The general compartment of a train, really isn’t as intimidating as it seems

Late last evening, in an attempt to be experimental (and because I was too tired to run to the end of the platform), I decided to board a general compartment in a train, instead of the ladies one.

It was a spur-of-the-moment, rather hare-brained experiment, but the experience that followed was a rather unexpected one.

It is a universally acknowledged theory that a single woman, alone in public, late in the evening, and in all-male company, is in an extremely vulnerable place. So I braced myself, expecting piercing stares, awkward glares, stiffened backs and worse.

I took the first seat I found, between two young gentlemen, who quickly moved and created a space for me in the corner. I fumbled, trying to locate my secret canister of pepper spray and keep it in handy, in case of an emergency.

I almost felt like Bilbo Baggins (from The Hobbit) on his journey through wilderness, where he had faced giant spiders, elves and trolls and emerged a wiser and braver man. I expected to meet my own giant spiders, lurking somewhere in the corners of the general compartment and waited for them to appear, constantly checking the dark corners where I assumed they waited. Every time the train stopped at a station, and more and more people entered the compartment, my fears mounted.

I wondered why I had gotten into this compartment. I wished I was back in the ladies, where I was supposed to be. I fretted that if something terrible happened, I would be held responsible for not sticking to the safer ladies-only compartment.

Four stations later (and no encounters with spiders, so far), I finally let go of the pepper-spray bottle. The only people, who were staring at me from across the iron-bar that separated the general compartment from the ladies one, were a few women.

This experiment rekindled my love for the Chennai local trains and my belief in its safety. I’ve always believed that you begin to settle-down in a new city the day you establish a travel routine in it. For me, my life in Chennai took shape, the day I got my first MRTS pass made.

That little piece of paper, carrying a retouched passport sized picture and an address to which I still couldn’t walk back without missing a turn or two, made me an official Chennai resident, at least in my heart.