She stands out at the local railway station - the lone female coolie among all the men.
Maya (38), who lost her husband seven months ago and has a 12-year-old son, has chosen this tough profession to eke out a living. Rather than beg, borrow or steal, she carries the luggage of passengers on her head, with dignity.
According to the station superintendent, Ludhiana, Ravinder Sharma, Maya is among the handful of woman coolies in north India, the others being in Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh), Divisional railway manager, Ferozepur division, NC Goyal confirms that she is the only female porter north of Delhi.
Maya, who hails from Haryana's Sonepat district, is also carrying a debt burden of lakhs of rupees. Her husband, Ram Kumar, did this back-breaking job for more than a decade before he was declared medically unfit. He was also not considered fit to join as a gangman five years ago when then railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav ordered the promotion of coolies.
After Kumar's death, the railway authorities offered Maya a job in his place. She promptly accepted it.
"I don't want to beg to make ends meet or pay off the debt taken for my husband's backbone treatment. It's not an easy profession for a woman as one has to run after passengers and bear with sarcastic remarks by people. But I took this decision for my son," says Maya, who sports batch number 56 on her left arm.
It's a gruelling 12-hour job (5am to 5pm). She wakes up at 4am, cooks food for her son and irons his uniform before leaving for the railway station. "He gets ready himself and goes to school. In the afternoon, I spare half-an-hour to make lunch for him. I have studied only till the primary level, but I want him to complete his studies," says Maya.
She's all praise for her male colleagues. "They are very supportive. They have taught me various aspects of the job, such as finding my way through the crowd and alighting from a moving train," she adds.
Even though her colleagues, including Ram Krishan, Jaspal, Chand Ram, Ram Avtar and Shiv Lal, feel that it's a difficult job for women, she is undeterred. "It's better to work than to beg," she says before rushing towards the train that has just arrived.