“May I help you?” Asma asked the lady ahead of her in the queue. She had witnessed her struggling with the ticket vending machine for quite some time.

Immaculately dressed in a business suit and stilettoes, the lady hesitated for a moment but eventually relented. 

“ Umm..actually my car broke down today, so it’s the first time I am taking the metro.”

“This is my daily route,” Asma replied, “ Sikanderpur station, right? Here you go!”

“Thanks,”the lady accepted the ticket. “Sorry for the initial reluctance. I was stumped by the way you speak…your diction, your eloquence and your confidence.”

Asma smiled.

And then the lady blurted out, “Why must a smart, young woman like you give in to patriarchal beliefs and wear that thing to cover your head?” 

Asma smiled again.

“I wear it because I like it this way.” 

“Girl..whom are you kidding? You mean to tell me you weren’t forced to wear it.” The lady probed as they both walked towards the platform.

Asma shook her head. She opened her mouth to explain, but a Bollywood song emanating from the lady’s I-phone stopped her.

 The lady answered the phone in a tense voice.  She relaxed after she hung up.

 “Good he hasn’t reached home,” she confided to Asma. “My husband prefers that I be there to serve dinner to him. He says it tastes best when I put it on his plate. Cute, na?”

Asma smiled and nodded.

Then, the lady went back to the bone of contention.

“People from your neighborhood and community must have brainwashed your parents’ minds about this head-covering. No one cares for your comfort, right?”.

“But I am comfortable…..” 

Another lilting melody. Asma looked away as the lady took the call.

“Haan, Tina darling. I know, the dress code to the launch party is ‘short and sultry’…and I am not comfy in short dresses… but if that’s what the job demands, I am game. One has to do these things.”

Asma smiled to herself.

“Okay, so you believe in symbolism?” The lady turned to Asma after ending the call. “Why should we flaunt our beliefs? I mean… isn’t religion so personal?” 

Her monologue was interrupted as the train rumbled in. A troupe of passengers jostled against her to board. Asma stretched out her hand to help her new acquaintance in.

Hey Vighnahari.” She screamed, clutching the Ganesha pendant attached to the mangalsutra peeping out of her collared shirt.

Asma gave a knowing smile.

“Do you really think your God won’t accept you if you do not cover your head?” The lady persisted when they alighted.

Asma shrugged.

A beep on the I-phone made the lady panic.

“Oh…I have to take prasad from the Gurudwara for my mother-in-law.  Would you be having an extra scarf? I promise to return it tomorrow.”

Asma smiled as she handed her the spare hijab she kept in her handbag.

Waving goodbye, Asma reminded herself.

“May I always have the forbearance to respect another’s choice. Amen !
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