Monday, January 31, 2011

It was 5 in the evening, the metro was very crowded and I was very happy. My happiness was born out of a friend’s contagious enthusiasm for a sport dear to us both, and was furthered by this article that I was reading in the science section in The Economist, something about geo- engineering.  When I had to leave physics for economics I had promised myself that I’d go the extra mile to keep my love for the sciences alive. Not that I loved economics less, just that I couldn’t graduate in both.

So, I was in the woman’s coach. Again, not because I think it is my right as a woman, but because reserving a coach exclusively for women renders all other coaches lethally full and suffocating. It’s as if you are breathing the same air that someone right next to you exhaled an instant ago, and the air doesn’t get to travel to that invisible pool where it gets its oxygen back.

So, I was standing, my arm wrapped around the metal pole, the magazine in my hand. Right next to me stood a South Indian woman, struggling to keep hold of her three large suitcases and two young children. In the middle of all this, I saw a woman breast feeding her baby, covered in her chunni, in a corner seat. My eyes met hers for a fraction of a second, and then I went back to geo- engineering. She must have been a year or two older than me, 21 perhaps, dressed in a bright green salwar kurta, with heavy, gold plated earrings that almost reached her shoulders. Her metal bangles filled three fourths of the length of her hands below the elbows. She wore dark maroon lipstick, and had apparently used it to draw a short, triangular streak where her hair parted, in the place of vermillion.  

When, one by one, three seats in front of me became vacant and I showed no inclination to sit- the South Indian family made itself comfortable. I was too happy to need a place to sit.

But the woman who was breast feeding her baby moved a little to her left and so did four others, creating a space for me.

I looked at her, smiled and thanked. She smiled back with such warmth, that I was suddenly glad to be a human being. I was frozen for a second by the intensity of her response and by the immensity of the emotional potential of humans. Her smile sank within me and jolted my insides and it didn’t matter anything that her teeth had a slight tinge of maroon.