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20-Apr-2005

April 20th, 2005

13 th April 2005

 

Walking the Station with One Girl

This evening, I land up early at the railway station. I want to see the ‘rush hours’ as Sushanti and Suparna and their other colleagues had told me. It is about 5:00 PM . I go up to platform number 3, looking for Sushanti and the home guard gang. “Arre, you have come early today?” Sushanti exclaims, adding, “You reached home safely the other day nah? Mummy did not shout at you nah? We were getting worried that your mother would be concerned.” I responded to her saying that everything went alright that night, on Saturday. “I have come to see the rush hour today,” I tell them. “So would you want me to come with you?” Sushanti asks. I tell her that I will manage on my own. “Yeah, that’s better. When you go on your own, you can make your own choice and decide what you want to see,” says she, much relieved at the prospect of not having to take me around. Perhaps, in this situation, she feels pangs of anxiety, wondering whether my research agenda is being fulfilled with her various commentaries. She perhaps wonders whether her responses are appropriate to my research, whether the places she takes me to fall in line with my ‘hypothesis’!?!?!?!

 

I dash off to platform number 7 – the danger zone that her colleagues and she have been telling me about. The crowds are gradually beginning to increase. Platform number 7 has long distance fast trains. A look at the railway station and you can imagine the work force which comes from distant places, almost outside of the city, to work in the city. Later, when I meet Vijaya, she tells me, “How these women come from places like Karjat and Kasara? I find it difficult to commute from Khar. I don’t think I can ever work like them. Where is then the time for family and all?”

Labour travels long distances in the city and yet, when I classify this as labour, I think the very notion of labour in the city has changed – from the industrial mill workers to the now middle class service sector workers. Then, is the railway station a site for transport of labour? What kind of modernity is this?

 

I stand at platform number 7, the conventional space where women stand i.e. at the beginning of the EMU halt. As I have mentioned previously, several times, this space has been carved out by women, exclusively for themselves. It protects them from being jostled in the crowd – one of the forms of organization at the station. I am trying hard to look for something, until I meet another Sarai Fellow – Prashant Pandey. Now, I am beginning to realize that mathematically, I end up meeting at least two persons everyday in my escapades around the city – either at the promenade or at the railway station. And when I think of this mathematical calculation, I wonder whether the city is as dense as I imagine or is it that I just about know too many people by now.

 

Prashant is looking up in the air and walking. I call his attention and we have a brief chat. “You must study Dadar station,” he tells me, “It is way too crowded.” Hmmmm.

 

After talking with Prashant, I start to stroll around carefully between platforms 6 and 7. The space which is covered by the first three coaches of the train is heavily crowded because people make their entry into the station from South side. The North end has a bridge but is not even a quarter as much crowded as the South end. This is mainly because most of the offices in which the commuters work are located further South and hence, they arrive into the station from the South. I am walking and covering the area of the middle train coaches. The very density of the station begins to decline. And as this density declines, so does the anonymity. I become conspicuous and this conspicuousness increases more and more as I move towards the last few coaches. The space of the fag end of the railway station is absolutely calm, very contrary to the space at the entrance of the station. Here, at the fag end, the station is almost like a halting space. It is largely occupied by the men – the working men folk – middle class and lower middle class. The men lean out towards the track, looking out for the arriving train and then, as the train starts to touch the platform, the men folk jump into the train, pretty much like how the women do. Yet, women seem funnier when they jump inside the moving train. And I wonder whether this mental divide stems from gender conditioning.

 

As I sit quietly at the fag end of the station, I am amused and smiling in my head – what a railway station! And then, even the railway station cannot be classed as a single entity or a homogenous space. How do spaces derive their character?

 

After a while, I start to proceed towards the entrance side of the station. It is 5:30 PM and now will be the start of the rush hour. As I reach the beginning of the EMU halt, a smiling face greets me. “Hello!” she says with a glint of happiness and sparkle in her eyes. This is Vijaya, the home guard I had met at the other railway station on Saturday night. I greet her, “How come here?” I ask her. “Duty has shifted. Now, for one week, I am going to be at this station. Would you like to drink something?” she asks me. I refuse and ask her, “You have your duty on platform number 7?” “Yes,” she responds, adding, “I am deemed as one of the most brave lady cops around here. Platform number 7 is a very dangerous area. That is why my seniors have put me here.” “Why is platform number 7 dangerous?” I ask her. “Because of the gardulay (drug addicts). They do lots of salushan (solution) here. Because of the salushan there is so much smell. Commuters complain about these gardulay . So we have to keep a watch on them and make sure that they don’t enter the ladies compartment. The gardulay kids run and enter the ladies compartments and then, they cut their handbags and steal. So we have to keep a watch. Platform number 1 is also a very dangerous area. The harbour line trains depart from there. That area is infested with thieves. Once, my seniors told me that they want to put me permanently on platform number 1 and I should patrol in civil clothes so that I can nab the thieves. But I refused. Lots of robbery goes on over there.” I listen to her carefully. I am trifle bit surprised about platform number 1 being infested with thieves because it is an area of immense activity. But Vijaya points out that due to multiple entrances, the thieves make it in and out easily. “Come here, stand beneath the fan,” she tells me, “ hava aata hai .” I stand with Vijaya. The train is arriving at platform number 7. Women commuters are leaning outwards and readying themselves as if they are about to run a relay. Just as when the train touches the platform, the women jump in. I can almost see the train shaking with the jumping and thuds! Vijaya smiles as she sees me watching all of this. We then stand guard, watching around the platform. Suddenly Vijaya tells me, “Just a moment, I am coming.” She dashes off to a place where two drug addict children are loitering. “Come on, out from here,” she says, beating her danda (stick) to the ground, “Out, out! Out I say! This is not the place for you. There, go there. That place is meant for you.” She shoos them out towards the thin border which separates the local station from the outstation-station. Apparently, the character of this border, with several benches put on it, appears to be one of a public space, almost like the space of the promenade, where anybody can come and sit and do what they like, including lovers talking out their problems and resolving disputes.

 

I ask Vijaya if we can walk the platform. “Sure!” We start to walk. “Lots of rush in the beginning, but now on, the rush decreases,” she says as we pass by the middle compartment. “That’s it,” she tells me as we approach the last ladies coach, “We are not allowed to go beyond the last ladies’ coach,” she tells me. I then begin to wonder about boundaries about spaces which are created – individually, mentally, by authority (as is the case with Vijaya and the home guards who cannot go beyond the last ladies’ compartment), by convention, culturally, politically, through the media, etc. And I also wonder whether these boundaries enable us to organize the space mentally without really physically examining how true the boundaries are? Is this a character of the city where all spaces cannot be examined personally and we have to rely on boundaries to negotiate and understand them in our own minds? I start to think of practices of marking in a similar vein. It is not about the goodness or badness of marking, but more the system which leads us to mark – the system of density and crowd!?!?!?!?

 

As we walk back to the entrance of the station, Vijaya suddenly enters the ladies coach. There is a drug addict boy inside and she is diligently getting him out. Just at the beginning of the platform, an old lady, ragged, is lying on the ground. Her only possessions are a plastic water bottle and a steel drinking cup. Vijaya sighs, “Oh no, this maaji (old lady) is here again.” Maaji is lying right in the middle of the crowds. But each passing person is careful not to trample upon her. Vijaya starts yelling,” Maaji , this is not a place for you to lie down. Please move away from here. Come on.” Maaji is too weak to even stand up on her own. Vijaya summons two hamaals (vagrant drug addicts who act as porters for GRP cops and home guards). “ Isko udhar le jao, ” she instructs them. They lift her up and put her on the boundary line which seems to be at the receiving end of everything. After the exercise, Vijaya tells me, “What to do? All of this happens at the station everyday. We have to deal with this. I maintain good relations with the hamaals even though my other colleagues scream and shout at them. They can be very useful people. Now see, in situations such as these. This old woman must have been put in the train by some people and she has arrived here. Now someone else will put her in another train and she will land up at some other station. Like this, daily, up and down and up and down she must be doing with someone or the other putting her on the train. I can’t lift her up and put her at the other side of the station (i.e. the border area). She is dirty. These hamaals can do the job.”

 

Vijaya now insists that I must have coffee or cold drinks. I tell her that we will both go and have tea. However, she keeps repeating coffee or cold drinks and I can’t seem to understand. Ultimately, she takes me to the coffee stall where the most expensive coffee (seven rupees as against the usual five rupees) is available. She orders for coffee and my mind goes back to Arjun bhai’s practices of ordering coffee for me. It makes me wonder whether coffee is the global middle-class/service sector drink. How does Vijaya perceive me? An upper middle-class English speaking gal who drinks coffee? Commodities and the railways station then have a link, a link perhaps brought in by advertising, images and notions of globalism?!?!?!?!

 

“Time passes quickly at a big station,” Vijaya tells me as we drink our coffee. “At smaller railway stations, it is boring. I like it when people come to meet me.” After finishing coffee, we go back to platform number 6. “Yes, it is boring everyday to stand like this all the time, watching,” Vijaya tells me when I ask her if she finds her job boring. Suddenly, a man calls out to Vijaya, “Eh, havaldar , come here, come here now.” There are two men and one lady with some suitcases there. Vijaya is dealing with something and after about ten minutes she comes back, saying, “Oh, that man there, is a Ticket Checker (TC). The other man and that woman are husband and wife. The wife has a mail train pass and the man has a harbour line railway pass. The wife entered the harbour line on her mail train pass which is not allowed. Now, when the TC caught them and asked them to pay a fine of Rs. 250, they are refusing saying, ‘but we have a pass – pass to hai nah? ’ The man wants me to explain to the TC this. I told the man that the TC has more powers than I do and my job is just to keep a watch on the station. Beyond that, I have no powers. Now they have gone to the station master to resolve the issue.” After about half an hour, the man and his wife come walking by. They wave out to Vijaya. She asks them, “What happened?” “Oh,” said the man, “we had to pay the fine. But this is unfair. We had the pass no. We were not traveling ticketless. And my wife only came into the harbour line train for about three stations – for a five rupee ticket mistake, we had to pay Rs.250.” The man was evidently irritated. His wife kept telling him to shut up and walk. Vijaya tells me, “What people? They should buy the ticket nah? We home guards are allowed to travel free between our home and the station of duty. But on holidays and personal occasions, we also have to buy tickets. I don’t buy tickets. I dress up half-civil and travel free. But yes, I get my kids to buy tickets.”

 

Time goes by. I have spent about three hours at the station now. I tell Vijaya that I have to leave now. We walk towards platform number three where I will get a relatively empty train. Sushma is there at the platform. “So, strolled around today as well?” she asks me. She had seen me on Saturday. “Yes,” I reply. “What is your name?” she asks me. Vijaya is also listening carefully because she hasn’t caught on. I give her my name and Sushma’s next question is, “What is your caste?” Vijaya is listening with rapt attention. “Muslim,” I tell her.

 

I get into the train. Vijaya happily waves out to me! Bye, bye, bye, bye ….

xanga

  1. April 20th, 2005 at 09:23 | #1

    one thing that i would like to know is that what you are up to…

    i mean you are spending so much time at the railway stations….for what?

  2. April 20th, 2005 at 13:14 | #2

    SORRY – I WAS TOO BORED, SO I DECIDED TO EDIT AND CHOP OFF WORDS OFF UR POST TO MAKE MY OWN STORY!!!
     
    This evening, I land up early at the ‘rush hours’ as Sushanti and Suparna relieved at the prospect of not having to take me around. Perhaps, in this situation, my research agenda is being fulfilled with the danger zone that her colleagues and she have been telling me about. The crowds are gradually beginning to look at distant places in the city. Later, when I meet Vijaya I find it difficult to commute
    stand at platform number 7, the conventional space where women look for something, until the city is as dense as Dadar station.
     
    After talking with Prashant, I start to stroll around platforms 6 and 7 which is heavily crowded because people make their entry into station from the middle train coaches. The very density of the station begins to become conspicuous and this conspicuousness increases more and more as I move towards the fag end of the railway station, very contrary to the space largely occupied by the men – the working men folk – middle class and lower middle class. The men lean out towards the train to touch the women. Yet, women seem amused and with a glint of happiness and complain about Vijaya.
     
    The train is arriving at platform number 7. Women commuters are leaning outwards and readying themselves to physically trample  Vijaya. Vijaya summons two GRP cops and home guards , she instructs them. They lift her up though my other colleagues scream and shout at them. Now see, in situations such as these some people will put her in another train and she will land up at the border area
     
    Vijaya now insists that I must have coffee or cold drinks. I tell her that we will both go and have tea. However, she keeps repeating coffee or cold drinks and I can’t seem to understand An upper middle-class English speaking gal who drinks coffee.
     
    “Time passes quickly at a big station,” Vijaya tells me as we drink our coffee. “At smaller railway stations, it is boring. I like it when people come to to platform number 6. “Yes, it is boring everyday to stand like this all the time, watching,a havaldar and one lady with some suitcases. Vijaya is a Ticket Checker (TC) had to pay the my wife for about three stations  for home guards allowed to travel free between our home and the station of duty. But on holidays and personal occasions, we also have to buy tickets get my kids to buy tickets.

  3. April 20th, 2005 at 14:17 | #3

    hi zainab,again a great entertaining post,HAD FUN READING IT,the lady guards are so sweet all of them Sushanti Suparna vijaya so very simple,no false prentention,best of luck with what u do i would love to understand how does a job of an urban resercher make a difference,what is the exact motive of it,
    anyeays u take care
    peace
    hey how were ur exams……hope 2 read u soon again
    🙂