There appeared to be a subtle but fierce competition inside the bus to share a seat with her and enjoy her garrulous company.
We could vividly remember the day when she first boarded our chartered bus. A dark, vivacious girl from Andhra. Fairly tall with good built. She would laugh loudly at the slightest pretext.
“I am Beni — Benimala — from Hyderabad.” And, before she would pause you had come to know that she has been working in a private firm as computer operator. She has been living with her parents in Rohini — a Delhi North-West Suburb — for the past two years.
Keeping her non-stop conversation alive she would proudly inform you that she was a Sagittarius girl endowed with all the positive traits that Linda Goodman had ascribed to the persons born under this famous fire sign.
Everyone was amazed at her proficiency in Hindi. And surely, you would not fail to note her unusual affinity for the North and its worthy inhabitants. She would even whisper that although a South Indian herself, she did not feel akin to her own tribesmen at all. Much to your amusement.
Everyone in the bus, thus, got to know her, her likes and dislikes. There appeared to be a subtle but fierce competition inside the bus to share a seat with her and enjoy her garrulous company. The fortunate one would obviously invite envious glances of fellow passengers. She, however, would hop around merrily, from one seat to another, patronizing each one — turn by turn — teasing the elderly ones as well as young hearts with equal fervor. It was this very egalitarian approach that endeared her to one and all in the bus.
No wonder then, it turned out to be a welcome change for this group of prostrate office-goers whose only avocation, so far, was to indulge in deep slumber, soon after they would ensconce themselves into the bus.
By the time you have also learnt that she had changed three buses in six months before joining yours. You became inquisitive. “I didn’t like them” — would be her prompt reply with a straight face. “Then some day, you will change this one too?” you quipped with an untold plea not to repeat the same action here. A burst of laughter followed — “No, no I would not. You people are different”. And the quizzical glance kept on beaming in her wicked eyes — leaving you to figure out what is so ‘different’ out here.
Weeks passed by. As usual, her entry in and exit from the bus would be eagerly watched by everyone. While the ladies would frown, the males would be elated. And the dusky damsel from the Deccan would continue to reign over the occupants.
It was noticed one day, however, that she had now developed a preference for her company. Departing from normal behaviour, she would invariably try to sit with only Brij. Of course to everyone’s discomfiture. Defying all norms of a chartered bus she would fight nastily to reserve a seat in this crowded bus for Brij — in anticipation of his arrival next stop. She would do anything to be seated next to him — paying no heed to the inconvenience or tauntings of others.
Brij would be seen visibly uncomfortable due to her rather strange and excessive overture. As everyone else perhaps. Beni, however, was oblivious of these reactions.
One day, as usual, sitting on the rear row, she was summoning Brij to come and sit near her. Standing near the gate Brij tried hard not to pay any attention to her loud invitation. She became impatient and her voice grew louder. He however remained unmoved — looking away — as if deliberately.
Beni got up and started getting towards the front. She was halfway through when all of a sudden, Brij asked the girl seated nearby to share the seat. Hurriedly he sat beside her squeezing in the seat.
Everyone was looking on curiously. Beni still tried to say something. Paying no attention, Brij started animated conversation with the girl.
Completely stunned, she could neither move herself nor open up her lips for a moment. Then she pressed her lips, tried to compose herself and went back to her seat slowly. Someone chanted — “kya karu sajani, aaye na baalam”. A burst of laughter followed on.
As if a thousand drums were being beaten in unison. She closed her ears. The cruelty of the sound escalated with the noise of the engine. A dense cloud of humiliation engulfed her. As she tried to hide it, her face grew darker. The journey continued as usual.
Now, she is neither seen exchanging glances or greetings with anyone nor does she smile anymore. She gets on the bus almost covering her face and calmly occupies a corner seat — completely sullen.
No one knows for sure, when she will be able to get over. May be after few days. May be weeks or perhaps, months. Then one day, she will start dreaming again. Dreaming a new hope afresh, perhaps. Perhaps in another bus.
This musing was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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