HAVE YOU CONTEMPLATED PASSIVENESS?
I watched as one of the trains pulled into the, now, semi-crowded station; and that was quicker than I had expected it to arrive. It was a much later hour in comparison to the time I usually left for home.
I stepped onboard into the rear ladies’ compartment, like any other day, expecting obviously, nothing but the obvious. However, as I turned to my left in search of a seat, my eyes fell upon an elderly couple, clearly over 65, possibly 70. The man had a typical, comparatively old dhoti wrapped around him and wore a dull, but not a shabby shirt and had a small tuft of the traditional, orthodox hair pulled into a little thin pony at the nape his neck. One of his eyes was partially closed and the other was slightly grayed out which made me question his visual capabilities. His wife, seated beside him with random salt and pepper hair cramped down into a little braid, had messily yet diligently draped herself in a yellow, stiff, cotton saree.
I spotted an empty seat beside the man but across the narrow aisle down the middle of the train, that separated the seats and took it at ease. People were still hopping aboard and a young girl, probably in her early twenties walked right up to grab one of the empty seats opposite the couple. All of a sudden out of nowhere, she was pushed back and she almost lost her balance. A woman, short and sturdy had stormed past her, trying to get the seat by the window as she boomed at the elderly gentleman opposite her, ‘You’re not supposed to be sitting here. This is the ladies’ compartment!’ The couple gaped blankly at her confused. She said again, sternly, looking at the man, ‘This is the ladies’ compartment. You can stand by the entrance maybe, but you cannot sit in here.’
The man looked to his wife, who seemed only to mirror his bleak expression. He tried to heave his little cloth-bag over his elbow and stand. The young girl, who had just regained her balance, instantly gestured for the gentleman to remain seated saying, 'It's okay for you to sit here, sir.' The man seemed pleased and made himself comfortable again.
The break-no-rule lady was immediate to retort; she said, 'I only said so so that you aren't embarrassed by someone else.' I caught the young girl smile slyly as she casually sat opposite to them and couldn't resist a chuckle myself. I could reason with her slyness that pertained to how effortlessly this lady had turned the tables.
The train embarked lazily along its usual span laid by the infamous Marina shores of Chennai, which meant that the passengers usually savored glimpses of the beach now and then. But as I simply gazed out the adjacent window, that evening all that I could only see were shadows the dim moonlight cast over the retro buildings in the foreground, the sea itself being immersed in the darkness.
The train pulled into one of those stations that were usually more crowded than the others and comparatively less deserted at this part of the day. The old man got to his feet, clinging on to his little cloth bag, and once he had gained stability turned around to help his wife up, who caught the eyes of the woman seated opposite her and said, ‘I was wondering why the whole coach was filled with only ladies. Thank you so much.’ The husband followed suit, joining his hands in that humble posture so prominent to us Indians, and said a solemn thank you to the lady. She heaved herself up with all the appreciable gratitude, acknowledging her praise with a nod and a seemingly triumphant smile. The couple passed the young girl without a word or a glimpse and de-boarded the train. Their passiveness toward her took me by shock, which was the reaction I expected the girl to have too. Rather, I saw her peering out the window, her eyes welling up with tears as her lashes batted them away and a slender smile curved her lips.
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