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'Women are always talking or fighting'

mumbai Updated: Nov 11, 2012 01:42 IST
Riddhi Doshi
Riddhi Doshi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

It's a cool morning on a local train headed from Borivli to Dadar. Anu Sheikh, 21, is seated at the entrance to the ladies' coach, her rack of interlinked hairbands, clips and rubber bands hanging from a rod.

"These trains are my only source of livelihood," she says, "just as they were for my mother, who raised me alone and was also a train vendor."

Sheikh has been earning her living on local trains since she was seven years old, selling, at different points, costume jewellery, cellphone covers, snacks and even nightgowns and women's underwear.

Now, the Class 3 dropout also totes about her two-year-old daughter, Muskaan.

Life is never dull on these trains, says Sheikh. "The women are always up to something, either fighting or chatting or singing hymns together."

Shaikh starts her day at 9 am, in the 50-sq-ft slum shanty near Matunga Road station where she lives with her husband, a petrol pump attendant, and their baby.

First, she heads to a public toilet nearby where she stands in line and forks out Rs 10 for a quick shower.

At 10 am, she is back home for a breakfast of tea and a biscuit. She then rushes to Dadar market to buy her wares for the day.

Living day to day, her purchases depend on how much business she did the day before. After a good day, she can stock up on goods worth Rs 150 before she boards the train with her daughter at 11 am.

"I avoid rush hour because it is too crowded and no one is interested in buying trinkets then," says Sheikh. "In rush hour, I also get shouted at by the other women for taking up precious space in the packed compartments."

For the next four hours, Sheikh will hop from coach to coach and train to train as she sells her wares between Borivli and Churchgate.

"Some days are good and some, very bad," she says. "It's especially depressing when women take things from my trays and do not tell me or pay me."

Lunch, at 3 pm, depends on how much she has earned so far.

"If I have done well, I treat myself and my daughter to roti, sabzi and dal from an eatery near Mahim or Matunga station, which costs Rs 50," says Sheikh. "If I have not done well, we share a plate of ragda with two pavs, which costs Rs 12."

By 4 pm, it's time to get back to work for the final two hours before rush hour begins again.

At 6 pm, Sheikh returns home to rest and then do some housework, after which she heads back on to the trains for two more hours, returning home at 11 pm for dinner with her husband.

"I don't make much of a profit," says Sheikh. "The aim every day is just to be able to feed ourselves."

A day off would mean a day with no earnings, and her husband earns only Rs 4,000 a month, so Sheikh works every day, taking a day off only if there is a wedding in the neighbourhood.

Her dream now is to carve out a better life for her daughter.

"As soon as she turns three, I will admit her to a government school," says Sheikh. "I always wanted to study but couldn't. Now, we save part of my husband's salary so that she will be able to earn a good salary and will not have to live day to day."

(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)