Divided every which way, united by Attitude

On June 28th Mom, Dhanush, Krishnan and I boarded the train at Hyderabad to come to Delhi. Since we were four people I thought that we will get a full cubicle in the AC 2 tier coach. We did get all the seats in one cubicle but with two berths on the side, just one berth in the main cubicle and another one in the adjacent cubicle. I have a huge issue with the way the berths are allocated in the trains. Even when you have a senior citizen travelling, you still dont get a single lower berth – am ok with the younger folk getting any berth, but Amma cannot climb up into the upper berth. This time we ended up with one lower berth but that was on the side and Mom is scared of sleeping on the side berth.

When we entered the compartment, there was already a lady who had laid out her bed and was resting on one of the lower berths. Even before anyone could say anything she groaned and moaned about not being well and kept lying down. There was one more family who were struggling with three tickets that were spread all over the coach. So they moved to the next cubicle and Mom and I just sat down opposite this lady-in-pain. A few minutes later she was well enough to tell Mom and me that we should simply let Mom sleep in the lower berth opposite hers, and whoever had booked that ticket can take the side lower berth. I had already stereotyped her for a typical Delhi “punjabi” lady, no offence to all Punjabi ladies of Delhi, but my negative stereotype is loud, lots of make-up, pushing ahead of the queue disregarding everyone, and its-always-the-other-person’s fault kind of “punjabi” women. And this lady unfortunately fit that stereotype a 100%.

While my rational and empathetic side knew that I had to disregard this stereotype, I was frothing at my mouth ready to pick a fight with her. Well, everything she did was wrong for me – she was reading a M&B kind of book and I thought that was really cheap, she asked for extra pillows, extra blankets, extra sheets and then kept complaining that there was no toilet paper in the toilet. The rule says that till 9 pm the lower berths have to be used as seats, and she completely disregarded that rule making all of us uncomfortable in the process and thats what got me. I had a sneaky suspicion that she was absolutely fine and the “unwell” image was just that – a facade to be comfortable. She tried asking Dhanush what he was doing, gave some of her food to him, asked my mom to call the pantry boy etc etc and I didn’t pick a fight simply because I knew the whole 22 hours will be painful with her. The next morning was even more irritating – she wanted the English newspaper and not the Hindi newspaper and then asked me if I had a job :):). I told her I work from home and am an executive coach. When she asked me what that was, I told her, sarcastically, “you won’t understand”. Cheap thrills, as Prof Shamika would say. Then Nizamuddin station arrived and as I knew, she was perfectly fine, she got her bags lifted by two other young men and got off the train first !!.

Now – I wasted the entire 22 hours fuming and pissed off while she got a good night’s sleep and spread herself over two seats inspite of paying for just one. Friends who know me would be surprised that she got away without my famed “dressing down” but the fact is – I didn’t do it simply because it was a really long journey and Mom would have been very uncomfortable if I had picked a fight. Mom doesn’t like my militant behaviour anyway :).

The point am trying to make is – this lady inconvenienced everyone for her comfort on a public transport, where each passenger had paid for their seats and one person got all the benefits. Sure, I can rant about Punjabi women and they would probably rant about us Madrasis and the politician will make merry while dividing us.

She was wrong in misusing public property for her comfort and I was wrong in stereotyping her. That’s the truth. Now see how events played out in another train, with an all “Madrasi” crowd. This incident happened with my dear friend Usha just a couple of days back and I am copy pasting her Facebook post here –

“A rant
I should have guessed when he sat on his seat, and told his wife ‘Sushma is smart, even though she is a woman’.This obnoxious old tambram gent, in the seat in front of me on Shatabdi today!
I had plans of using my entire five hours to finish some client reports, and one client proposal that I had promised to send out today.
Sat down, opened my laptop and realized I had let the charge die. Saw that there was only a shared plug point, which this gent was using since he got into the train. I got, up, requested (truly, saying sir may I please charge my laptop) to which he violently reacted ‘I AM charging, my phone has only 40%’. When I explained I just needed to charge my laptop for sometime to get me started, he refused saying when I am done, I will give it.
I let it be, and for more than an hour, he wasn’t ‘done’. Finally, in desperation, unable to waste more time, I got up, and saw he was happily relaxing, with a huge pair of headphones on, listening to music, and completely indifferent to the fact (or purposely doing it) that he was hogging the charge point. I tapped him, said Im removing your charger, and did so.
Set up my laptop, and started working, when suddenly the same lovely man, just abruptly reclines his seat! Remember – I had mentioned I was putting out my laptop, and the speed with which he reclined was completely indifferent to what happens to others.
Why do we act like this? Fancy possessions, fancy discussions on CAG reports and politics and the sorry state of Indian Railways – but behaving in the most ‘I, me, myself, you go to hell fashion?’
Boy, the only silver lining in this cloud is that I ONLY have to share space for a five hour duration on a train with this human being. Hearing his accent and stuff, I realise I could have been unfortunate enough to be related in some way. Guess I will celebrate the narrow escape!!😣”

Now this obnoxious “man” is a Madrasi and has behaved exactly like my stereotypical Delhi “punjabi” woman – misusing public property for his comfort and inconveniencing everyone else who has paid for those services.

As soon as I read this note from Usha on FB, I realised that India is divided every which way, but we are united by our attitude – we like misusing public property because we think its our birth right, we mock the PM when he launches the Swachh Bharat campaign because we think its the government’s job to keep the streets clean while we throw out trash with abandon, we elect dimwits to govern us, we elect thugs to govern us and we like getting doles. The armed forces must give up their life because they signed up for it, while we continue to enjoy the safety they provide. Whatever good the Prime Minister does, we will still oppose him and call him names because we bow before white skin and we believe whatever they tell us. We will negate our history and accept some white man’s “idea” of India as our history.  …. We will eat junk food and drink sweetened soda because it comes from America and shun healthy food because our grandmothers made it and even if science says its healthy. We will protest when Junaid gets lynched and become secular when Rajesh gets hacked. We will protest when Rohith Vemula commits suicide and try and make him a persecuted Dalit while we will enjoy the awesome food at a 5-star hotel even as thousands of farmers who produced that food commit suicide every year…..  Amazing attitude that unites us.

Jai Ho. Jio Ho. Free Ho. :(:(

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