The Wildflower of Bombay
Have you ever stopped to notice a wildflower? Have you admired the way its pearly white petals contrast with the muddy-green shrubs that nestle it? I once experienced such a sight, a bunch of Zui, tropical flowers blooming amongst the mossy shrubs by the seaside curb at Bandra, Bombay. Their beauty exuded strength rather than elegance, in a mysterious way. Such that it reminded me of a woman I’d crossed paths with, every day for nine months when I boarded the 8:45 am local train from Prabhadevi to Bandra, to my workplace. As a new girl in the city, I loved observing the varied colored souls that flocked the Ladies Compartment. That’s when I first saw her. She swayed her palloo in the wind, bouncing from one part of the train compartment to another, like the bunch of Zui flowers by the sea. Such that I always referred to her in my journal-entries as Zui.
With her almond-brown skin, pink saree, and firm bosom, she transfixed every gaze upon her bold stride. Zui was a transgender who lived on the generosity of the local train passengers. She joked with women in the compartment, sometimes broke into a song and always blessed us by softly placing her palm on our head, whether she was given spare change or not.
I adhered to my timing to never miss the 8:45 am train and happened to see her every day. One day, as I held my handbag to my chest furtively, worried that it might get snatched due to the innumerable women thronging in and out of the compartment, she squeezed past the others and walked straight towards me. She patted on my head and said, ‘Don’t be afraid of the world. The more you are scared, the more they’ll want to scare you’. I smiled, a little unsure about what she meant, but pondering about it the whole day.
All was well, until there came a day during the surprise showers of late November, when Zui’s mood was as bad as the muck-filled streets of Bandra. She entered the train, eerily quieter than usual. Someone refused to give her spare change and gave her a snide look instead. At that she withered and broke down. In a bitter slash of resentment, she began ripping her palloo and unhooking her blouse. In a quivering voice she said, “Ever since I was eight years old, I’ve been feeding myself with the money you give me. After so many years, how could you still doubt my intentions? My happiness does not come from this petty cash, but from your trust and love. I bless and wish you good, in return. Don’t you see it? All you see is this body, right? Then come on now see it all you want. I’m not scared.”
Everyone in the Ladies Compartment was taken aback by Zui’s behaviour. I wondered if every wildflower, no matter how strong it looks, feels broken, once a while. I wondered if every bunch of Zui flowers by the sea gives in to the battering rains, a stranger stamping on its petals, an animal devouring its blooms, sometimes.
I couldn’t know for sure why Zui acted the way she did. But maybe, she was exhausted by her body. The body that made people see her as a transgender first and a human being after. The life of a transgender person in India is shocking after all. They are disowned by their own families because most communities deem them as “unnatural”. I then finally understood why she had told me to not be scared. Perhaps it was a way of reminding herself, not to let the world scare her, too.
I rarely saw Zui in the train after that incident. Many months later in the summer, I again caught a glimpse of her bouncing and swaying through the bustling station of Bandra. I smiled, grateful that the season was seeing her in full bloom, yet again. I wondered if the bunch of Zui flowers by the sea must be in full bloom too.
Later that day, I visited the seaside curb in Bandra. And there were the Zui flowers, blooming as radiantly as ever. I felt like I had understood what was so mysterious about a wildflower’s bloom that made me stop and stare – it was the stubbornness with which it fights to blossom, despite the unpredictable rains.
1 – Zui – The Marathi word/name for a wild jasmine flower.
2 – Palloo – the loose end of a saree.