To The Ladies of Delhi Metro

When life seems like a tragedy, it’s only appropriate to have a Greek chorus. My life’s Greek chorus is a distinct, omnipresent and wise voice – the ladies of Delhi Metro.

A Greek chorus is a device used in ancient Greek plays which comments on the action of the play, as a collective voice with no character of its own. The chorus informs and illuminates the motivation of the characters — dubious as they may be to the audience. Think of that gyaani friend of yours, whose combination of snark and wisdom makes you look at your life anew. For me, for years, that voice has been snatches of infinite wisdom and humour which I’ve overheard in the ladies compartment of the Delhi Metro.

Every evening, around eight o’clock, I’m in a jam-packed Metro on the Blue Line, returning home after work. I am surrounded by all kinds of women; the receptionist in a BPO cooing to her boyfriend on the phone, three friends who work as saleswomen bitching about “Sir,” a mother-daughter duo weighed down by their shopping and a woman loudly counselling her friend through a bad breakup. This group of women changes every day. The mother-daughter duo replaced by a college going student clutching to her IIT coaching books. Or the dedicated girlfriend replaced by a landlord-hating angry CA. But every day, I overhear these women saying something which is eerily relevant to the theatrics and inner monologues of my life.

Like last week, when I stepped in the Metro after a long day at work, fixated about whether I was crossing off the checklist of being a successful adult. “Is my career going well enough?” “Do I need to meet someone?” “I really need to start taking care of my health!” etc etc. I shoved my way towards the corner of the compartment, taking my place near the door. Next to me was short, thin woman talking on the phone. From her conversation it was apparent she worked at a clothing store and took no one’s bullshit.

“Tujhe kya padi hai woh kya soch rahi hai, tu kaam kar na!”

She shouted on the phone to her friend, but that sentence shook me out of my reverie. Why was I worrying about what anyone was thinking about my life? Surely, the only thing to do was put my head down and work, right? Whatever has to happen, will happen.

I looked at her with a smile. She frowned, looked at me like I was a creep and shuffled away to face the glass map against which she was leaning. Which, fair.

Another Metro, another night.

I was on my way back from Khan Market. Before it became the favourite target of the powers-that-be, Khan Market was a regular haunt for kids from my school. I’ve spent many days in the McDonalds in Khan Market crying over broken burettes and boys; it was the only restaurant we could afford and nothing cures a broken spirit like a McSwirl. (Still true.) The McDonalds has been taken down now, I can afford most restaurants and I have found a new reason to visit Khan Market almost every weekend – the bookstores. So that night, I was walking across the Mandi House metro station on auto-pilot. I was thinking of a man I’d been talking to who was proving frustratedly hard to read. “What did he want? Why wouldn’t he just say it?” I obsessed. (I can see the women reading this sighing and nodding along, and I thank you.) I entered the Metro compartment and almost bump into a woman. Tall, wearing a beautiful red lipstick, hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing a knee-length dress. She was gesturing frantically at her friend; who looked downcast, on the verge of tears.

“Woh kuch pyaar vyaar nahin karta, aise hi hotein hain ladke main bata rahi hoon”

I laughed out loud, quickly realised that I was being looked at by two pairs of angry eyes and fished out my phone. The rest of the journey, I stared dedicatedly at my phone, while chuckling in joy at the serendipity of what had just happened.

Maybe the Greek chorus of Ladies of the Metro exist because I want them to; taking innocuous bits of overheard conversation as prophetic wisdom. But in a city like Delhi, where the freedom of anonymity often bleeds into loneliness, it’s comforting to think of an omnipresent commentator.

A tribe of feisty, complex, beautiful and wise women whose fractured words may offer some wisdom and humour. All you have to do is listen. No?

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HERE’S WHAT I LOVED THIS WEEK

BOOKS:
In case it wasn’t clear from my feverish dispatch last week, “One Foot on the Ground” by Shanta Gokhale is a must-read. I want to buy copies and gift it to everyone I know, it’s that good. Read it
ALSO, I usually post about books I am reading, want to read etc on my Instagram. And a healthy dose of old Hindi films and well, my face. I’m at @maanvi2501, say hi if you’d like more book updates.

EXCERPT OF LETTER:
Okay, more exciting than I made it out to be. I was reminded of this from a 1927 letter from Virginia Woolf to Vita Sackville-West this week. Not the first time I read it, not the first time I got chills either.
“Look here Vita — throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads — They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that. Throw over your man, I say, and come.”

ESSAYS/STORIES:

  1. This is my worst nightmare. In 2003, Nicole Mowbray made a mistake while typing out a memo when she was working with The Observer. The mistake messed up the biggest scoop of the year and caused an international furore. Now, her mistake is being made into a FILM!

    “When, 16 years later, I found out that not only was the story being made into a film, but my mistake had been included, I had some sleepless nights. I met Footman, the young actor who plays me, at a cafe in London early last year with some trepidation. She told me she couldn’t divulge any specifics about the movie. “But is it made clear I wasn’t fired over what happened?” I asked.”

  2. The essay everyone is talking about, though I would happily go on a birdwatching trip at any time; no broken engagement needed.

    “These were small things, and I told myself it was stupid to feel disappointed by them. I had arrived in my thirties believing that to need things from others made you weak. I think this is true for lots of people but I think it is especially true for women. When men desire things they are “passionate.” When they feel they have not received something they need they are “deprived,” or even “emasculated,” and given permission for all sorts of behavior. But when a woman needs she is needy. She is meant to contain within her own self everything necessary to be happy.”

  3. How Indian beauty bloggers are taking up a challenge which makes fun of “parlour aunties” who might have terrible make-up skills, but are important for so many women. Reading this made me angry.

    “The almost nine-minute long video, filmed secretly by the blogger in a parlour which she said has “bad lighting”, features her exaggerated disgust at the artist “touching (her) hair with her wet hands (sic)”, and takes potshots at the artist’s drugstore products. The comments are not made while the video is being shot, but as text added to the video while editing — as a result the subject of her criticism doesn’t get to know that she is being mocked.”

That’s it from me. As always, if anything I wrote struck you, hit 'Reply.' If you want your friends, colleagues, that gyaani friend to also receive this every Sunday, ask them to subscribe.

I will write again soon.