The doors slide open to make way for everyday commuters, rushing to find a spot for themselves in the compartment reserved for women. The Delhi Metro ladies compartment is a public space designated for women- a space carved out exclusively for women to occupy unapologetically, away from the male gaze. It is a space where for the brief duration of their commute, women dare to let their guard down.
The metro speeds ahead on the beaten track, day after day. You look up at the women sitting across from you, or standing around doing their own thing: some snoozing, some zoning out, most engrossed in their screens. Much like the city itself, the Delhi metro is a melting pot of different cultures, communities, caste, and class. One glance at the commuters is enough to understand that these are women from different parts of the city, with different realities. From burqa-clad women to women in short dresses, long-haired, short-haired, curly-haired, hair secured in a bun; from shiny Bata sandals to Vans sneakers, from satchels and messenger bags to backpacks and tiny purses – it is hard to miss the myriad styles and sensibilities on display. So many different kinds of women converged together in performing the mundane – going to work, going to college, going for an appointment, going home.
Living in the city and navigating the public space means being plunged into a sea of strangers. We are surrounded by so many different faces and personalities, stories, and histories, yet the colour and intrigue that our co-passengers add to the mundane often go unnoticed. Nobody talks to one another, only sharing space and acknowledging the presence of the other through the exchange of glances. Civil inattention is the norm. Your roving eyes land on the book a girl sitting across from you is reading – it is one of your favourite titles and you wish you could ask her what she thinks of it; you notice the woman lightly bopping her head to a beat and you want to know what song she’s listening to. You spot a sullen looking girl, struggling to not let others see her eyes welling up, and want to give her a hug.
You wish you could know more about the scores of women you encounter on a daily basis, know their stories. But you decide to stay put because participating in the public also means respecting the other’s space. You go your own way.
(Art work and written by Manimanjari Sengupta)