So recently, I met this lady at the station. It was barely 6 am on a Tuesday morning, so I couldn’t be grumpier. Yes, I had a 7 am lecture and I did not look forward to making notes on ethics of psychological research.
I stood there on the platform, looking at the indicator. Six more minutes until the train arrived. Great.
There was this lady sitting on a bench, with a small little baby in her arms, fast asleep. Her husband was at a distance and he was in his own merry world. I couldn’t help but notice her attire. Ethnic, something that told me she wasn’t from the state I lived in. The way she looked about, at people on the platforms and in the trains, studying every detail of a typical day at a crowded Mumbai railway station was a dead give away. She was a newbie to the town.
I smiled at her, acknowledging her presence. She was taken aback and looked away. That didn’t surprise me, but I didn’t push her. Moments later, she spoke up to me in Hindi, in an accent I had to struggle to understand,
“Are you going to school?” she asked me and I shook my head
I still remember the expression on her face. Her eyes grew wider, and she looked at me with sheer disbelief. I wondered if I had offended her in some way, but my questions were quickly answered when she asked her second question.
“Alone? Isn’t you brother going to escort you?”
“I go alone everyday, and I don’t have a brother. I am an only child.”
That was it. She didn’t have more questions, but just emotions consuming her. First the shock and then the jealously, followed by sorrow. And sorrow stayed on her face for a long time, as she looked at me and then back at her sleeping baby. She stroked his cheek and whispered to me,
“I went to school until 6th grade and my brothers would escort me. Then I hit puberty and I had to drop out.”
I didn’t know what to say. Here she was, a young, average woman, telling me she was denied a fundamental right by the virtue of her being a girl. She was a girl and therefore, had no right to be free and independent or have any resources to hand on her own two feet. She was caged in order to be ‘protected’ or so they told her, and so she believed. Maybe, until now, as she saw so many girls like me, laughing, giggling, reading their way to college in the many trains she saw passing by. Maybe now she realised it was all a lie, or maybe she knew but it hit her then. She suddenly understood what she had missed upon, the intensity of it, and most of all, she understood the reason for this denial of rights.
“I’m glad my first child is a son.” she said.
And a part of me was glad too.