Of bus rides and conversations that follow

This happened yesterday…I just didn’t have the nerve and energy in my memory to pen it then.

I catch a bus everyday from Periyar Bus Stand to my office, which is roughly a 45 minute ride, inclusive of all its stops. Since the ride begins at Periyar, I’m usually lucky enough to grab a seat (a window one, if I’m luckier) and drown myself to the music of my mood courtesy headphones and my mobile.

Yesterday, however, owing to whatever reasons, the bus was unusually crowded even at its starting point. As I boarded the bus wearing huge sun glasses ( I have been advised by my eye doc to protect my eyes from dust every time I get out of my house) and, consequently, becoming an instant victim of eye rape, I noticed that only one seat was available–that next to a burqa clad woman.
As I sat down beside her, she instantly began a conversation. What felt like forced in the beginning did not seem so as the ride reached its end.

She was speaking in a non accented English. By non accented, I mean English without any Tamil accent–something very uncommon in the little population of Tamil speaking individuals in Madurai. She introduced herself as Hamish. Instantly, I figured that it sounded more like the name of a boy (since I happen to know a few Hamish guys). I asked her what it meant and she told me it was Arabic and that she no idea about its meaning. Neither was she curious.

She began by asking where I work, where I come from, whether I like Madurai etc. I answered each patiently (I was even quite flattered at a stranger’s interest in what I perceive is a very mundane and ordinary life).
She was visibly amused that Madurai is the fourth place of my living (after Jamshedpur, New Delhi and Bangalore) given that I am “only 23 years old.”
On being asked, she said that she was a second year student at the Madurai Kamarajar University and was pursuing a Bachelors’ degree in Social Work. She described how much she loved going to college and how “relieved” it made her feel.

She narrated the story of how she was never confident of her English speaking abilities until she entered 11th grade and studied in an English medium school; her schooling earlier had been in a Tamil medium school where English was a third language that was learned by rote but never spoken.
She said she was proud of the fact that she could speak English and Tamil fluently now. On being asked about her knowledge of Hindi, she said that she knew how to read and write it but had no confidence in speaking it as there was never an opportunity to do so.

I asked what her plans were post graduation and she merely laughed, saying that it was already a rarity that a woman from her community had had the opportunity of pursuing a graduation. Her parents were in the process of looking for a groom for her.
“If such is the case, how did your parents agree to pursue your BA in the first place?” I asked.
“I fought for it,” she replied.

In the middle of such conversation, she asked if I liked Madurai. I ducked the question by asking her about the places that she had visited/lived in apart from Madurai. She named a few and confessed that she had never been outside Tamil Nadu, though she always wanted to.
I happened to reveal that I’m currently in the process of my admission for MA in Mumbai.
“You’re so lucky! And so brave. You’ve lived in the most nastiest places that I have known and read about in newspapers,” she said. ( I believe by “nasty” she probably was referring to Delhi often perceived as the rape capital of India).

My stop had arrived and I had to get down.
I wondered who was the lucky and brave one.
Me who survived (for lack of a better word) four cities (and counting) and is practically a nomad (in her own words).
Or she who survived the ire of her community and continues to do so.



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