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author of the piece, paromita vohra
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The No 1 Ladies Heartbreak Compartment

This question is for the women. Have you ever sat in the ladies compartment of a Bombay local train and cried quietly, oddly comforted by a crowd of unknown women?

I have. I’ve sat quiet and alone in the middle of crowds milling at the train station nursing bewilderment and romantic hurt, or dully contemplating the inevitable meanings of unsaid things. I have taken the disquiet gathering in my heart and let it dissolve into tears as the Borivali fast rocks me in its arms.

To cry when your heart feels broken is the most natural of things. I think there are two types of crying. One crying rages — against the person who has hurt you and against life, for being hard. The kind we often do when we talk to friends. It is a crying that racks up the rights and wrongs of how someone has treated us. But it’s also a crying in which we are not able to accept the heart’s uncontrollable nature, ours or someone else’s.

The other crying is entirely personal, where our pain, our sense of humiliation or rejection well up in private. We cry alone, when we feel alone and a little worthless.

And yet, this private crying, is what I often see in the ladies compartment of the local train. A middle-aged woman standing by the door, stares out at the city afternoon, in a dark reverie, the shiny track of tears on her cheek turning bright or dark with passing strips of sunlight. I’ve covertly watched girls talking to their boyfriends with a pensive restraint at the platform, my heart sensing their despair. Later they sit between robust office-returning ladies in starched saris, sobbing silently.

No one turns away from these women in embarrassment. No one meets a stranger’s eye with a mocking smile. No one intrudes on the privacy of their hurting to ask if they are ok. There only seems to be a cloak of sympathetic understanding, as if, we know what you are feeling and we will let you deal with it.

Perhaps that is heartbreak’s biggest need — to be acknowledged and understood, to be comforted, not explained away or fixed as if it were a wardrobe malfunction. This community acknowledgement gives heartbreak the space it needs, unlike the instant spiritual blandishments friends sometimes rush to supply about loving yourself and imagining a stronger you who will kick butt.

Loving yourself and kicking butt do not, after all immunise us from heartbreak, so I have always been mystified by these either/or responses.

The ladies compartment is also a throbbing hub of sensual enjoyment, bursting with women’s love of beauty, softness and romantic expression — the glowing orange of satiny saris, the soft cascade of sharp, symmetrical pleats, the effusion of diamante roses on a tight burqa sleeve. The only men allowed inside, young boys selling bindis and boxes exploding with neon nailpolish, hang their wares from hooks. Waterfalls of cheeky plastic clips, winking glass and gold bangles, stately showers of false mangalsutras hold these women in a life-affirming embrace.

It is as if these little luxuries, these small superfluous pleasures beckon to the heartbroken girls, letting them know that there is still much delight to be had in life. That in this individual delight is the way back to regeneration.

Sometimes after a girl’s tears dry up she desultorily reaches out to buy a bauble for herself. Some other woman smiles at her in a mixture of empathy and encouragement.

And so the heartbroken girl passes one station on the heartbreak line to getting better.

Perhaps that is heartbreak’s biggest need — to be acknowledged and understood, to be comforted, not explained away or fixed as if it were a wardrobe malfunction.

This article is written by Paromita Vohra and was originally published in the Pune Mirror.

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