Vague memories of watching Hijras (eunuchs) with fear flash across my mind when I think about my first experience in Mumbai local. It was years back, when I was a kid.
The coupon system doesn’t exist anymore, tickets should be taken from the counter or from the automated machine. The trains kept coming and going in short intervals.
It was a sunny afternoon when I hopped into the ladies coach of a Panvel local. I didn’t want to miss the scenery outside..so I stood near the exit. It can only be called as an exit because there are no doors in a local. Another benefit of standing is, getting a much broader view of the co-travellers which serves as a way of killing time.
A lady sat on the floor opposite to me barefooted. I was puzzled because many people avoid wearing footwear during the 9 days Navratri fasting. The festival just got over yesterday. I thought maybe she has other reasons.
The ladies coach in local is always filled with sellers. They look poor but they wear moderately good clothes. A skinny woman seller moved along the coach carrying her large basket of oranges. She was chit-chatting with some travellers and finally managed to get atleast 4,5 customers. The lady on the floor also bought some fruit from her and soon started relishing one.
As I was watching this business progress, I saw a young boy holding a box of chocolates. He calls out to the passengers seeking attention and suggests we all grab a snack, however I didn’t see anyone buying from him. I thought it unfair for a boy of his age making a living from this. But then when he doesn’t have money for food where is the money for schooling? Hardly had I taken my eyes off him, I saw a second one of the same category. He had lemons in polythene covers dangling over his shoulders like bunch of grapes. Each polythene had 5 lemons. I watched him manage his deals, pulling off the packets one by one and handing over to customers.
As the train stopped at a station, a lady with a little boy got in. The boy was holding a paper cone in his hand. Both of them settled down besides the lady on the floor.The mother, she looked tired and was in no mood to pamper the kid. She wore a small nose pin which looked like gold but had no earrings. I thought, maybe she is poor and would have sold her gold for some need. After this quick scrutiny, I found that her feet was bare too. I wondered was she on fasting too? I dismissed the thought as I saw her little boy started munching peanuts from the cone. He asked her something and she replied in a jiffy. She looked exhausted. I wondered whether the boy would have had his lunch.. He looked almost the same age of my son. He was wearing a yellow Tshirt with Pokemon print, a blue jeans and a slipper.
As I stood there looking at this scene, the bottom of the paper cone started leaking and a few peanuts fell on the floor. I was expecting him to pick them and throw it out, but rather he picked each one from the floor and ate them all. It looked like he didn’t want to miss even one.
If only my station hadn’t arrived then, I would have tried to give him some inputs about hygiene. His mother however seemed to be lost in another world. In my mind, I replayed the moments when I scolded my boy whenever he gets his hands dirty. Probably these people doesn’t need any antibiotics like us, they would be immune to a variety of microbes.