It was a typical mid-week day. I was ready for my first lecture and was waiting for the train at the metro station. I was sleepy since I was unwilling to wake up at 6 am, and desperately wanted a seat for the rest of my one and a half hour journey to college.
Looking in all directions, I noticed that there were hardly any people in front of the women’s compartment, so I cleverly ran in that direction only to enter an already crowded compartment. Like always, I stood in the right-hand corner of the coach, leaning against the glass wall attached to the seat.
This was my first. I had never travelled in a woman’s compartment. It was interesting to see so many women dressed differently according to their office attires – from carefully pleated sarees, to pencil skirts and crisp white shirts. Unlike me, they all looked motivated for a 7 am metro journey.
Everyone was busy with what they were doing. I was caught up in a place from where I couldn’t move. So, I took out my book of enlightenment, my saviour- “The Mahabharata”. I had been reading the Mahabharata for the past few weeks as a part of my course curriculum.
I studied literature, so to pass my time, I used to finish my course books in whatever time I’d get in the metro. So far, I was deeply involved in the book, and reading it from a critical point of view, I underlined a few lines that I thought were necessary for discussion in class. Never did I know that I was offending someone by doing so.
“Hey, you, what do you think you are doing?” I heard a voice but more so, someone leaning ahead and tapping roughly on my shoulder.
“I know you young people don’t believe in anything, I know you guys are against religion and god but have some shame and don’t ruin our religious books by your pen marking,” said an aunty with disgust.
In no time, I saw a few women turning their heads back, looking at me, then at the Mahabharata in my hand, then back at me and then looking away as if they were disowning me from this compartment or their lives. It was a weird feeling where before answering anything I tried structuring my sentences to explain my side better.
“Aunty, I am reading this as a part of my course. I am studying English literature and so I underlined it to make notes later. This is obviously not the original scripture, just an English translation.”
The last line was it, I guess it agitated her to an extent that she took a step ahead towards me, jumping over women sitting down only to shout at me for being ‘anti-religious’ and ‘immoral’.
“I am sorry?” I said.
“You have no values or maybe your parents taught you none. Maybe they are as anti-religious as you are and that’s why you have no value for our religion and holy gods. You are sinning the future of our culture and religion, not respecting its purity by using a pen on it. Also, what makes you think you can read this wearing a skirt and that top, where are your manners? I would never allow my children to commit such a mistake in life.”
For a few seconds, I looked at her with my eyes and mouth wide open, not believing what I just heard.
I didn’t know who to blame, my course, my professor or myself for reading it. That our youth is deemed somewhat unfit to even believe in things, if not anything, religion. That my ‘assumed’ non-belief was a representation of my immoral character and maybe, that of others my age.
I had never thought that reading Mahabharata for academic purposes was sinning, that reading it without traditional Indian attire was equal to being ‘mannerless’, that I could hurt someone’s sentiments without following the dress code while reading about a woman whose honour was snatched away from her in front of her ‘husbands’ and other men. Nobody did anything about it, and more than a morality lesson, I didn’t know that Mahabharata becomes the kind of religious scripture you read not just to understand its philosophical significance, but to worship it blindly in the name of religion and god.