We were in the same bus, albeit a few feet apart. The word ‘Striyansathi’ (ladies only) had been painted in red font, Marathi on the metal by my side. My husband had found it safer to sit somewhere he couldn’t be ousted from, towards the back of the bus. Engrossed in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, I didn’t initially notice the quite-along pregnant woman who stood a couple of seats ahead of me. She must have been standing for a while, because, when I glanced up, she was uncomfortably shifting her weight from one foot to the other. The left half of the bus was taken up by men and every ‘reserved’ seat was taken up by women. Not one soul stirred or offered her the seat. Ashamed, I finally signalled the conductor, asking him to beckon her over and stood up offering my seat. Imagine my consternation when a young lady standing next to me fought over my seat despite my open declaration that I was giving it up for the lady who was clearly struggling. I had to communicate to her in clear terms that I would willingly sit back down because I still had a ways to go. Grudgingly, she stepped aside for the lady and I walked back to where my husband sat, muttering under my breath. In the fight for equality and/or reservations, what makes us side-step humanity?
The second incident occured about a week later. On our way back from the Mount Mary Fair at Bandra, in the hullabaloo at the station, my relatives and I accidentally got into the handicapped compartment which was right next to the heavily crowded, elbow-jostling, packed womens’ compartment. Despite our assurances that we would get down at the very next relatively quiet station and move to the ladies compartment, some of the folks in the handicapped compartment felt we were trying to occupy their seats and threatened to report it to the authorities. We tried to placate them, giving up our seats every time a ‘special’ individual got in, communicating through our actions that we weren’t trying to take advantage. In the midst of the confusion, two young strapping lads probably in their late teens, looking hale and hearty walked up near where we sat and looked around. Their faces clearly registered surprise as they found no empty seats. Dejected, they continued to stand. A couple of us stood half-heartedly, unsure of whether they deserved to sit instead and worried at the same time about the threats from the others. As we looked on, a young girl joined the two and the three of them started animatedly talking in actions. Sign language, we realized with a start. Deaf or dumb. Maybe both. And then the three of them, turned to us, signing again. This time, they were stressing on us to sit back down, not wanting us to give up their seats for them. We tried to protest, but it was in vain. What is it that they read in our eyes? Was it pity or empathy, I wondered? I looked on amazed as the young teenagers stood strong on their feet, trading in their reservations to travel as a normal individual instead.
What I witnessed that day felt humbling. Most of the time, we take so much for granted and fight over petty things, fume over unmet wants, never seem content with what we have, always striving for more which is not a bad thing in itself. It is important to be ambitious and have wants. But in contrast, lessons in humility are sometimes taught at the most unexpected phases in life, by the most unexpected people.
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