It’s not as if there’s no pushing and shoving. At Majestic, the urgency is especially palpable: “ladies” or not, we aren’t above a little nudging. Sometimes you have to make like #SquintBae to spot the small boards that mark “women-only” entrances on a far end of the platform. If you’re lucky, security guards will point you into joining the “reserved” lines.
But after months of hand-wringing, true to Bangalore’s “nidhaana” or unhurried nature, they’re here. The city’s Namma Metro has debuted a six-coach train. When the Metro first began operations on its tiny stretch from MG Road to Baiyappanahalli, jokes about toy trains abounded. But if you’ve travelled by the Metro for work over the last year, especially since the interchange went live, you know how quickly the crowds have overwhelmed them. The longer, higher-capacity trains, meant specifically for rush hours, don’t just improve on this situation: they also, like their cousins in Delhi and Mumbai, have compartments reserved for women. (As in Delhi, however, the compartments themselves aren’t labelled, only the entrances at the platform.)
On a weekday evening when the sky can’t quite make up its mind, someone takes the “women-only” doors at Indiranagar, carrying something spicy in their bag. Looks of disapproval go around, before we all turn fixed gazes upon our phones. The woman opposite me doesn’t. Her name is Ganga. She’s a domestic worker who lives in nearby Thippasandra, and travels to Ulsoor pick up her son from school. Between Tamil, English, Kannada, and drops of Hindi, we manage a conversation while the others listen in. She likes this compartment; it’s not too crowded. “It’s better if it’s crowded with ladies,” she says, then laughs.
At the next station, a man enters the compartment and takes an empty seat. A woman who’s a few seconds too late stares at him, then asks for the seat. “It’s a women’s compartment,” she puts it to him. “Where does it say so? It’s only the entrance,” he says, and stays put. The argument goes on for a while; is he not also tired, he says, shouldn’t he get a seat as well? The row only ceases when someone else gets off. So much for a train with more capacity.
A powdery rain is falling the next day, the sort of Bangalore weather people write home about. I switch at Majestic - that’s Nadaprabhu Kempegowda Station, they’ll have you know - for the Green Line and head west. Rajajinagar: a layout of my childhood. This time, the train is full of families on joyrides or headed to Orion Mall; one mother negotiates what to eat with her toddler. Like a sudden cold, the rain sneezes into intensity and becomes a fog-thick downpour.
We pass pavement fruit stalls covered with tarpaulin, abandoned for now; the papaya and pomegranate take in the hydration. Buses groan upwards. Years ago, in a heavier rain, I was stranded twofold when a hard-won auto’s engine gave way in the torrential floods. I rushed out into a nearby bus, which made it look like a wee puddle. In this season, the Metro is Bangalore’s luxury.
But weekday evenings in the ladies’ carriage are less idyllic. I return to the Jayanagar metro station and fall in line at the queue, which crumbles once the train arrives, every woman for herself. I ask the woman sitting next to me if she likes this new arrangement. “If it’s actually for women, then it works,” she tells me in Kannada. Her name is Padma, and she works at a government office. “If we again have to fight and demand our seats like in the buses - what’s the use?” “I didn’t even know the women’s entrances were there,” her neighbor, Shubha, pipes in. “The station was too crowded and I didn’t see the boards.” (As in Delhi, Metro authorities label the entrances run - not turning around but simply reversing direction - they can’t label women's-only coaches as such.)
What haven’t we tried? The pink seats, the segregated entrances, the women-only buses, the women’s coaches. They shouldn’t be necessary, but they are. I tune out the remnants of the conversation, dive into a China Mieville book about a girl who secretly discovers an underground city (hello, #MetroBookSpotting). Discourse around the Bangalore metro tends to be filled with the opinions of finger-wagging uncles: men are tired, women have better natures, women-only compartments cause “forcible separation” of women from their (male) families.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are taking selfies with our friends and families, listening to audiobooks, talking to friends, and staring at each other. A women’s compartment on a tiny train is a problem, sure. But there’s no man with his crotch too close to our faces, no ‘accidental’ brushes of the hand on sudden breaks. For a minute or 40, we breathe a little easier.
Neha Margosa lives and works in Bangalore.
Photo Credit: Instagram.com/audisandeep
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