A year in London taught me that people on underground trains rarely speak but on the Delhi metro, on the coach reserved for women, the ladies unabashedly share their experiences with their friends - and occasionally with strangers. Here are some snapshots of conversations I've overheard, illustrated by cartoonist Priya Kuriyan.
A lost cat
It is November. There is already a slight chill in the air. Students are everywhere on the trains. One shares with friends how the woes of her tutor made her day:
"My professor lost her cat. She was so upset she cancelled the class yesterday."
Later on, a group of students are discussing their curriculum but then one brave young woman clearly tires of the talk. She changes the subject to the boys in college. The rebuke from her fellow students is swift and brutal.
"Look girl, either you can focus on guys in college or on studies. Both can't go hand in hand."
Another group of students spend their time dissecting the "regular lies" of one of their friends.
"She said she's very unwell and then I spotted her gobbling a bowl of rice! Liar!"
But there are moments of spontaneity too.
One group of college students on the metro are having a lively discussion about the men in their year. They talk about the "flirt types" and the "genuine types" and there is heated debate. But as they reach their station there is finally consensus: they all decide to bunk off class!
Unhappy New Year!
As the new year is ushered in, friends greet each other in the ladies' coach wishing all and sundry the very best for 2015. This is one particularly memorable greeting:
"Happy New Year. May the burdens on your family shift to your neighbour's house!"
Money under the mattress
It is not all frivolous - serious issues crop up albeit in light-hearted ways:
"My dad hides money from us at various spots in the house. I recently found a bundle of cash under his mattress! I paid off all our debts with it. When he asked us about the money, we just acted like we didn't know."
Two young women are in a heated discussion about life in the office. One has harsh words for her boss, though she may have adopted a more conciliatory tone face-to-face.
"I've lost my cool with that woman. I set up the whole presentation on her laptop. The next day she tells me that she lost it! Go to hell, I'm not going to do the presentation again!"
Not too modern
Two women are talking while listening to music on shared earphones. They appear to be discussing a marital prospect for someone in their family and in a perfect encapsulation of how the forces of change are now constantly confronting entrenched attitudes one says:
"The girl is nice. She wears salwar-kameez as well as jeans. She's not too modern."
It mirrors another conversation overheard a few days earlier - two middle-aged ladies from a suburban background discussing a story in the news where a young woman was allegedly killed by her family for marrying a man against her family's wishes. One told the other woman:
"This is what happens when daughters go out of hand and become too modern".
Apart from these conversations, I will never forget the sight of a lady hurriedly putting on her burka gown and hijab over her dress just before arriving at her destination.
Add to that the lovely floral fragrance that wafts through the coach. For me these overheard conversations - the tensions, humour, wit and heartache that are exposed in the chat of the ladies' coach - are a precious insight into a changing city and its culture.
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