Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Fisher-woman and the Pretty Young Thing

The Pretty Young Thing boarded the sparsely crowded BEST bus headed towards the north-western suburb of Borivali and heaved a sigh of relief. There was just one vacant seat left, a two-seater, and she lowered herself into it gratefully, placing her Hermes imitation bag next to her to deter anyone else from sharing her seat. 

The sudden call for strike on the part of the Taximen’s and Rickshawmen’s Union could hardly have come at a more inconvenient time. With the suburban local trains bursting at the seams, the bus seemed the only way to reach the studio in far-away Film City where, her roommate had informed her, some talent scout was conducting an audition for a Bollywood film. The role was that of a lead dancer in an ‘item’ number.

Should she nail this audition, the role would be hers. It was only a five-minute song sequence, but if the dance movements were good, she would attract attention and a fan following. It might pave the way for a more substantial role, possibly the heroine’s sister or best friend. She would be able to rent a pad on her own. No sharing with other girls.

Her airy dreams were suddenly invaded by the stench of fish. To her dismay, a robustly plump fisher-woman rudely shoved the Hermes lookalike bag aside and plonked herself on the seat next to her. She smiled, displaying pan-stained teeth. 

The Pretty Young Thing cringed. Searching inside her bag, she pulled out a white kerchief and held it to her nose. She was being rude, she knew. But how dare this fat, ugly woman sit beside her and mess up her day, particularly when she had an audition to go to? Couldn’t she see that the seat was already taken?

Now she’d go to the audition, smelling like a can of dried fish. The fragrance of the Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, gifted to her by an ex-boyfriend, was all gone. All her hopes of impressing the casting director with her attitude and personality were fading fast.

The woman turned to her and said something. The Pretty Young Thing looked out the window, pretending she hadn’t heard. The kerchief was still stuck close to her nose, and she only took it aside occasionally to breathe some fresh air. The woman ignored the slight and continued to chat on, about the weather, the strike, the cost of living.

The Pretty Young Thing longed to shut out her neighbour’s tiresome voice, to hold her palms against her ears and block out the elderly woman’s annoying chatter. But she didn’t do it. It would mean breathing in that foul smell that cling to the woman, to her sari, her faded plastic bag.

Dark thoughts filled her heart. When it was time for her to get off the bus, she would teach her a lesson. She would knock her on the head with her bag. She could make it look like an accident, and smile her apologies profusely.

The conductor neared. “Ticket, ticket,” he called. The fisher-woman took out a 10-Re note and handed it to the conductor.

The Pretty Young Thing pulled out a 100-Re note. “Chhutta do (give me change),” the conductor called out. She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. She had enough 100-Re notes to fund a trip to the studio by taxi, but the Rs 12 that the conductor was asking for, that she did not have.

“If you don’t have change, get off here,” he declared somewhat combatively, calling out to the driver to stop. His mood was sour. He had just had a run-in with another passenger.

The bus driver slowed down.

“You can’t make the child get off in the middle of nowhere. Look at how deserted the street is. I’ll pay for her,” an unexpected voice piped out.

The conductor asked, “Are you sure?”

“Of course,” the fisher-woman continued. “Here it is.”

The conductor took the money and handed over the ticket to the Pretty Young Thing, who meekly extended the 100-Re note to the woman. “Arre, zau de (let it be),” the woman said, gently thrusting the girl’s hand aside.

The Pretty Young Thing, now totally shamefaced, smiled her gratitude and put the money back in her wallet. 

Peeking out through the folds of the wallet was a white kerchief.

It wasn't needed anymore.

The Pretty Young Thing and the fisher-woman began to chat.

(This post has been written for the Ultimate Blog Challenge, October 2013.)


  1. This is so sweet. When I was studying in college I used to travel by local trains and press a handkerchief hard against my nose. The fisherwomen would get annoyed and tell me that its somebody's food. I had told a fisherwomen that I was a vegetarian. But she was pleased with my answer but they have a golden heart.

  2. I loved how the transformation happened. Well told story, Cynth! :)

  3. How I wish this actually happens to some "Pretty young thing". Being humbled should be a must feel experience for these people...


  4. What a nice story with a peaceful end. Very nice!

  5. Fabulous story with a meaningful ending...:)

  6. Love the Mumbai feel, Marathi Long but the beauty and essence of the story. As human beings, we have so much to share and celebrate our differences, class or academic education doesn't matter:)



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