“Law 5: Sit with your limbs straight, and do not with your legs describe an angle of 45, thereby occupying the room of two persons.”
This interesting law was one of the rules and instructions published by The Times newspaper in January 1836, to engender better travel etiquette aboard the London omnibus. One hundred and eighty years later things haven’t changed much, because the London Tube – in a sense a modern avatar of the omnibus – is still grappling with the issue of men with legs splayed at a 45 degree angle. An annoying ‘V’.
Last year, the Oxford English Dictionary finally added a word that is catching on fast in our contemporary times, but the action it defines is millennia old – Manspreading – the global practice of sitting with legs spread wide apart in public transport.
In an article published in TOI two years ago, immediately after New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to support the battle against this public menace, a journalist equated it with Mumbai’s trains. The article goes on to imply the obvious, that gender biases are inculcated since childhood, citing examples such as the diktat asking women to wait for the men to eat first (though I can’t quite imagine that happening in a middle-class Mumbai home these days).
Nitika, a 23-year-old student who commutes regularly from her house in Vasant Vihar to Delhi University’s North Campus, says “womanspreading isn’t any less devilish!” In fact, on extra crowded mornings she prefers travelling in the regular coaches instead of the women’s coach, simply because men tend to make more space for others than women. “You should see how two or three women try squeezing into a seat meant for just one. Men don’t do that.”
Unlike men, who use legs to devour space, women’s prime weapons of causing public irritation are hair and bags (let’s leave body fat out, though there’s something equally unsightly about watching an overweight person stuff their mouths with a burger in a crowded train or subway).
In some places they call it She-bagging. Considering the love for style that every Delhi girl confesses to, it comes as no surprise that bag-torture is common. And if you aren’t tall enough, you could be in for a daily wrestling match with other women’s weaponry stuffed tight under armpits.
The ad campaign that did the rounds in New York subway had this as a tagline – “Dude, stop the spread please.” In Delhi, we need a campaign on the lines of “Dudette, gather yourself please!”
All said and done, posting clandestine online pics of manspreaders and she-baggers isn’t such a bad idea. Get your inspiration here!