In the morning rush to get to office in time, only happy to have successfully clambered on to the 10.09 CST fast from Ghatkopar, I took a deep breath to have found a place to lean against and the train trudged on. As a matter of habit, I began scanning the crowd, the familiar faces in the train were greeted with smiles and acknowledgments and they reciprocated accordingly. The ladies compartment is always an interesting place to be, as there is a lot to observe - the clothes, accessories, footwear, cosmetics and yes, the attitudes. Just that the glances have to be mastered with some practice, without offending the other with your stares. Although, this art is very quickly grasped by the female species. Also, like teleserials, there are a few stories to eavesdrop on for continuation of the plot, this should be done without guilt because the parties to the conversation are sometimes loud enough that the male co-passengers in the adjacent compartment too stand to benefit.
Yet in the entire jingbang, there are a few faces, that intrigue you, there is some thing about them that is either amiss or screaming for attention. For people like me, such faces speak volumes, at other time act like magnets. One such co-passenger was Malhaar's mother or so I'd like to address her. I vividly remember the first day I saw her, a cherubic face with a plump structure in a dark salwar kameez in shades of orange and yellow. Her hair was unkempt and curly, greying at the temples. The eyelids were swollen as if she had wept that morning and the nose running, a bit. She was hanging alongside the foot-board next to me, speaking hurriedly into the phone, as if she had to finish the conversation within the limited time frame - the 15 minutes from Dadar to CST. She spoke in Marathi, probably to another elderly woman. Detailing that morning's chores and chaos. And then referred, so fondly to her son - little Malhaar, who would look forward to his father's visits and almost always wished to accompany his Dad to his paternal home, sometimes on his own insistence and on rare occasions, when his father invited him over. Her work place, where there were a few colleagues who just wouldn't give her the privacy she needed. She spoke of the unwanted invitations to socialize, the inappropriate advances and the late working hours. The lack of her own family support and the fear of losing her son's affection. And the raging hormones in her mid twenties that of late required her to frequent the doctor's clinic.
There were a few more occasions, traveling next to Malhaar's mom. Nothing much changed about her appearance, neither the hair and nor the swollen eyelids, just the temples were an increased mop of grey strands. At times, I would silently hope, as Dadar station approached, to see a hint of a smile on her face. At least an illusion, that would just last a few seconds. Somehow, I would always be disappointed. On a few other occasions, when we travelled in the same compartment, her conversations on the phone and with a particular fellow passenger she knew, veered around the same concerns and circumstances.
With agony and pangs of separation writ large on her face, it was hard to know the right thing to say to her. Though my heart would well up with empathy, it was a situation where I found myself ill equipped to express concern at the woman's mental state. I, often, found myself questioning destiny and regretted my own inability to help her despite understanding that sinking feeling of loss, a feeling that is hard to describe to the inexperienced. It did not help much that Malhaar's mom was once a fellow classmate who had eloped with her paramour after an early marriage and I had known her better than most co-passengers as the curly haired girl who always smiled as if to show-off her cute bunny rabbit teeth.