When the Delhi metro got a women's compartment, all the others became 'men's compartments'. Women, however, start behaving strangely when forced to share space with each other...
I always fear that a woman's rear will come at me on the Delhi Metro. Like it did this morning when I was seated in between a young woman who had gigantic headphones on and another who was memorizing a graph titled 'Net Exports'.
The rear wearing blue denims, squeezed in between me and 'Net Exports' girl and plonked itself on the tiny bump that segregates one seat from another on the train.
In her hurry to settle down, the owner of the rear knocked off my four-year-old Birkenstock from my right foot and almost bent to pick it up till she noticed how ragged it was.
Just for that seemingly kind gesture, I forgave her rear wanting space.
We were all on the 'first-coach-reserved-for-ladies' a coach peculiar to the Delhi Metro that ensures men cough up handsome fines if found alive in it.
Urban legend has it that Metro Man E. Sreedharan is to thank for this gendered space which then went on to rename, informally of course, all other coaches as 'men's compartments'.
Apparently, Dr. Sreedharan saw a mother struggling to get a foot in the train with her two kids and shopping bags and lo and behold none of the co-passengers came forward to help.
So he "envisioned" - as told to me by someone who knew someone who knew Dr. Sreedharan - that "there should be a coach reserved for women so they can travel comfortably".
99 per cent of my time spent on the Metro is spent in the ladies coach in the company of women who start behaving strangely when forced to share space with each other.
A never before seen aggression takes over that emanates from a dearth of space and a false notion that if you don't elbow your way in/out of a train today you will not be able to sleep at night.
I am probably the most passive traveller I know. Unlike a colleague of mine who raises both her voice and elbows to help get in/out of trains, I just make sure my discomfort is apparent on my face. It hardly makes a difference. I have been headbutted in the chin and elbowed in the chest....
Once, I attempted to distract people by holding up the cover of Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart, (a naked lady lying on her tummy), which in the week I was reading it made several women feel terribly uncomfortable on the Metro.
They averted their eyes like I was the one who was naked.
Once in the general compartment, I had to rescue my Australian step-father by yanking him out of the train as he was very politely requesting people to move an inch so he and his backpack can get past.
Despite space constraints, the 'first-coach-reserved-for-ladies' is to me just a superb place to observe body language. A few weeks ago, I saw a lady leaning on one of the poles, her hands holding the railing behind her head and her chest drawn wide.
I was so fascinated by this rare sight of absolute comfort in a public place that I did what men usually do: stare. She even scratched herself under her breast at which point I felt like walking up to her and congratulating her.
I had had enough of crotch-scratching men in public places and my sista over there was doing a fine job at competing.
But life has not always been confined to the ladies coach. Two years ago, in fact, my boss asked me to wear shorts (true story) and enter the general compartment prepping for a series on personal accounts on street harassment and violence in the Capital.
What came of that adventure was 576 words and me asking a man whose stares were particularly relentless to “go home, wear a pair of shorts and stare at your own legs”.