A friend and former colleague was travelling back from CST to Thane in the first class ladies compartment at around 7 pm on Wednesday. At Matunga, a lady, described by my friend as someone who looked like a typical train-type vendor, boarded the first class compartment. She was not selling anything. From her clothing, it seemed like she belonged to the lower middle class echelons of the society. She was draped in a low quality sari and was carrying a big bag which appeared to be completely stuffed. She was not wearing any kind of ornaments and had a weary, drained out look on her – one that you get after a hard day’s work.
No sooner this lady boarded the train than another lady, apparently a regular first class passenger, began complaining and objecting aloud to the vendor woman’s presence. Those of us who travel regularly in the first class will know what I am talking of. It’s a common occurrence in the first class section of the suburban train of Mumbai – when a regular, season ticket holder catches sight of someone who doesn’t "look" like a first-class passenger, he or she is promptly told, "This is first class" as if it were a warning. Sometimes, when such a person still boards the train, some people begin to think aloud and also comment on how inefficient the ticket checkers are; that they never board the train during peak hour rush and thus encourage second class ticket holders to board the first class compartment without fear of being caught.
Coming back to our story, at Kurla, a constable boarded the train and the complaining lady’s verbal protest against her fellow traveller grew even more intense. At first she was making general statements about how bona fide ticket holders like her have to suffer because of ticket-less passengers. But now she began to point openly towards the poor, tired woman hurling accusations and even asking her to get off the train. The woman, who was up till now, standing quietly, finally retorted asking the complaining lady what her problem was and why she was fuming and babbling endlessly. The complainer grabbed this opportunity and pounced upon the woman demanding that she show her the first class ticket. The woman, in spite of the tired look, smiled and said calmly, "I am not obliged to show you or anyone else my ticket. If a Railway TC asks, I will show it." But the complainer refused to give up as she egged on saying that if she had a valid ticket, why was she so reluctant to show it. At this, the woman reached out to her stuffed bag, removed another, smaller pouch out of it and from which she took out an even smaller purse. To the surprise of all present – the onlookers, the constable and of course the shocked and embarrassed complainer – the woman pulled out a legitimate, first class season ticket from the purse. The complaining lady was dumbfounded and didn’t know how to react. The accused woman, who was now acquitted by the public as "not guilty" for a crime she had not committed, then said, "I am a businesswoman. My work as a vendor involves lots of travelling and so I travel first-class."
The complaining lady later apologised to the woman but not without justifying her behaviour. She said to her, "Though you are an exception, there are many who commute without a proper ticket, causing inconvenience to others. How were we to know that you had a proper ticket?"
As the train arrived as Thane, both the women alighted. But the look on the vendor lady was that of pride, while the complaining lady looked discomfited. She had learnt her lesson that appearances can be deceptive – and they sometimes deceive big time. Which is so true! After all, have we not seen even people who are impeccably dressed and yet get caught travelling ticket-less?