriage market and has their character resume at hand. So she is constantly on the lookout for brides and grooms. She looked at me and I actually lived the Santoor advertisement minus my daughter coming running saying, “Mama”.
Next, it was the turn of the Finance Minister onboard. She was ready with all the investment plans and guidance and she was a walking price list, as she knew the prices of all the basic essentials. She helps with small loans and chit funds for the commuters; sometimes, from her own bag too. I didn’t get the information about her interest rates though.
Then they ushered in a railway employee to introduce her and gave me strict instructions not to ask her, “How are You?” I followed instructions…someone just has to smile at her and she is ready with several stories from across the Indian Railways including authentic information. When she left, my curiosity killed the cat again. They told me that she was a hypochondriac and if she knew I was a Psychologist then I would hear the entire length of her medical life with a hard copy of scan reports and medications…phew, that was a narrow escape.
Coming from somewhere on the compartment was the compelling smell of the Malabar Biriyani. That was apparently the Mother Teresa on the team. Every day, she would bring in something for all of them to eat in the morning and evening. She would then share it with everyone. That day she had chosen to buy biriyani off the platform. She had been abandoned by her only son and therefore spends all her income feeding a lot of other sons and daughters.
As the biriyani was passed around, I had to hold look elsewhere. On the other side were the backpacked Whatsapp citizens seated in more numbers than the seat could carry. Our college-going, giggling, jeans clad folks all flocked together, but each on their own electronic gadget. Some on phones endlessly talking to boyfriends/lovers/fiancés , some on laptops watching movies, some playing games. Suddenly one of them ran to the door; no, she was not attempting suicide she was just taking a breather as the romance hit the air from the other side of the phone and she didn’t want anyone else to hear her.
60 minutes up and I had to move from Venus. Back to the AC compartment, I felt like I had entered another planet. All looked tired just like in the ladies coupe but here they had the luxury of sleeping. Businessmen, politicians, families, tourists…nobody knew each other, there were hardly any conversations going on; all were stuck to their own worlds and etiquette. Boring…I was tempted to go back to Venus but I too had to finish reading my book.
There is much to learn from the Venus compartment.
Image used to represent a ladies compartment for editorial purposes only, credit Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock.com
Jaseena Backer is a Psychologist. The world knows her as a Parenting Strategist and Gender
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