May 8, 2006
Packed. Hundreds of passengers, agressively jumped into the economy train of Bahauddin Zakariya which served the bottom class of people of cheap mass transport. The passengers blocked the only passage from the chart door until the seats with the unimaginable number of luggage of their each, and their huriness which dont allow others to pass. This was the common scene of passenger boarding in public transports in Sub Continents. It seems that everybody doesnt have any second of time, and ‘time is money’ concept suddenly overwhelmed the laid-back mind of these Pakistani passengers. The hurried passengers, each with their own hysteria of screaming and pushing, also zipping through, made everything worst.
The train came late. It started from Multan, and Bahawalpur was supposed to be the second stop, separated around one and half hour. But the train came two hours late, and departure from Bahawalpur was in the middle of the night. Many of passengers didnt have seat, and this forced even babies had to sleep on the floor, with risk of being stepped by people.
It was a struggle to get into my seat, and in this hot weather, even at midnight, I sweat a lot. There was even no place for my two bags, as everywhere had been occupied by luggage, and also people. Two babies were sleeping under my seat, and I had to sit with bended knees and bags on my hold.
She was wearing pink flowery kameez and light green shalwar, with green dupata not long enough to cover her breast. The kameez was short sleeved and tight enough to show the shape of her body. It was nothing for our dressing standard, but in religious Punjab, she could be considered as ‘careless’. There might be two types of women who dressed ‘inappropriately’: those from very high social status who might say that purdah is type of extrimism, like some of my friends from the ultra rich Defence area in Lahore and students of NCA who dressed in tight T-shirt and jeans. The second type is those from the very low class, the poorest among the poor, who doenst have mindspace to care about ‘clothes’ and religion, as there are far too many things to concern about. The woman sitting nearby is from this type.
She was travelling in this heavily occupied train with a no-seat-ticket. But she was not alone. She travelled with her four babies, of one, two, three, and four years of age. Her birth rate was very high, average a baby in a year. The one year old baby was in her arms, but sometimes also thrown away to sleep together with his/her 4 year old sister on the floor. The other two children, the two and three year old babies were under my legs, sleeping soundlessly. Besides the four babies under her single no-seat ticket, her luggages were also overwhelming. She had occupied the space under two berths with her sacks of grass, and another space under my seat so I had to suffer with my luggage on my legs.
The woman with four babies and tons of luggage, was almost fined by the ticket checker. She cried, saying that she only had 50 Rupees, while looking deep at her sleeping babies. The ticket checker symphatized her.
The four babies, slept quite soundlessly now. Sometimes the two year old girl cried loud, as the other train passed through from the other direction and enough to bring earthquake to our slow train. The crowd getting less and less when the night fell. The berths and seats were mixed in Pakistani trains. The berth were three levels of long benches. The most suffering one is who bought the lower berth, as his berth would be occupied by passengers who sit around.
The time to sleep. The lady with four babies had to sleep on floor, sitting among her two babies (the other two was still under my feet). The other lady passenger was in purdah, the husband prepared her berth by putting a thick blanket around the berth so that nobody would be able to see his wife sleeping. The concept of purdah is so strong that one should suffer sleeping under unbearable heat with thick blanket around the seat to prevent her of being visible. Meanwhile their little girl of ten years old slept with only underpant, in the middle berth. The father slept on the small table next to the window. I worried whether the little folded table might support his big body.
Many times one of the two babies under me cried loudly. Sleeping on hard floor should not be an appropriate way for little babies like them. The train was not comfortable enough, the heat was also exhausting. Plus the fact that many passengers stepped on their little legs.
The sleeping angels turned to be jumping devils in the morning. The quiet three year old boy in red when sleeping, turned to be a naughty little boy when the sun rises: jumping around, pouring the juice that his mother bought him (his mother had actually much more than 50 Rupees in the pocket in her underwear and bought some juice, tea, bananas to her babies), crying loud to ask more juice, etc. The four year old girl, the oldest among other babies, had dirty face after eating the banana. They unskinned the banana in very irregular way, so the puzzling shapes of banana skin scattered around the floor. The other baby vomitted hard on the floor, and the mother had to be busy cleaning the liquid after other passengers accused her.
It was around 10 in the morning where I had to leave the train as it arrived in Hyderabad, where I had to take another bus trip to continue my journey to deep desert in Umerkot. The women with the babies still had to struggle three more hours before reaching their final destination in Karachi Cantonment station.