In Delhi's buses, about one-fourth of the seats are reserved for women. The first seat on the left is for the conductor(s). The second is for the handicapped. The next four rows (on the left side) are marked 'ladies'. Most often, there will be men sitting on these, until a woman shows up and dislodges them. (Just for the record, I do not dislodge men from ladies' seats. If, however, a young man - not an old one - gets up and offers me the seat, I usually, gratefully, accept).
The other day, a blind girl got onto the bus. She was accompanied by a young man, and it was very clear that they were much in love. For some strange reason, she also wore a ghoonghat that covered her face entirely. As she stood beside me, her fingers scraped the air around us, fumbling for something to hold onto. At first, I thought the was because of the ghoonghat, and it irritated me. I wanted to say something suitably biting about wearing viels and inconveniencing everybody else too. Then, I noticed that she was fumbling for the man's arm too. When she found it, she held onto that for dear life, and made no attempt to even peep through the folds of the fabric before the eyes. I realised that she was probably blind and was going to offer her my seat, when she began to move ahead. The progress was very slow, for she could neither see the people pressing in from all sides, nor figure out how to separate them and push ahead. Her fingers continued to scrape the air, in soft futile circles.
The young man apologized, to nobody in particular - she cannot see.
A woman sitting ahead of me beckoned - why don't you take her to the handicapped seat?
He said - ok. And he tried to guide her ahead.
The crowd did not move an inch. The couple seemed stuck for a while. Then, they reached the handicapped seat. A heavyset man occupied it. He sat there, staring straight ahead. Unseeing.
The same lady called out again - let her take the handicapped seat.
The man did not move. As if he had not heard. Could not hear.
Another lady beside her called out - hello! Let the girl take the handicapped seat.
Someone else said - where's the conductor? Conductor bhaiyya, get her that seat. She's blind.
The conductor got off his own seat quickly (which was quickly filled by another passenger), and moved towards the back of the bus, selling tickets. As if he hadn't heard.
The girl still stood there, fumbling, feeling, faceless. The young man stood there, silent.
From beside me - why isn't the conductor saying anything?
And suddenly, silence.
Then, I leaned forward and called out - hello! That's the handicapped seat. Please tell him to vacate it.
And the lady next to me also spoke up - conductor bhaiyya, tell him.
The voices - mostly women's voices - murmured again, called out again.
And the heavyset man finally turned around, for a brief instant, as if startled, and then vacated the seat.
The blind girl sat down. Everybody else sat back.
The conductor standing nearby mumbled under his breath - why don't they speak up for themselves, then?