Stereotype

I saw him the first time in a train. He was tiny and timid, very unlike his naughty and loud brothers and sisters. Dressed shabby with a torn t-shirt and torn slacks, a pair of mismatched shoes, all he wanted to do was just get enough place to sit but his siblings would not let him.

They were from the slum, it was fairly obvious with the way they were behaving. These kids seemed unperturbed when the aunties mocked them and asked them to move out of their seats. They had tickets these kids didn’t. The kids pretended to be deaf and continued being seated where they were, a noisy naughty lot of five.

I saw him the first time in a train. He was tiny and timid, very unlike his naughty and loud brothers and sisters. Dressed shabby with a torn t-shirt and torn slacks, a pair of mismatched shoes, all he wanted to do was just get enough place to sit but his siblings would not let him.

They were from the slum, it was fairly obvious with the way they were behaving. These kids seemed unperturbed when the aunties mocked them and asked them to move out of their seats. They had tickets these kids didn’t. The kids pretended to be deaf and continued being seated where they were, a noisy naughty lot of five.

Some women asked them where they were from and where they planned to get off. They didn’t answer for a long time till he was questioned and he said ‘Govandi’.

He looked interesting, looked to be around 3-4 years old. His eyes were very innocent, they were full of kajal and blue liner. He also had ear rings. And just when I was thinking he might be transgender, one of the Aunties asked him “Are you a girl or a boy?” All the kids laughed. “She is a girl!” they yelled with more giggles.

And then it struck me he was a she. Looked at her carefully and laughed at myself, my stereotype for a girl had deceived me.

The train continued moving, it was a rather dusty afternoon, my skin was pulling at me and beads of sweat ran down. The compartment started getting very crowded. The women started becoming impatient, they started discussing and hatching plans to remove them from the seats the kids were staking claim over. They made her stand up but the others refused to move.

I had nothing to do, except wait for my station, I quietly observed her, the train halted suddenly, she was trying to balance herself and ended up landing right next to me. That’s when she looked up at me and realised that in that compartment we looked identical. It was only her and me with short hair cuts wearing t-shirts and well looking rather masculine if I might say.

It was so crowded no one had the space to move. She looked at me carefully for the next 15 minutes observing my hair and my ears and the way I was dressed. I couldn’t resist a smile. I wanted to give her something, anything I thought. While I contemplated, she looked at my bottle and asked me for water. I didn’t think twice, just removed it and gave it to her. She gulped half of it down at a shot.

“What do you think you are doing!” They all got very angry. “Where is your mother you little wretch!” they told her. They turned to me “You should not encourage these beggars” and the rambling continued. She gave me a hurtful look and ran away.

I asked the women to stop being so bothersome, all she wanted was water, I gave it to her because I felt like it and it was none of their concern. I turned to the woman who shouted the loudest and told her “Be careful with the way you talk with small kids, what you will behave with them now is exactly how they will turn out and what they’ll remember forever”.

As I got off at my stop, I felt what I told them would make no sense to them anyway! But in hindsight, I realised I may have gotten carried away.

As the weeks progressed, traveling the same route everyday, I totally forgot about her.

Today I saw her again. Her hair was still short and she was playing with her siblings. They were rather preoccupied with a new addition in their family. I looked at her, she did not recognise me. I don’t care she didn’t. Am just glad she looked happy.

Funny how we decide how a boy or girl should look in our heads. I elicit looks of curiosity from quite a few too but I think that just makes me special, exactly the way she was for me too.

About the guest author

Sonal Giani