Thursday, 26 May 2016

NOT a typical day in the metro! by Sreemoyee Bhattacharya

 ‘Why loiter’ is turning two this Sunday. For those who don’t know what ‘Why loiter’ is, let me give you a brief description. It is a movement for women (not necessarily only by women) to gain back the rights to reclaim public space. Neha Singh, a short filmmaker, author and actor started this movement based on the book ‘Why Loiter’ written by Shilpa Phadke. As part of ‘Why Loiter’, a group of people (mostly women) usually loiters around the city during night. But last Sunday was special! It was basically a demo version of the second birthday celebration of ‘Why Loiter’ on next Sunday.

So eight of us met at Versova Metro station at 5 PM on 22nd of May. Four girls and four boys. Few of us knew each other already. The others too mingled well in just a couple of minutes, like how revolutionaries connect very quickly! We all bought return tickets for Versova-Ghatkopar. The idea was to entertain the metro passengers by reading, singing and reciting or playing games and let them reconsider whether they want to have a journey with real friendly people around or in the virtual world created by their Smartphones. We discussed a little about our plans before boarding the train, but lets not give out spoilers here.

Once we entered the train, we discovered a rope tied between two metro seats (facing each other) designated for women. One of us almost tripped over it, not knowing what exactly it does. A middle-aged woman smiled at us, saying it is ‘The Lakshman Rekha’. We were excited to see the smile on our first fellow passenger’s face, which is rare nowadays. We realized that the rope actually divides the general and ladies compartments. Well, it is ‘Lakshman Rekha’ then!

Satchit, an FTII passout, got pretty excited now. He asked the woman if she has read Ramayana by Valmiki, as the concept of Lakshman Rekha was not even there in that version. He informed that it was later added in Tulsidas’ Ramcharitamanas. The woman smiled again explaining that she had only seen Ramayana in television or movies. Satchit took out a book from his bag now and started reading a short story that had five letters written by Sita to her parents. By then the train was half full and it began its journey towards Ghatkopar. The passengers were not quite sure what exactly was going on there. But they looked curious. Many of them listened to the story carefully and there was a round of applause once it was over.

But we realized that not everyone could relate to the story. So Ajitesh Gupta, an UP-born actor and singer, started singing a Marathi song. People, who were busy with cellphones, turned now. Ajitesh, with his amazing voice, pulled more crowds towards our small group. There was a bigger round of applause once he finished the song. Then we sang Tagore, ‘Aakash Bhora Shurjo Tara’. Glimpses of ‘Komal Gandhar’ played hide and seek within me. Next was a Gujrati song by Satchit. It was a hilarious song about ‘Garam Chaye’. By then the entire crowd got interested in us. Some started asking if Sonu Nigam had disguised himself again. We laughed. Everyone laughed.

So it was time. The interaction began. And in a country like India, especially in a city like Mumbai, what can be more interactive than music? Decision was taken immediately. Antakshari it was. And the proud ‘Lakshman Rekha’ divided us in two teams. Girls vs Boys.

‘Baithe baithe kya karenge, karna hai kuchh kaam,
Toh shuru karo antakshari lekar Prabhu ka naam’

I always wondered who this ‘Prabhu’ is. But whoever he is, he created a brilliant game indeed! The girls’ team had to sing a song with ‘Ma’. Someone from the far end of our compartment started singing ‘Mere khwabon me jo aaye’. And most of the girls joined her with sheer joy. Then the guys’ team had to sing with ‘ey’. And it went on.

Interestingly, the girls were much more spontaneous than the boys. So none of us, the four girls from our group, me, Neha, Devina and Rashmi, had to start a single song with the letters given to us. All other girls did it. Rather we were just one large group of girls playing the game against the boys! There were few men though, who participated and sang songs of Big B, with a lot of excitement in their voices. We danced along with them. It was so much fun!
Stations came and went, the game continued. One of the girls came in front and declared that she had to get off at the next stop, but she would want to join us in this venture. Neha shared numbers with her. We heard another girl, who was about to get down, telling her friend how she wished to continue the journey with us.

And like that, to our astonishment, we almost reached the last station, not even realizing the time it took. It was time for the last song. And the girls’ team had to sing with ‘Ha’.  Someone started ‘Hum honge kamyaab’. It was co-incidental though. But the entire compartment sang along. The girls from all age groups had sparkle in their eyes while uttering every single word of the song. For a moment we felt, there is no discrimination in this world between different religions, castes, races or class! The spirit of equality resonated all over the public transport! Who says the world has lost all hope?

Once we reached Ghatkopar, lot of people came and thanked us for making their journey so entertaining. But it should have been other way around. So we thanked them more. Some of them said that they would do something like this on their own, if they have a group. Others showed lot of enthusiasm to join us.

The return journey also went like that. We sang and danced along with our wonderful fellow passengers. When we reached Versova, we saw a burqa-clad woman dancing happily on her own, inside the empty train. Her happiness was our tribute to ‘Why Loiter’ movement indeed.

We came home with hearts full of hope and promises! This was just a demo. So this Sunday, 29th of May, at 5PM we will again embark on a similar journey. And we believe that some of them and many of you, who are reading this right now, will join us! Let’s make the world more beautiful and peaceful together!

P.S. Co-incidentally, the only book I have published till date, a collection of Bengali poems, was named as ‘Life in a Metro’. I had a series of poems on the journeys I had in a Metro rail in Kolkata. Well.. the writing bug bites me again!

Sreemoyee Bhattacharya is a filmmaker, writer, singer, champion of Bengali literature and an engineer. She is originally from Kolkata, but she is loving loitering in Bombay too.


  1. Hi Sreemoyee, thanks a lot for organizing and sharing such kind of loitering events and inspiring people to live their life with joy and happiness...Keep it up...

  2. Thank you for your kind words. I didn't organize the event though, it was done by the 'Why Loiter?' group. I just shared my experience. :) Please share and join us!

  3. True spirit this busy mumbai life ..kudos :)

  4. True spirit this busy mumbai life ..kudos :)

  5. You all are doing something which is too fascinating..will surely meet you all during my short trips to Mumbai..lot's of love to all