Most of my train journeys have always given me some theme for my story or some characters that I will never forget.
Though I am tiny, I have always wondered why people open up so much to me when I start talking to them. It is always nice to talk with women in the train about the rising prices of vegetables, the donations in schools or almost anything under the sun without even knowing who she is.
The women coupé in the suburban trains will be empty after 10pm.There will be hardly two or three women other than me by the time the train reaches Tambaram. On that day I was returning home after a late night meeting. There were three women other than me in the coupé. One woman was in her early 40s and the other two were in their early 20s.They looked like Mom and two daughters coming after a function as all the three were wearing so much jewelery.But it was obvious in the first sight that the jewels they were wearing are not gold.Also,it was easy to read their family background from their faces. That’s one thing I have always noticed, how much ever people try to dress up with jewels and expensive clothes, it is very easy to make out about their financial situation in a second.
The mother was sitting next to me and the other two girls were sitting opposite me. As I was too tired and sleepy after the day’s work I didn’t bother to have a chat with them.Also, they didn’t seem to be the ones who are interested in talking with me. I took out a book from my bag but I was too weary to read it. I leaned on the window bars and the cold rush of wind made me sleepier.
W: “Are you tired??Do you want water?”
Me: “No, thank you. I am alright”. (Trying to smile)
W: “Huh!!After all you people will never take anything from us.”
Me:??? (Confused) (Smiled. I don’t know why)
I was not in a mood to respond or to bother about the meaning of her dialouges.So I again leaned on the window bars and the cold rush of wind put me to sleep.
Suddenly I woke up and looked at the woman. She was staring at me, I didn’t know for how long. I tried to recollect the pick pockets’ photos stuck in the railway station to see whether she was one among them. But since my memory doesn’t work at the right time, I cursed myself. I gave her an irritating look and again leaned on the window bars.
W: “Why are you travelling this late at night?”
Me: (I stared at her. I didn’t want to answer her as I was frightened whether the conversation will continue between us)
W: “It is not safe to travel late.”
Me: “Yeah, I know. But my work got over late today.” (I ended it in a heavy tone expecting that she don’t reply me.)
W: “Today when I saw you, I remembered my first day in Chennai.”
W: “I was young, lean and short like you then.”
Me: “So?????” (I was irritated hearing her words.)
W: “I am from Kancheepuram.I was born and brought up there.”
Me: “Huh!!Okay” (I understood that she was not talking nonsense. I became wide awake.) “So how did you come to Chennai?”
W: “I belong to a very poor family. My house was near the road side.No, it was not house itself; a place covered with some asbestos sheets. One of the men who came for road repair told my parents that he would like to marry me, that too without dowry. Since there were three younger sisters for me, my parents got me married to him that month. He brought me here in Chennai. I was excited to see the Madras city which I have only heard and seen in radio news and Tamil movies . One day my husband didn’t come back from work. I knew nobody in the city except the house owner. He was an old man staying with his wife and some distant relative girl. I informed the house owner when my husband didn’t return for three continuous days. After two days, the house owner told me to pay the rent and vacate the house. He told me that if I don’t have cash, it is alright if I pay him in “any” way that I could. I decided to run away from there. I searched the house to collect some 20 bucks. My mom had given me the phone number of one of my relatives who was there in Chennai.”
Her phone rang.
W: “Hello, we are on the way. Just left Guindy.”
I looked at her daughters sitting opposite to me. They were not bothered about their mother’s story. They were immersed in some serious talks about a guy they saw some minutes back at the Nungambakkam railway station.
W: “So where did I stop?”
W: “Ah!!The phone number which was there with me was his contractor’s as he was working for daily wages. He talked with his contractor and arranged to get me a job of house maid at the contractor’s house. After a month or so, my relative told me that he would like to marry me and he is not worried about my earlier marriage. I felt happy. I made him write a letter to my parents. Later he told me by showing a piece of paper that my parents were fine with the marriage. I thought this is my chance to show him gratitude. After all he did so much for me. But after the wedding, I came to know that he was already married and has two kids. The intention of being nice to me was for something else. I tried running away from there but before I could even attempt, he had trapped me. I was blindfolded and taken somewhere. When I opened my eyes, I could see so many other women who didn’t know Tamil. I tried shouting but a huge blow behind my neck made me unconscious for hours. By the time I was up, I knew that I was not going to get out of this place, ever!!.”
Girl 1: “Mom, When will we reach?”
W: “In sometime”.
Me: “So, are they your daughters? I am sorry…I am just curious”
W: “Ha Ha Ha Ha”
I felt dejected.
W: “How can a prostitute have kids? Ha Ha Ha”.
Me: “So…You…I mean…They are …”
W: “The people who take us will make sure that we don’t get pregnant at all. These two are my friend’s sister’s daughters. When my friend’s sister died, her husband threw them to my friend’s hand. That man always suspected his wife and told my friend that these two were not his kids. We are vulnerable to a lot of diseases and when my friend passed away, I took in charge of them.”
Me: “Oh…so they are also..no..I was just asking you..like..Where are you going now?”
W: “Our lives change in a matter of seconds. These girls’ father is now happily married and living without any botherance.But for us it is not that way. It may take a lifetime to change our life and most of the times it won’t change at all. I don’t want them to end their lives in that hell.”
I blinked and sat there without understanding anything. Those words seemed too high-sounding for me to understand.
W: “We are getting down at Chromepet.They lost their childhood sleeping with strangers. Now I am also counting my days on earth, before that I have to put them somewhere safe. I came to know that there is a juvenile home here. I hope they adopt these kids. All what I saved by being a prey is for them. At least let them have a good life.”
Girl 1: “Mom, now how many stations more?”
W: “One more.”
Only then I realised, that we almost reached Chromepet.
W: “May be you are the last person in my life to have a friendly chat with me.”
Me: “Why me? I mean, why did you tell all these matters to me?”
W: “I told you that I remembered my first day in Chennai after watching you. Then you had a friendly smile on your face.Usually,when people come to know that we are bad women, they always avoid talking to us or even change their seats. But you were kind enough to listen to me. Do tell your friends to be careful in their lives. We never know how tragedies come in life. We never know.”
Me: “May I know your name?”
The woman wept badly, very badly.
W: “Nobody has ever asked my name. They have always asked me for something else. I have thought about my name because for women like me name is never an adorning matter.My name is Muthumani.”
I offered a handshake.
W: “Why should you get spoiled by my touch? But I am happy that you asked my name because nobody has asked for my name for years…for years…”
She and those two girls got out of the train. I expected her to look at me to say good-bye.
The train started moving. I went till the foot board to see her, but I couldn’t find her.
Two days after this incident, I saw her photo in the newspaper under the heading “Anonymous woman found dead”.
I went numb.
But what could I do? Like every shameless Indian I prayed for Muthumani’s departed soul to rest in peace. 😦