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January 29th, 2006

28 th January, 2006


Staying away from the ‘field’ of my research or ‘sites’ of my research has made it difficult for me to go back now, persistently. I feel lost with respect to the questions I want to ask. I feel lost with respect to the conversations I want to have. I just try to make an attempt to listen and make sense. I feel I am floating, no sense of purpose!


Life is full of contradictions. These days, I have been reading Masanobu Fukoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ where he talks about discriminating knowledge and non-discriminating knowledge. He says that when we start to see the world through our mind rather than through experiences, when we start to organize knowledge in analysis, compartments, frameworks, etc. and that knowledge is limiting. I think about what Fukouka is saying and I question my own work which I believe now needs to take on a more serious turn. Am I analyzing for the sake of analyzing? Is there purpose?


I must admit I am lost … And there are feelings of depression, somewhat like the depression a mother faces after she has given birth to her child. Feelings of depression which kind of gnaw at me, but I can’t label them as destructive. I felt today that it might be instructive to write. Perhaps when one is full of oneself, it makes sense to get out and check out the world.


My world is the railway station these days. I stand by his candy stall and listen to Mishraji, the candy-man at Byculla railway station. Yesterday, I reconnected with my women home guard group. Among Sushanti, Suparna and all of them, I like Eliza the most. There is something about her. At CST Railway Station, the group told me that Eliza will be found at Byculla station. I traveled bravely and boldly, without a ticket, on chance and luck, to Byculla railway station.


Eliza was sitting in the chowkie, a shaky little structure with a yellow coloured concrete bench inside. The yellow coloured concrete bench is shielded with a shaky rectangular kind of structure with two large square windows on the front and back and open ended on the left and right. This structure is ‘markedly’ different from others at the station and it is a clear indication that this is a ‘place’ where you can get ‘assistance’. I found that the maximum assistance which Eliza could give to the commuters was to help them determine whether the arriving or passing train will take them to their destination. And once in a while, amidst our conversation, Eliza would turn around to ‘watch’, as if out of anxiety and a sense of duty and responsibility.


I guess Eliza is about thirty years old. She might be my age or perhaps a bit older than me. Eliza is plump, dark, wears glasses and looks like Queen Latifah, the Afro-American actress. I have a strange liking for Eliza, for reasons entirely unknown to me. My attractions and affinities for people work on first vibes that I get from them. And sometimes, I make conscious efforts to approach people I dislike, questioning whether my first impressions are wrong and whether I am shutting myself from people just because of some ‘assumptions’.


Where were you all these days?

I lied that I was in Bangalore , refusing to acknowledge that I was keeping away from my field and feeling miserable. Also, the last time I had spoken to Eliza on the phone was when I was in Bangalore when she had accidentally called me.

Did you learn Kannada language in Bangalore ?


How long were you there?

Two months.

Two months!!! And you did not learn the language? If I were in your place, I would have learnt. I am Kannada actually.

So you teach me the language since you are Kannada.

I don’t know it myself, she said, breaking into a burst of laughter.

What? You don’t know the language?

I know Telugu instead. And I can also speak Marathi, English and Hindi. Tell me, you being local (that is Maharashtrian), can you speak the language here?

Yes, I can!


Eliza is South Indian Christian. In my mind, she is cosmopolitan in the Bombay sense of the term. Most of her friends are Maharashtrian and there is no doubt that she can speak the language very well. She is fluent to the core. Absolutely!


Have you finished your studies? What are you doing now?

I finished studying. Loafed around here and there with jobs, but decided that I want to write a book. I am trying to …

She laughed again. What do you want to write about?

I want to write stories. For example, I want to write about the life of this railway station. I like railway stations. I want to write stories of you people, of the railway station.

She laughed once more. I will suggest one place where you can get lots of stories. Try talking to women who make papads , Lijjat papads . They will tell you stories of their hardships, of their struggles. You will find lots of stories there.

I felt amused. And I also wondered whether I should feel offended by her advice. Actually not!

What stories you will get of our people?


So tell me, is your daily life about patrolling and guarding? What do you feel about it?

Feel? It’s a habit! Every evening we are patrolling.


Eliza and her colleagues patrol from 4 PM to 11 PM daily. They have two holidays in a week – one on a Sunday and the other on a weekday. Eliza is like a leader of the gang which patrols at CST Station – Eliza and Sushanti. I often think about their lives and what their parents think of their jobs. Most of the women home guards I have encountered are lower middle class or middle class Maharashtrian girls, about eighteen years and above. I wonder what kind of marital prospects they will have. What kind of wives they will make? What kind of feminine desires and dreams they have? What feminism means to them, if at all?


Eliza spoke of the fights they have been having with their supervisors about returns at night. She says that when the girls see some of their colleagues returning before 11 PM , they also want to get back, but the supervisors hold them back for various reasons including punishment, harassment, wanting to inculcate discipline and sense of duty. Eliza says that before she came to Byculla and CST Stations, she was patrolling at Currey Road , Chinchpokli and Matunga stations.

Life is tough on those stations. Girls are posted individually at different points’ (a common term used by home guards to suggest locations at the three different ladies’ coaches). Here, at CST and stations till Byculla, the girls are in groups. They have company of each other. They can eat together. But at Currey Road , Chinchpokli and Matunga stations, we have to eat all alone. We have to spread out our tiffins before the public and eat in front of them to demonstrate that we are doing our duty. It feels very embarrassing, awkward. Next time, you must tell our CST girls how lucky they are. Lie to them that you have eaten with the girls at Currey Road , Chinchpokli and Matunga stations so that they know that I am not lying to them when I lecture them about duty and responsibility.


Something suddenly happened. Maybe it was the little girl and her mother sitting in the chowkie who evoked Eliza to speak about herself. Maybe she wanted to present me with a story. She started off:

I fell very sick, just like you did recently, when I was in class 8. Fever and persistent loose motions caught on me. It was difficult to attend school at this rate because class teachers would not give permission to go to toilet frequently and if they did allow, as soon as I would come back to class, I would need to run again. So I would attend school for four days a week and then bunk four days. Consequently, I failed class 8. I did not go to school thereafter. Was sitting at home for the next three years. I would watch parades on television and would often tell my mom that I want to be in the parade some day and even if I cannot be in the parade, at least I want to go close and watch it.

My mother heard about the home guard system where girls are admitted and they must go for parades and duty. She asked me if I was interested. I did not even know then what it meant to be a home guard. I used to be part of the Road Side Patrols (RSP) in school. Hence this suggestion that mom put forward struck me and I decided to join.

I used to wear frocks at that time – frocks and middies and maxis. People who recruited me asked me to wear salwaar kameez . I somehow managed to continue with middies and maxis. I would wear stockings and socks up to thigh length. After six months of training, I persuaded my mother to buy me one salwaar kameez . She agreed and till date, I wear only salwaar kameez . Recently, I bought jeans and trousers.

About four years ago, my wedding was fixed with my maternal uncle. Fourteen days were to go for our wedding. He disappeared. He appeared on the tenth day with another woman he had married. My family gave up hopes of my marriage. I did lau (love) with another guy from my area. Our affair went on for long. But his mother did not like me and accept me. We were in lau (love) with each other. If you are in lau (love) with someone, how can you do lau (love) with someone else then? But he did and then informed at home that he laued (loved) another girl. The other girl was acceptable to his mother. Now, on February 26, they will get married. And look at my nasseb (destiny/fate), that girl lives diagonally opposite to my house. Imagine, what will be my condition on the day of the wedding? I have decided to hold my younger brother’s engagement ceremony and party on 26 th Feb.

Now I have given up all hopes of love. I don’t think I am destined to get married. This is my fate. I am not one to be loved.


All through the conversation, Eliza spoke detachedly. Even when she spoke of her pain about her lover, she seemed detached, yet, the pain was inside. And I wonder whether the framework of regularity i.e. her patrolling duty, her set of home guard friends, etc. help her to minimize or repress the pain. And that is my question these days: what is regularity in the city? And does regularity allow us to go about our everyday business without letting conditions surrounding us to affect us? Does regularity insulate us from the world around us? What is this framework of regularity in a city?


Eliza continued to talk a little bit here and there. We have a function tomorrow in Dharavi. My colleague, that girl, has gone to another station to get one of our other colleagues to apply heena on her hands. I told her to escape quietly and in case seniors come, I will give her two missed call rings (on her cell phone) and she should come back. Later at night, I will go to that girl and have heena applied on my hands.


We continued talking for sometime. Then it was time for me to leave. I said goodbye and as I walked home, I remembered glass dreams! I remembered feminine desires, desires which grow in our hearts and somehow, the city plays a part in their fulfillment – everyday desires, little desires, little dreams, hands, palms, heena …


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