Reservation today is a loaded word. In India. Means different things to different folks.
It takes me back to a monsoon evening 2 years ago. My daughter and I were returning home, unfortunately, during the evening rush hour. The bus route was one that spanned from the city's coastal west to the industrial innards on the city's east, and , thanks to surging crowds, we had made an involuntary automatic entry into the bus , while waiting for the bus, at some point in the middle of the route.
For some years now, the bus and train systems of the city, have thrown small beneficial crumbs at the ladies, in terms of a few seats reserved for ladies in the front of the bus, and two Ladies Special Ttrains, during the morning and evening rush hour. While men making surreptitious entries into these trains has not been reported, the "ladies seats" in buses have been the cause of innumerable fights in buses.
The thing to do once you get a foothold in the bus, is to use your purses, umbrellas, sideways movements and whatever else, to squeeze ahead through the packed aisle, and land up next to the already occupied "ladies seats". The sitting ladies are very cooperative and they always gesture and tell you which lady may be getting off next.
This was a expressway road under construction, with plenty of potholes, and thanks to the rain, there was a huge traffic jam. The driver had a tough time advancing . He was stopping for large periods of time every few minutes, and this prompted one of the seated ladies to get off, as walking would be faster for her now that her home was near. Before we could organize to occupy the vacated seat, we were preempted in the act, by a yuppie style gent, with a briefcase and cell phone adorning his neck, who simply plonked himself there in a tearing hurry.
We personally follow a certain code of ethics while occupying "ladies seats" in buses. The rule allows us , to evict whoever is wrongly occupying the seat. But we never disturb, elderly couples, men with small children, injured types, rural folks transiting between construction sites, children on hips. Prosperous looking young yuppie types, with ties, busy on their cell phones, are requested with great alacrity, to get up, and most do.
This gent settled into the seat defiantly. His co-occupant on the two seater gave him a disgusted look, and the lady behind him, gestured to me to ask the fellow to get up.
"Excuse me, but this is a ladies seat " He pretends he has not heard. There is a cacophony of traffic outside, rain is constant, the traffic jam means that the bus moves ahead in jerks, and its huge size prevents it from making quick darts in the traffic here and there to create a path for itself. He pretends to adjust his glasses and peer through the windshield (some distance from him), at the chaos.
This time we tap his shoulder till he responds.
" Ladies seat? But only at the bus route starting point. " He says, and sinks further into the seat.
We point to the painted rule on the bus wall, and the indication on the seat, declaring it as a seat for ladies, exclusively. He is adamant.
"How can this be ? They get to occupy our general seats freely. In addition , now they have reserved seats. Not fair. Not fair at all . Why should I get up ?"
We try again .
"The rule says so. Read. There, on your left. No mention of starting points and stuff. You cannot make up your own rules ." Some ladies around vociferously agree.
He decides to make an issue of it.
"Did they ask me when they made a rule ? No. I have been standing as long as you have. I have a right to sit. These women are having it really good. Reserved seats. Hmm. "....
Most audiences in ordinary public transport in Mumbai, are suckers for discussions. The more the crowd the better the discussion. Topics vary from cricket, taxes, corruption, police, to someone getting advantages that folks feel they shouldn't. Everyone enjoys a good argument. Everyone pipes in. A sympathetic chap from the back booms , in his support to this guy. Someone on the right, nodding and talking through the gaps in the tightly packed aisle, makes some supportive remark, giving the ladies a look and a stare. The ladies stare right back. The decibel level is increasing.
Suddenly there is a lady standing in the aisle, who has something to say.
"You want to be equal ? For these seats ? Then be equal everywhere. Do a day's full time job, come home through a crowd like this, and immediately start cooking your family's evening meals. Ever done that ? All you know is to get ready made tea and sit with your feet up ...."
Things are getting uncontrollable. The conductor tries to subdue the loud discussions and the din. Outside the rain has increased, rivulets run down the glass windows, a few leaking into the bus, which continues to be packed with standees in the aisle. No fan, no AC. The traffic jam is getting worse. The driver is getting impatient, and every now and then you here the roar of a stationary acceleration of the bus.
Suddenly, we notice a middle aged lady from another side of the bus , get up, leave her bag on her seat (asking a standee to guard her seat), and struggle to make her way up to the driver. They have a discussion, and she returns. Her seat has been respectfully guarded by a total unknown and returned to her.
There is a biggish acceleration of the stationary bus, the engine makes a sneezing noise and the ignition is switched off. The driver jumps over the engine block and emerges in the passenger area, near the offending chap.
" Sir, you are an educated chap. And you behave like someone who cannot read. "
The man bristled in his seat. Held his briefcase with more determination.
" The rule says that this seat must be given to a lady on demand. Its none of my concern whether you agree with the rule or not. If you don't like the rule, write to the authorities, go to court, do whatever, but at the moment, get up and vacate the seat. "
The seated man pooh poohed the whole thing. Whoever got threatened by conductors and drivers ?
"Fine. Please read the fine writing on the bus wall . 'If anyone complains about this to the driver of the bus, the driver may request the occupant to get up and leave the bus, and failure to follow this request will incur fines/imprisonment under section xxxx.xxx..' ."
"I am asking you to get out of the bus, as the elderly lady on the other side has complained about you. "
The fellow was aghast. He looked around him. His so called vocal supporters, were busy, looking at their newspapers, the rain, their cell phones, the traffic; everything, but him. He slowly got up.
We offered the seat to another older lady who had been standing in the aisle behind us. For the gent, leaving the bus in torrential rain made no sense, now that there was a traffic jam and it was getting dark. He looked at the driver . Who shrugged and left to get back to his perch in the bus.
"He can stand and take whichever other general seat falls vacant. He needn't leave the bus in this terrible rain." one of the ladies said.
His supporters slunk further into their seats. The driver was busy honking at the 3 wheeler which was trying to cut in from the left. There was an exchange of words from the window. Disgusted looks. The bus gave off a whiff of exhaust in desperation, as the driver accelerated in place, and clanged into gear at noticing a slight movement ahead of him.
There are no reservations in traffic. Its a free for all.
Like our Parliament. Where the introduction of the Women's Reservation Bill results in shouting, gesturing, and running and charging down the aisles to the Speaker , where the esteemed members make a display of their bad manners and destructive attitudes. Whats more this gets shown on television daily.
The driver of our bus got more respect than the Speaker of the House, whose papers were snatched, torn and microphone yanked out of its base. The House asked the members to leave, they refused, and were finally carried out by Marshall's who outnumbered them 16 to 1.
The troublesome passenger was allowed to stay on the bus by his co passengers. The violent House members who should have been rusticated, were taken back within a day.
And so there are reservations and reservations. Some bring out the best in people, some display the worst.
And the terrible part is, that ones who are the worst are the ones we elected.