(Names changed to protect identities)
It was during one of my unplanned trips to Kanyakumari that I met Uma Maheshwar. I had boarded the almost empty train at Thiruvananthapuram. I was alone in one of the compartments, dozing. A few women passed through the alleyway wearing thick makeup and pungent perfume, which disturbed my nap.
Another woman followed. She stopped and turned towards me. I looked up confused. To my surprise, it was neither she nor he. She begged, clapping. “Give something saar.” The clap they have patented. We consider them incomplete without that clap.
I will be honest here. I abhorred them.
“Saar, something.” She repeated in Tamil mixed with Malayalam.
“Go away.” I shooed her as if she were a smelly creature. Anyone else would have thrown me off the train for that.
She stared at me for a few seconds and sat down opposite me. I gulped.
“You are afraid of me,” she said with a smile on her face.
“What?” I ground my teeth. “Why should I be?”
“Our mouths lie, eyes don’t,” she responded gently.
I sat silent.
“What do you do?”
“I am a government employee.”
“You are lucky.”
My nerves loosened a bit. “Yes, it’s difficult to get a government job.”
“You are lucky to be a ‘normal’ human being.” She exhaled and got up to go.
“Excuse me.” I, the miser, pulled out ten rupees.
She smiled. “No thanks.” She sat down again. “I sat here for some other reason.”
“I rarely find men looking at me without lust, seeing me alone in a deserted compartment. I am easy prey for them. They consider us thirsty for sex around the clock.”
All our perceptions of ‘those’ people< is based on misconceptions of what makes someone a woman
I waited for her to continue.
“They turn violent mostly, if there is a group.”
“Ours is a hopeless life.”
She was speaking as though she had found a listener after endless wait.
“I am sorry…”
“Forget that. It’s normal. Negligence, hate, fear, and molestation are normal things for us.”
“Why don’t you think of a job, rather than begging and getting humiliated?”
“Can you get me a job?” She shot a question. “I was working as sales girl in a shop. The owner fired me saying that I am a bad omen.”
“Many think so. People can’t accept us from their heart.”
I kept looking at her. What could I say? I didn’t want to lie. “Do you stay alone?”
She turned happy in a flash. “No, I don’t. Rugmini is with me. She is also an orphan like me. She is SHE, so cannot rape me.” She laughed aloud.
I smiled seeing her happiness. “You grew up together?”
“That happens in movies saar. We were working together in the shop.” She let out a long sigh. “She was also hesitant to talk with me initially, just like you. It was also her first time, working closely with a Shikhandi. We became so close that she also left the job, when I was fired.”
“You are together since then?”
“That’s good.” I said encouraging her to continue.
“We love each other. She has promised me that she will never marry, to be with me forever. Then…”
The train was reaching Nagercoil station. She got up.
“We cannot predict our future. She is a normal girl. She has all the feelings as any other girl.” She cleared her throat before continuing. Perhaps trying to control her emotions. “How can I stop her if she finds a boy and decides to marry him?”
“But she has promised you, hasn’t she?”
She walked out without replying.
I thought about the relationship they will have. How long will it last? How can it be complete without a child?
She came to my window. “Love cannot exist without pillars supporting it. And sex is the most important pillar in the case of two unrelated adults.”
“That’s one’s perception…”
She interjected. “What’s your name by the way?”
I told her. “What’s yours?”
“Uma Maheshwar.” She paused for a second. “Thank you for listening to me patiently.” She smiled.
“Oh, it’s just…”
Perhaps she was not interested in the fake formalities of PERFECT human beings. She returned to her friends without waiting for my response. They were talking and laughing. I kept staring at her thin silhouette until it disappeared.
The thin, weak, silhouette will never disappear from my memory, hopefully.