Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lessons in reservations

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' ."

"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.


  1. Reservation, in my personal opinion is not a right thing to do..

    I will site you my example here:

    I studied in government college..there was a point, when I had to select a subject for my masters..I had scored 70%..still I didn't get the subject of my choice..the other person who belonged to reserved category got it with just 45% of the score..

    this happens many deserving don't get a chance due to certain reserved seats..

    isn't it better to gain something on the basis of pure merit? in all the fields?

    public transport reservation makes sense thanks to the pervert fellas everywhere; but rest of the places/categories? I don't think so..

    a thought provoking post..

  2. Very well written. But thats something I've come to expect of you. Especially iked the bits:

    "There are no reservations in traffic. Its a free for all."
    "The driver of our bus got more respect than the Speaker of the House"

    I used to think reservation did not benefit the truly backward classes. Changed my mind having seen a few students at college from the rural quota and SC/ST reservations. Even if the quota benefits a few such people, its worth it. And they are so damn hardworking

  3. I'm against reservation in any field including public buses...

  4. I am against reservation too...mostly when it is misused...but then there is another side to it. To make sure that the minority is included in all developments, it has to be there..a push for them, literally.

  5. I am not bogged down by 'reservations' in buses, trains etc. I think it is well thought of. If not, you won't see any women sitting. Some of the men can be heartless justifying they are tired after a hard day's work. Very well written and quite interesting.

  6. I would have dragged that puffed up pup out by his ear, whipped his butt, and thrown him off the bus, suggesting he might find some manners in the gutter he was landing in because they'd be a damned lot nicer than the ones he was carrying....

  7. Amazing, the differences in the world!

    I am sorry to say that such an incident on a bus in Minneapolis Minnesota would've been met with stares only. The bus drivers NEVER get out of their seats, in my experience; and I believe it is primarily in the fear that some pup (to use Braja's word) is carrying a gun.

    But that is another matter.

    Another well-written tale, gappa. I do love your stories and was there on that steamy bus with you...


  8. I have to write what my son tells me about the girls from his class at college. They take the seats reserved for ladies as their right, but never offer seats to even elderly men who have to stand.

    I'm afraid we are giving the wrong message to young ladies by allowing them to do so.

  9. Manju The girls do whatever they have been observing others , say, in the family, do. It's a question of being taught these little courtesies from childhood. I learned them and I have ensured that my children follow them. I have seen the type of behaviour that your son tells you about. And I have pointed it about as undesirable to my daughter when we have travelled. But there is just so much we can do about someone elses children ....

  10. Neha We cant generalize about reservations. I completely agree with what you have written. I think public transport in Mumbai is difficult , and these ladies seats, and of course the ladies compartment in trains is a much required and appreciated thing by those who have to brave being crushed and handled everyday.......

    ArundhatiThank you. We hear about "reservations" mostly in its misuse than its proper use, and thats why people are cynical about it. But it is certainly wonderful to see someone from rural areas doing well in academics and college, who would have never seen the place had there been no reservation for him/her.

    ramblingsbybones Intellectually, I agree with you. Emotionally , I beg to differ. I think certain courtesies extended to women in public transport are necessary in view of the nature of society and attitudes towards man-woman interaction in India. It makes it possible for women, particularly in a place like Mumbai, to go to work and remain untraumatized by often unwelcome actions/words from certain perverse folks. I have worked in the city, used the train daily at rush hour and can tell you that the ladies compartment is not a reservation, but a convenience....

    sindhuTrue. There is possibly never a yes/no answer to reservation. Each time you must look in an enlightened manner at the spectrum between yes and no, and decide your approach...

    NSIyer Thank you. In Mumbai and other metros, so many women work, go home and slog again, that I will wholeheartedly applaud anyone who offers his place to a lady in the bus, reserved or unreserved.

    Braja Just once, I wish the fellow had met you. Though I think its quite cool to kind of officially throw him out like we did, as opposed to a threatening fling into a gutter..... :-)

    PearlThank you. Like i said, folks in India love to discuss and comment, particularly with strangers in the bus. The driver is supreme in the bus. And he likes to show his power every now and then when requested.

  11. 'And the terrible part is, that ones who are the worst are the ones we elected.'

    you've summed up well.And where do you get drivers like the one mentioned by you?is it a mumbai thing?

  12. I think the lady passengers should have made him wear bangles!

    And garlanded the driver!! You don't get to meet such people often.


  13. HHGWhy drivers, even most of the conductors are nice people. I have spent several years daily commuting by bus (till a few years ago), and have developed an abiding respect for the hard work that these guys do, given the crowds, the roads, and the way Mumbai is organized. If you speak to them nicely and with respect, they always help.

    Vivek While I wont say anything about the place grabber, I must say that many of the drivers are very experienced types, and know how to handle situations like this. I have seen a driver get off and along with the conductor, bundle and throw a fellow out of the bus with a warning for daring to trouble a young woman who finally shouted...Most of them are nice people , and it is amazing that they keep their cool the way they do, given the driving and road conditions.

  14. Nicely written. I think there should be no reservation. But any decent person would get up and offer his seat to a deserving person - an elder of either sex, a pregnant woman. And offering a seat to a lady is a nice gesture. Forget that, most men would not make way and allow a lady to get in first.

  15. While reservation laws have been well promulgated, the spirit of equality is often times breached.

    perhaps with the laws changing, over time, equality will indeed come.

    until then, we will have to depend on the bus driver and the assembly speaker !

  16. They say MAN is the stronger version but he does less work that is if you call turning the pages of a newspaper WORK.

  17. Very nicely written !!!

    More than the reservation, the respect to the opposite sex is badly lacking. After a slogging day at office and then cooking at home, if the lady gets - what have you done - kind of question, it is sad.

    Because of this lack of respect, does the need of reservation arises. Let us use it properly !!!!

  18. "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 ...."

    I love these lines!!! We are under-represented, pretty much like the SC category. I was against all reservations before, but now I do see the value about pulling up a member of our country who just cannot make it on their own.

  19. Never a truer word said than your last sentence. My father loves watching Parliament on TV. I find it depressing just because of the behaviour of our elected officials. They need someone to come along and to give them a jab with an umbrella to remind thaem of manners if nothing else. Its seems its the same all over the world. Love your posts about life there. The more things are different the more the same they really are, no?

  20. I was going to comment on your last line being true everywhere, but Lilly beat me to it.

    I will never know why the clowns of the world are the ones the voters choose.

  21. This reminds me of a scene in a Paris bus recently. For some reason the driver had decided he would have everybody follow the rules <hile he was on board. He stopped the bus until an old lady found a seat, he stopped the bus because too many push chairs were unfolded, and finally he evicted a guy who was talking too loud on his cell phone... remarkable but so irritating lol !

  22. "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 ...."

    I agree. I find it very disappointing when women are grudged these seats. I have traveled in Delhi buses and the seats are a blessing when safety pins, elbows and umbrellas aren't enough to keep some men away.

    A brilliant post, as usual Suranga.

  23. lovely! I'm in love with your blog. I only found it today. Keep writing! It's wonderful to see how similar our lines of thought can be, despite the difference in experience and generation. Or maybe, because of it.

  24. Curry Pan Thank you and welcome to Gappa....

  25. radha,kavi, nalini, umsreflections, lilly, darlene, roshni,IHM,helene H

    sometimes i feel that all these promulgations of laws of reservation makes people forget the basic decent rules and manners of living. If offering seats to ladies, elders, and pregnant women was followed anyway, a need to reserve such seats would not be there. But in life, as in the bus, folks never learn.....