You are the proud traveler of the second-class, ladies train compartment. Mumbai’s central railway welcomes you every week day morning with - the crowd. The crowd – the excessive number of people that symbolises Mumbai – metaphorically the biggest city in India.
You wake up groggy. You hardly ever sleep your full sleep circle. Responsibilities have you up till mid night and awake at dawn. You are what people call the middle class. You should rather be called the Indian lower middle class because the term middle class is relative, you see. The middle class is divided into three further sections. The upper middle class who would never travel in a train. They book those air-conditioned taxis that can be summoned online. Then the middle middle class that uses the first class of the railway compartment. They are the ones that carry the well organised branded bags and briefcases, read the Economic Times and abuse in English. You, however, are doomed to the second-class compartment for life. You are the lower middle class and the woman. You never read the newspaper because your husband does, while you cook for him, the children and the in laws. You did that even when you were seven months pregnant but felt like you have been carrying your child around for seven years. Everyone says you are a great adjuster.
Once awake. You enter the kitchen and fill it up with the strong aromas of - Indian spices, browning onions, ginger, garlic and boiling milk. Your home wakes up to this smell ever since you married into this household, thirteen years ago. You ready the breakfast, tea, chocolate milk, three course lunch for your family of four or five or six or more and move on to do the mound of dishes. Yes, sometimes you have a daughter who will in preparation of her future servanthood or marriage help you with the dishes once she has come of age through the beginning of her menstruation. Yes, sometimes you have little help form the 'bai'. Another woman, poorer, the lower class. You gobble up the breakfast in a hurry, seldom savouring its taste in between the cooking and the putting of clothes in the washing machine. You thank the inventor of this machine for you don’t have to hand wash the clothes. You remember to look at the clock that says that you are late as usual and you have thirty minutes to shower to get off the smell of the spices you reek of, pack three or four lunch boxes, get dressed and leave for the office. You do that in just under thirty minutes. Everyone says you are a great home maker.
While you enter the suffocating platform of the train station you feel your identity being destroyed a little more and your individuality being lost among other lower middle class people. You see the train arriving – fear strikes you – adrenalin takes charge – you clutch your hand bag to the chest, curl the edges of your dupatta, get your plaited hair ahead, hold on to the rod in the middle of the entry space before the train stops and – CLIMB. Yes! you enter the second-class compartment of the Mumbai train during the peak hours. Your second achievement of the day after winning the single person relay of the morning chaos. Here you are greeted with the smell of sweat and are pressed against every part of your body by every part of others’ bodies. You should thank your upbringing at this point for under-valuing your sense of personal space. In the train, there is no personal space. You are one of the five hundred passengers who has stuffed herself into the three fifty square kilometer space. You are also the recipient of abuses hurled at you. You are abused for occupying a part of the claustrophobic section by passengers who unlike you are still fighting their fate. You hear the regularly used – randi, kuttiya, haramzadi, chinal and the not so frequently used – lund choos.
With an updated knowledge of the abuses for the day you manage to reach the office on time. Here you do exactly as the boss man says and gossip about him during the thirty-minute lunch break. Your opinion does not matter to the boss – good for you, because you never developed one or even if you did you learnt to bury it in the deep depths of the subconscious of your mind. Everyone says you are a great worker.
You reach home after you have again travelled in the second-class ladies compartment – third achievement. You start with preparing tea for the family, helping the children with homework, listening to the neighbourhood gossip from your in laws, followed by dinner, tidying up of the kitchen and providing sex. It is past mid night. Your tired mind lulls itself slowly to sleep while you are still going over the list for the next day’s chores in your head. Everyone thinks you are a great team player.
You are! Your greatest achievement, my fellow exister, is that you survive – the train journey, under payment, primitive traditions, gender bias, injustice, slow but steady destruction of your spirit. You survive!