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That unique bus-conductor

October 5, 2013

As I was walking along the busy streets of Mumbai, after giving a very satisfying lecture of Economics to std 12th students, I felt normal. I felt not-in-a-terribly-depressing-titanic-mood. I saw a couple of ladies in “burqa”, which is a black veil, that Muslim women wear to cover their face and the entire body. Now I respect the religion, and I have a couple of very close friends who are Muslims. In fact, even my religion, the Hindu religion, advocates a veil for women. However, religion is like a law – it needs to be amended from time to time to suit the situation. There is something about a woman covered in a black veil from top to bottom, (even if it is a scorching summer day in Mumbai), which ignites and infuriates the feminist in me. It appears that these women have no right over their own body. But this sight is so common, that I have gotten used to it. However, my subconscious picks up on the depressing mood in a very subtle manner after seeing such sights. So with that subtle depressing feeling that crept in, I boarded the usual bus. And viola..!! A sight of a life-time – a female conductor!! Now, theoretically, I know that there are female conductors hired by the Mumbai transport authorities. But I have been travelling in buses since 7-8 years and I have never come across a female conductor in Mumbai. The whole scene was a little funny, because like me, this was a surprise for many getting on board. People boarded the bus, searched for the conductor, and then their eyes landed on the lady in brown (conductors wear a brown uniform). Awkwardly, they ensured whether she really was a conductor, (because asking a female for a ticket, who turns out not to be a conductor is a disaster in any country, and more so in India). Then the men suddenly realized that they should probably stop because  it would appear that they are checking her out. Now the most difficult question – What the hell do you call her..? Most people tried for eye contact to avoid thinking for an appropriate word. For a male conductor, the normal words are “master”(with a Marathi accent force-ably put in, even by people who don’t have one), “Bhau” (which is brother in Marathi) and the townie girls who travel by bus every New Year to feel the real world call him “Conductor Uncle”. There were no townie girls, so “Conductor auntie” was out of question. In any case, it is universal knowledge not to call any woman auntie, even if she is 50+. Now “mistress” in any accent just sounds wrong. So a lanky looking guy ventured to call her “Tai, ticket dya” (Sister, give me the ticket please). Now this is like a safe word (not 50 shades people..!!! I am in India, 50 shades is like Satan’s book). No guy has ever gotten into trouble for calling another girl his sister, except of course, if she is his girlfriend or wife. And then the crowd silently applauded the guy in their head for finally coming up with a word and then people followed the “Tai” tradition. She was efficient, not too delicate with the tickets, quick and gave everyone a smile with the ticket. She brought a certain femininity to the bus. Normally, at least one person fights with another, be it passenger to passenger fight, passenger to driver, passenger to conductor, or sometimes even driver to conductor. But no one fought. There was a seat reserved for ladies, which was empty. (For those who don’t know, we have seats reserved for ladies, ladies with a kid, senior citizens and handicapped people in the bus). She urged some guys who were standing to take the seat. “You only have to get up if some lady walks in.” she said and followed her statement with a smile. Now I do not know whether I imagined it or it really happened, but there was much more sophistication in the bus. And the feminist in me had a big grin on her face. She was not slower than the male-conductor, she was equally organized in keeping the money collected by segregating the coins and notes as per the denomination, she did not loose her balance in the moving bus. And the smile was a cherry on the cake. I often say that appreciation never hurts anyone and you should always let the person you appreciate, know it. And so I told her that she was the first female conductor I had seen and it made me happy. And like a true woman she asks “How do I look as a conductor in the brown dress?” “Mast” (fabulous), I replied.

As I got off the bus, I immediately knew I wanted to write about this on the blog. We live in a man’s world, especially in India. There are many fields dominated by men. Even in my office, out of 19 partners, only one is a female. And we often think that to get to the top, a woman needs to adopt a man’s habits and traits. The female partner wears her hair in a boy-cut. I am not criticizing the cut, she looks awesome in it. But I almost certainly know that she does it, not because she likes it, but to give a message that she has adopted a man’s habits and is as efficient as a man. What I saw today, is that, a woman need not shed off her femininity to be on top or be successful in a man’s field. And by femininity, I don’t mean that women are delicate or docile. By femininity, I mean, small traits that make us unique creatures called females – like the conductor’s smile. Or long hair for that matter. You can be efficient, proud and a good leader even with long hair.

The feminist in me was happy. There is a change in the Indian society. The slow pace of the change infuriates me. There are regions in India where women are still treated like dirt with no rights and are covered in a veil. But I cannot deny that things are changing, at a very slow pace, but changing alright. Now, women are more educated than they were 50 years back. But we still have a long way to go. And female conductors with dazzling smiles will always be along the way to inspire many…

From → Events, Social

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