I do most of my local travel by my cycle and on occasions have gone as far as Pimpri-Chinchwad by it. So I am not much used to travelling by the bus.
But I happened to travel once recently when this incident happened. I went to the Pune station to catch a bus to Vishrantwadi as I was to visit by brother. A long and boring wait followed before I was seated in the bus and travelling. The bus never did reach its peak speed, for no sooner had it left one stop that it reached another. And at each stop people poured in and soon enough there were many standees.
It was then that I became aware of her. She was standing by my side. By her stance and the leather bag that was carelessly strung off her shoulder, I could tell that she was an office going lady. And suddenly I was aware that while I was comfortably seated she was standing. My head whirled with stories on chivalry, being polite to the fairer sex and extending them the civilities in life. I just took a look around though and saw that many male commuters were seated and they seemed to be indifferent and unruffled, so I thought perhaps it was alright for me to stay seated. I once again glanced at her expecting to see a scornful look on her face but she was impassive.
Well I could bear it no longer. So I just stood up and joined the line of standees. Naturally she was standing closest to my seat and I had vacated it for her and I expected her to take it. But to my surprise before she could do so, another male passenger took it. I was a bit baffled again and look around for some sort of support but got none. The group seemed to have noticed nothing. And then my eyes met hers and she gave me a wan smile. I averted my eyes and shuffled ahead.
At Yerawada many people alighted and I easily got a seat again. She made her way to my seat, so I made room for her to sit. It was I who spoke up first, “You saw that, didn’t you? How come you weren’t irritated or angered? Why didn’t any one else offer you a seat?”
She was clearly amused at what I know now was my naiveté. She told me that she was a regular commuter now and so it did not surprise her any longer. Initially she had expected such courtesies to be extended to her but had learnt over time the hard and bitter truth of indifference. And indeed now she would be more surprised – as happened with me – if someone offered her a seat. Add to it leave alone getting a seat, while boarding the bus itself she had to push and pull and struggle to get in. It is a survival of the fittest.
Then she became a bit reflective and added that perhaps it was all for the best that they were not treated ‘special’. After all they were the modern women who had stepped out of their homes to find themselves a job and a career. And in the competitive race to success and advancement in their career they would have to show grit and determination.
These days they were equal to men and had climbed mountains, flown aeroplanes and even joined the Police and the Army to prove their abilities. So why should they be mollycoddled by anyone. It was an inspired voice and she was out of breath. We lapsed into silence.
Then the bus stopped and she got down. Meanwhile I was left in my shattered ruins of being gallant and chivalrous as the modern woman brushed past uncaring and having – what I felt – an unconventional outlook. I continued to wonder where had the days gone when it was said –
“What are young women made of
This piece appeared in our school magazine ‘Young Expressions’ sometime in 1994 in Pune, India. I was still in my teens at the time of the incident.