One usual morning, I left my home for the train station. I was to catch a local train to my nightmarish coaching classes, for an exam at 9:30 AM.
Being over-punctual sometimes could backfire. I was yet to fully understand this fact.
I was at the station at 0830. It should have been a Sunday, for in my memory, there was hardly any crowd.
At 17, being straight out of school, coming from a privileged place and home, you sometimes fall blind to the subtle differences in the society. Differences between the rich and poor, men and women, or the first and second classes of a train.
I was engrossed in my notes, frantically flipping pages, gulping down formula after formula, just so that I could neatly vomit (read present) all of it in my exam. Suddenly, I heard a distant honk. I bent over the track, gazing in the direction of the sound. Sometimes, people do some things involuntarily that aren’t necessary – like bending over a railway track to see how far your train was. Human beings are erratic.
My train was here – the joy ride I would take while the winds gushed through my hair as I would stand near the door, swaying with the speed of the train. I loved these uncrowded, empty trains on Sunday mornings.
The announcement in Marathi followed shortly. It said, “This is a Ladies Special local train. It shall not halt at the following stations....”, and the long list of stations continued. But I was fixated at “Ladies Special”.
“Seriously?”, my 17-year-old male brain thought. “Do they really require another special train entirely for themselves even when there are other special coaches designated?”.
I contemplated on the subtle discrimination that men had to face every day. Women could travel in the “general” coaches but men were barred from even entering the “Ladies Special” train. My brain was suddenly focused on the one-sided stories of the victims who wrongly accused men, charged false cases against them and made them suffer. Oh, I so badly wanted to be an activist who could stand up to these double standard atrocities being unleased upon men.
I decided this was it. This will end here. I shall set an example that will lead hundreds of men centuries later to fight for themselves. To be innocent until proven guilty. To become equally recognized in the atrocities they faced.
I dared to do what no man had ever done. I dared to challenge the societal norms and I decided that I will board this train. Not because I was late for my exam or it was an emergency, but because I need to become the first man to board a fully ladies’ train. This would set an example that men are courageous and will no longer hide under the veil of decency or giving others their space.
Little did I know, that I was so wrong. Wrong not only on generalizing women but also invading their spaces, and taking away their deserved liberty.
But, the heart wanted to bask in the glory of being “The First Man to Step Inside a Ladies’ Train”. I didn’t listen to my brain who told me to stop.
I didn’t listen to the other fellow men who stood around me. “Warriors, yet to be unleashed”, I told myself. I didn’t listen to the cries of my fellow warriors who warned me to stop before entering this battlefield.
I looked behind to face them. My sword was sheathed, tightly hanging around my waist. My bag which had supplies for war – pens, stationery, water bottle and notebooks, was tightly strapped to my back. And as the train roared and dashed onto the platform, screeching to a halt, I gave one final nod to my comrades, as my black cape soared in the air.
“For MANkind”, I said. My battle-cry was loud and clear. But it was only me who cried it aloud. Sometimes, you have to fight the biggest battles alone.
I cautiously stepped into the compartment.
And I held my breath. The last time so many women surrounded me was when...I guess never. Never before had I been surrounded by so many enemies from all fronts. But the warrior in me refused to bow down. It had already been too late to turn around because the train had already started.
The women weren’t enraged. “Well, you don’t usually find any daring men that can perform such feats everyday”, I thought to myself. The women were utterly, absolutely confused. “Had I boarded the wrong train?”, was a look on their faces.
I knew that the first responders to my battle-cry would be anytime soon now. And there they were. Two ladies in their mid-forties clearly enraged at my audacity to step into not only a compartment full of ladies’ but a train full of them. “Excuse me, don’t you recognize that this is a ladies’ special train?”
“Yes ma’am I do”, I pulled out my first weapon – my puppy eyes and innocent face.
“Then? Are you not aware that you are not supposed to be here!? Why are you here!?”, they enquired. All eyes were on me now. I felt a spotlight fall on me, and the Amazonian warriors surrounded me, ready to kill at one word from their 2 commanders.
“Yes ma’am, I am extremely sorry but it’s an emergency. I am late for my exam and if I didn’t board this train then I would have missed it, costing me a year”, I said pulling out my second weapon – the emergency-excuse knife.
“Okay. What’s your name? Which college are you from? Which exam are you late for?”, the commanders asked me. Clearly, they were using the lie-catching-using-details weapon. I knew this one, for I had trained years just for this moment.
I dodged this blow smoothly, retaliating with half-truth-catch-me-if-you-can weapon, which was only half-effective as it was only somewhat true.
“That sounds fishy! You should have left your home early if you wanted to be on time. This is not the way civilized men would behave!”.
Technically, I wasn’t still a man. I was a 17-year-old boy with a delusional idea about equality.
"You’ll be charged a very heavy fine if the TC catches you!”, one of them spoke.
The TC – the all-father of the passengers on all trains was a dreaded figure. Had you not had weapons like the TC-killer-ticket, or the ultimate do-you-know-who-my-dad-is card then there was no chance to defeat him.
He often spoke, “Hide. Hide in the deepest of the trenches or highest of the mountains. Hide in the horizons of the desert but I will find you. I will find you...and I will fine you”.
Luckily, I had both weapons in my arsenal that day. One of which was useless because it didn’t work on this train – the TC-killer-ticket.
I kept quiet. I kept quiet knowing that in a few minutes this war would be mine. I would have won and set an example for everybody. Nobody would ever dare to threaten men or snatch away their rights from them.
I was snapped back to reality from my utopian world when my station was announced.
None of the warriors troubled me till then, for I had successfully dodged every blow.
I was finally at the moment when my mission-impossible was going to be finally accomplished. The train slowly crawled into the platform, and I got down. The sigh of relief was partly because I got away from the battlefield unscathed, without having to even loosen my sword.
I turned around, only to find the gigantic monster face me. Two letters on his clothes gave away his identity. “TC”, they loudly said.
He growled in anger, “Do you know you aren’t supposed to board this train?”.
“Yes”, my voice was meeker in front of the giant but firm enough to stand its ground.
As I unstrapped my bag to remove my last and final weapon, do-you-know-who-my-dad-is card, he stabbed me.
“Kid, tomorrow the entire city will know who your dad is. Spare the trouble.”
And my legendary heroic saga ended with the fatal blow, leaving me unconscious for days.