I have been a Delhi Metro regular for three months now and the ladies compartment never ceases to amaze me. There are some very distinct types of women in this battle zone which any discerning eye is unlikely to miss. I have, bravely if I may add, attempted to categorize a few as under. Any resemblance to actual persons is coincidentally intentional.
Relentless Raiders : These women will attack the vacant compartment seats with full force and at breakneck speed the second the doors open, pushing and flattening the disembarking junta aside. It is not even important whether they really need a seat or not. The Padma Ati Vibhushan is at stake. And if they miss out, they will just instruct the sitting ducks to move apart with a wave of hand, and without uttering a monosyllable, wedge their butts at any acute or obtuse angle just for the thrill of managing to get a seat.
Cacophonies : The ladies in this category are brimming with superhuman zeal to let the Metro masses know who is having an affair with who, what happened in yesterday’s episode of ‘Tu Sooraj Main Saanjh Piyaji’, and why suddenly Mrs Vermaji from the neighbourhood has started wearing knee length skirts. And lest anyone miss a word they are saying whilst talking casually with their besties, they make sure they are audible even to those with sub-subnormal auditory range at the opposite end of the coach.
Sidelong glancers : These are the weaker cousins of Relentless Raiders. Having not managed a seat and being too cowardly to attempt a butt hold, they will keep staring at you accusingly for sitting on the trip while they are forced to travel standing, till the guilt makes you hang your head down in shame. Nothing escapes the corner of their eyes – no even the slightest hint of a movement. Adjust your bag this way or that or shuffle in your seat ever so slightly, and they come pouncing in your direction assuming you are signaling the relinquishment of your throne.
Mouth chatterers : Mouth chatterers are the womaniyas who the instant they walk inside the Metro compartment, open their pitaaras and potlis and take out a shop’s worth of gajjak / mathries / namkeens / moohfallies, paying no heed to the detail that eating food is not allowed therein. And chatter, chatter chatter their mouths go… while they open hotstar on their smartphones and tune into the perplexing ordeal of ‘Jeet Gayi Toh Piya Morey’. The crumbs of the said food items are philanthropically left behind for the chirping birds to feast upon.
Zen Masters : Cool dudenis who are unaffected by the raiders and the cacophonies and by the chaos and the conundrum. They can be seen standing remotely in a sweet corner looking bemusedly at the world across with disdain, listening to music on their headphones, oblivious to the strife of lesser mortals.
Chandni Chowkers : The commuters who board the Metro from Chandni Chowk station in the evening after having spent the entire day rummaging through every miniscule item being sold at cheap rates at every nondescript shop of the labyrinthine bazaar. They enter the compartment with boxes and sacks tucked under each arm and over the head, and then spread them all over the coach for everyone to see – spellbound and awestruck, while they dazzle with aplomb in the sweet bargain glory.
Yoginis : These damsels can balance and twist themselves into any shape and form in any free crevice of the compartment. They don’t need a bar or a pole to hold onto… they can support themselves on one foot if need be, and read Chetan Bhagat’s latest bestseller with one hand and take selfies with the other, if the situation calls for it.
Note Copiers : These are the busybees headed towards Vishwavidyalaya on a Monday morning with their heads anchored in each other’s notes / project reports, furiously copying them down. Because amidst the parties and the social and family obligations on the weekend, time defies all written laws of Physics and inexplicably runs out.
Floor Ranies: Patriotic women who are fans of everything Indian (including sitting cross legged on the floor) as well as The Swach Bharat Abhiyaan. So when duty calls and they chance upon the dusty floors in the Metro, they rush in to do their bidding and clean them up with their bottoms, immune to the irritating microphone banter “ Kripya metro ke farsh par na baithein…”
Curious peekers : Curiousity killed the cat. But not these oh-so-casual voyeurs who are sitting or standing next to you and nonchalantly peeking into your phone, wondering aloud who you are holding hands with on facebook and why, how tacky your selfie /dp looks, what were you thinking wearing that hideous dress…etc etc. And when you catch them staring, they smugly look away in a flash of a second, assuming reassuringly that they were not caught in the act.
Teletaskers : Ever the multitaskers, these stris are seen and heard passing loud and clear instructions on their phones on the Metro. “ Hello !! .. Haanji ! .. Sun rahe ho ? .. Main bol rahi hun .. Kyaa ?!!! ” which continues into “ Kaam waali se kehna 7 roti banayegi aaj. Aur sabji mein namak kaam daalegi. Aur haan, dahi jamane ko keh dena usko … Aur, Aur – are poori baat to suno – use kehna bartan saaf karke jayegi…” The khichhdi continues simmering.
Touch-me-nots and squealers : These women are the ones who want at least a meter long human-free perimeter around them. Even your bags should not enter these red zones. Their eyes will start rolling in their sockets if you dare to hold the bar close to their designated space. And if you’d somehow shove them accidentally or step on them by mistake in a crowded compartment, all hell would break lose as they’d turn into squealers crying a shrill “Ouch!!” even if your erring hand or foot had barely managed to touch them.
Refuse-to-budgers : Ladies who’d position themselves right at the door entrance whispering sweet nothings into the speakers of their mobiles ( “ Main aaj kaisi lag rahi thi ?”… “ Tumne to mujhe compliment bhi nahi diya.” …and some such nauseating nonsense), refusing to move inside the compartment. No dirty looks, no polite taps on the shoulders, and no nudges from the angry passengers getting in and out can unfaze them. They stand resolute and strong, very ‘pehredaar’ like.
The author of this piece, meanwhile, is trying ever so earnestly to transform herself from a dumbstruck and occasionally irritable commuter into a zen master. Her headphones, incidentally, broke on the Metro today, while she was attempting to get off at her destination station in one piece.
India is not used to its single ladies. They are a cause of pressing concern to the bade-buzurg of the family and the unclejis and auntyjis of the neighbourhood. Their dhalti umar often invokes distress pleas from these well-wishers… “ Kab shaadi kar rahi ho tum,” “ Ladke dekhna to shuru karo,” or “ Ek ladka hai meri nazar mein, baat chalaun kya?” adding unabashedly, “ Ladke hi pasand hain na tumhe?”… Even the caste crazed elders find it their moral duty to let go off their rigid conditions and preach, “ Caste ke peeche mat pado. Koi bhi acchha ladka mile to shaadi kar daalo.”
Rephrasing Miss Austen’s opening line in Pride and Prejudice, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single Indian woman in possession of a good judgement and character, must be in want of a husband. Whether it’s an occupational pause or an emotional clause, poor health or dearth of wealth, the answer to all problems is marriage. Consequently, unlike married women, the single ones have a huge fan following – an army of chahne wale, whose anxiety for their ticking biological clocks burgeons in exponential proportion to their increasing age. The nanosecond they enter their thirties, it’s a torrential downpour of “ Tees ki ho gayi hai !” “ Kab vyaah hoga?” “ Kab ghar basega?” and “ Kaise vansh chalega?”
The Indian family starts saving up gold for a girl’s wedding the day she is born. An academic achievement here and a career boost there is definitely worth an inaam or two, but ask the parents for jewellery and the instant reaction is, “ Sone ka kadaa ? Uska kya karegi abhi ? Teri shaadi mein denge. Chal ice cream khaane chalte hain aaj India Gate par.” So time and again, they are told ; Betaji, No shaadi, No Gold.
All the Hindu rituals are reserved for married women, be it the haldi ceremony of your beloved sibling or welcoming the groom at the entrance with an aarti ki thaali. The local auntijis are usually the bouncers at these functions, carrying a metaphorical “ No entry for the non-suhaagans ” banner, tut-tuting in perpetuum and casting their glaring, disapproving glances. Everybody is scared of the deadly virus of singlehood the non-suhaagans seem to be carrying, pledging to destroy the world of suhaagans with it.
The rest of the world is also not too kind to the Bhartiya single naari. Try going to an embassy for a visa and answering the visa officer’s questions…
“ Single ? Oh, I see. Why do you want to travel to our country ?”
“ I have a conference to attend.”
“ Hmm.. So you are single…”
They are just as scared of the single ladies tribe. For burdened with the constant nagging to settle down, and the periodical beeps from their biological clocks they have to put on snooze, these women may just marry their men and never come back. Much to the anguish of the members of the resident welfare associations of several colonies, many of whom were trying to fix up those thirty something kanyaas with their forty something divorced nephews.
It will take some time for India, to give a pappi or a jaadu ki jhappi to its single women. A little while longer, for the matchmaking enthusiasts, to supress their itch, to eye-roll and bitch. And a leap in spacetime continuum, to realize that the older kuunwaaries, are surprisingly not bechaaries. That they are not yet eager to devour the shaadi ka laddu ; for though they love the company of men, they love their independence too. And although these lovely ladies, dote on children and babies ; they are not ready to raise them yet, for all that this country may frown and fret.