The Co Passenger


Related imageIt had been raining incessantly when she had boarded the train. Priya squeezed the water off her dupatta as she made her way into the coach. For an unreserved coach it was almost empty. But then who would board a 11.00 PM train at a way side station past Yellahanka? Anyway by now, she was beyond caring!

It had been a sudden decision. She had decided to take the train from the station nearest to her house rather than ride to the Bangalore city station. She wanted to escape, to run away… from her life… from him!

She found an empty seat by the window. Thankfully, the rain had not splashed into the coach. She drew up the shutter and let some fresh air in. The rain had stopped and the moon was peeping out of the clouds. She watched the dark shadows rise and fall as the train sped through the darkness.

Like her life… Full of eerie shadows that she ensured people outside in the sun never saw. She maintained that facade of living in cool comfort. A bright smile that stopped short of her eyes Hollows behind those eyes she concealed using expensive make up.  She adjusted herself to lean against the backrest of the seat but winced as the pain hit her! Bruises, scars and more. her body was now full of them! It had become a part of her life these days.

It was only tonight that she had decided she had had enough! But, even now she was not so sure. And that was the reason she had boarded the train to Mumbai and not the one to Chennai.

Her cousin Smita, had encouraged her to come and spend some time with her at Mumbai to think things over. She had always been nervous about going to Chennai – to her parents. She feared they might not see things from her perspective.

The train jerked to a sudden halt throwing her forward. She held on to the window rails to steady herself.

The lady on the upper berth looked down and asked her “What happened?”

“I don’t know” said Priya as she peered out of the window.

There was hardly anyone else on the coach. There were a couple of women in the next bay who looked like they were some kind of vendors. They were fast asleep with their basket of wares under the seat.

There seemed to be a flurry of activity near the engine. The guard and the driver were talking among themselves. She tried to catch what they were saying.

“Woman.”  “under the train” were some words that caught her ears.

She shuddered thinking “How awful”!

There seemed to a discussion going on near the tracks.  Apparently they were near some station called Adoni. Priya did not want to hear any more of this conversation. She pulled the shutter down and lay down on the berth. She had packed in a hurry, there was nothing she could use as a pillow. So she tucked her handbag under her head and turned around so that the bruised part of her back was not rubbing against the wall of the coach.

She must have dozed for about an hour when she woke up. The train was in motion now.

She wanted to use the bathroom. She wondered if she should go with her suitcase left unattended. But the train was in motion and everyone else on the train seemed to be asleep.

When she came back to her seat, she noticed her. A young woman, about as old as herself, she was sitting on the opposite seat. Her face was not clearly visible in the dark. She had on a sari which seemed to be glowing in the dark. Her hair was flying in the breeze blowing in through the window.

“When did you get into the train?” asked Priya

“Oh some time ago” she replied in Kannada, looking at Priya through her wide eyes. There seemed to be an odd quality about them. They were looking at her but yet it seemed like they weren’t. Her face had a luminous quality about it.

“What a beautiful woman” thought Priya taking in her features. A big bindi adorned her forehead and prominently around her neck was the black bead chain symbolising her married status.

“Where are you going?” asked the woman

“To Mumbai” replied Priya. “What about you”? she asked

“Home” said the woman.

Priya sat down on the seat and groaned involuntarily as the jerking of the train made her bruised back hit the window.

“Painful isn’t it?” she asked.   “That wound will heal but not the one in your mind. At least not unless you decided to do something about it” she continued.

Priya looked at the woman startled.  How did she know?

“What do you mean?” she asked her

“You know what I mean” she said with a sad smile.

Priya could not stop herself. Her eyes began welling up with tears and she suddenly found herself holding on to the window rails and sobbing.

“Hey stop that. Crying never helps.” she said softly pulling Priya into her arms. It was probably a few minutes before Priya regained control over herself.

“I am sorry. I shouldn’t do this” she said wiping her face with her dupatta.

“There is no need to apologise” the woman said.

“You know; I had tried everything to make him happy. I stopped wearing western clothes, I learnt cooking, I never ever stepped out without his consent” she said bitterly.

“Yes, I know. You must have also thought a lot before saying anything in case it angered him. You would have stayed out of his way until he called for you. Right?” asked the woman.

“How do you know?” asked Priya looking at the woman in surprise.

“Because I have also lived through it all” said the woman with a cryptic smile.

“Oh!” said Priya gasping

“You know I was barely out of school when my parents arranged my marriage. He was a very rich man. Owned a lot of businesses and was considered to be quite a catch. I was anyway not very good at studies. So marriage seemed like a good way out of it. I was the only daughter. My parents and my brothers spent an awful lot at my wedding. It was one of the grandest weddings in the whole of Anantpur district” she said dreamily.

“Well in my case, I had completed my education and was working in an IT company in Bangalore. He was introduced to me through a common friend” said Priya

“Oh love marriage” asked the woman looking at her with raised eyebrows.

“Marriage yes! But love. well that disappeared a few months into the marriage. I never realized that he was so domineering and authoritative. It used to be very romantic during the days when we were courting. I used to think he was very protective and possessive about me.  But soon things became bad. He did not like me talking to anyone he did not approve of, he did not like me wearing jeans, trousers or skirts. He was suspicious of any man I spoke to and soon he did not like my going for work” Priya said bitterly.

“And you decided to quit your job?” she asked

“Yes” replied Priya.

“You know, how many times in those years when he started yelling and hitting me, I used to think, that had I been better qualified and with a job I would have walked out of the marriage” said the woman looking at Priya

“Yes, but it is not so easy to walk out even if you are qualified for a job. I did consider it many times. But there was always a feeling of guilt. Of not having tried hard enough to make the marriage work. You know I have only been married for two years. I thought things would get better over time. “said Priya shaking her head sadly.

“Well I was married for ten years. Among the many things he had against me was that I had not brought enough dowry, I was not able to have children, I did not respect his mother enough, I did not put enough salt or put too much salt into his food, that I was not sexually desirable and sometimes even that I was probably interested in other men and therefore not responding to him in bed” she said laughing hysterically.

Priya shuddered thinking of the strange similarity in their circumstances. Two women from two different places and social contexts and yet with such a similar marriage.

“You know I secretly started taking birth control pills after the first year into the marriage. I did not want any child to be conceived out of rape. And then he found out…He was so violent after that I couldn’t take it. I ran to my brother’s house” said the woman.

“And?” asked Priya

“They closed their doors on me. I am sure had my parents been alive I would have at least had a roof over my head” said the woman bitterly

Priya thought about her own circumstances. She had not told her parents about what she was going through. There was this feeling of wanting to handle her situation on her own because it was she who had decided to marry Srikant. She also had a younger sister and she was not sure if her troubled marriage would interfere with sister’s prospect of getting married.

But something in her had snapped when she found out he was having an affair.

“You know my husband has been seeing another woman for nearly six months now” said Priya to the woman.

“Oh mine was constantly having relationships with women- those who worked for him, relatives, sex workers and others” said the woman. “After some time I was actually glad he was doing that because it kept him out of the house and our bed for at least a few hours every day”

This seemed like some bizarre situation now.  Each one of them sharing things about their respective marriages almost like they were comparing symptoms about some terrible illness.

Did you have fever? Vomiting? Stomach cramps…?

No, I had fever but the stomach cramps were terrible.

Oh, but the vomiting dehydrated me…!

“Patients of the sick marriage syndrome” said Priya laughing loudly.

“Listen tell me what are you going to do now?” asked the woman taking Priya’s hands in hers.

“I don’t know. I will spend some time with Smita, my cousin in Mumbai and then I hope he will repent and come there to take me back” said Priya.

‘Then?” asked the woman

“By then, hopefully he would have repented, broken off with the other woman and changed his behaviour towards me.” Said Priya

“Let me tell you my dear. That is something that never happens. I have been through this many times. When my parents were alive, I would go there every few months when things became unbearable and they would either take me back to him or he would sometimes come to take me back saying he was sorry. But it is easier said than done. Things got back to our state of violent normalcy soon” said the woman.

“You had never called the police?” asked Priya

“Did you?” asked the woman

Priya shook her head. There was a sense of shame in taking the matter to a public space. Why, she had not even, told her closest of friends about this. When he had twisted her arm the last time she had asked him for more housekeeping money, she had lied to the doctor saying she had fallen down and injured herself.

“Have you considered divorce?” asked the woman.

“No.” said Priya shaking her head slowly

“When will you do that? When you are ten years into this mess like me? When you are completely scarred physically and psychologically? When your qualifications will not be relevant in the job market and you will have to take a job that will pay you half of what you might get now? Or when you are too old to consider further education?”  asked the woman in a sarcastic voice

“Listen to me. It has to be now or never. Nothing is lost yet. You are well qualified. You can get a better job. You said you have a supportive cousin in Mumbai. You can stay with her until you get a job” she said taking Priya’s hands in her own. “Don’t let your life become like mine. I had few choices. I was not well educated. I came from a small town where there were limited opportunities. My parents died along the way and my brothers refused to support me. I could have changed things even with these setbacks had anyone encouraged me to take that first bold step forward.”

Priya could see sense in what that woman was telling her.  But she needed to think more about it.

“Thank you for this….” She said. “By the way I am Priya”

“Nandini” said the woman. The clouds had cleared and the moon was shining in through the window making Nandini’s face shine luminously.

“You are such a beautiful woman!  You look out of this world!” said Priya. Nandini smiled in a cryptic way.

“Go to sleep Priya. Things will work out for you. I am sure you will take a sensible decision and all will be well.” she said taking her hand and squeezing it.

Priya nodded noticing for the first time that Nandini’s hands were icy cold.

She lay down on her berth and closed her eyes. Her last image of Nandini was a sharp profile turned towards the widow with hair flying in the breeze.

( To be concluded in the next part – work in progress )

( Images from the internet)


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jotiverma
    Jan 07, 2018 @ 23:32:54

    Meera, why did you leave it incomplete?


  2. KP
    Jan 08, 2018 @ 04:09:07

    Excellent narration. I am waiting eagerly to know how the lives of Priya and Nandini would turn for the better.Is Nandini a good woman and is Priya foolish and gullible to discuss her life with an utter stranger?


  3. sslmay11
    Jan 08, 2018 @ 09:31:17

    Meera, I’m so glad to receive an invite post thia soon. I love your writing. No two ways. Also you should never stop writing.

    I can guess what’s going to come. But will wait for you to conclude. Look forward to read the next part.


  4. anin2804
    Jan 08, 2018 @ 09:54:35

    Loving reading this.I think I can guess who Nandini is 🙂 🙂


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