Damn the vulnerabilities of daily existence. Just when I was going to coin the term Pseudo-Swines for those who were cashing in on the flu-mania to stay away from office for trivial reasons like running-noses/headaches/body-aches, I was hit with a viral fever, harsh enough to warrant a sick leave. Laziness crept in thereafter and I rediscovered the joys of sleeping for over ten hours a day. It took me two days to get rid of the virus, but the fungus of laziness stayed on for three weeks. Hence the prolonged absence and probable rustiness in the current write up.
Having justified the procrastination, let's talk about the fictitious time when a young NRI girl named Tina was traveling alone for the first time in a second class train compartment in India. I was going to pin her age at 20, but am in a generous mood; you may choose the age, but kindly keep her young. I'll go a step further and let you choose her attire as long as it is not on the lines of a bikini or hot pants. Please dress her appropriately enough for an Indian train journey. No more interactive participations for the readers in the story.
Tina was traveling from Calcutta to Delhi. She chose this train journey as a way to get in touch with her roots. Her intention was to see the forests, the villages, the simple and unassuming people, the real India as she perceived after reading many travelogues. In doing so, she ignored the warnings of dacoits on the route that the train took. There had been three such incidents in last couple of months.
A few hours into the journey, she wasn't sure about the strength of her choice. She had somehow managed to squeeze into her place by the window. A man sat next to her. His wife and six year old son sat opposite to her. The other seats didn't have permanent occupants. Until then, she had underestimated the abilities of six year olds to embarrass the fellow passengers. The son kept staring at her. She forced herself to ask his name. Bittu looked away. The parents didn't encourage him to respond either.
She wished for some conversation between the husband and wife. But the wife looked resentful. For a change, she took a trip to the loo. Looking at the graffiti inside the lavatory, she was thankful for her illiteracy in reading the languages that accompanied the sketches. When she returned to her place, she found that the husband and wife had swapped their places. The man wasn’t very pleased, but wife seemed contended that her man is away from the stranglehold of another female. The wife now talked eloquently about how mean and miser the husband’s relatives were and recounted stories of being shortchanged on every occasion. “I got her daughter a set of ghaghra-choli and my Bittu didn’t even get a full pant”. Bittu immediately wore a look of victim in his half-pant as he put his hand on the uncovered knees. Tina now knew the kid’s name.
Having given up hope of any fruitful social interactions, she tuned to the moving world outside the window. “Wouldn’t it be great to see the glory of the land which nurtured a billion lives, which gave the world so many Gods and wise men, which had a history beyond the time?” Three excreting human buttocks caught her sight. The owners of the organs were having a chat; perhaps discussing the weather, just like she did with her friends as they sipped coffee in Starbucks.
It was with relief that she noticed the family preparing to get down at the next station. Her anticipation for a better company, however, couldn’t have been more ill founded. In place of the otherwise harmless looking husband-wife and mildly irritating Bittu, now sat two shady looking middle aged men. I go back on my words which prohibited any further participation from the readers and allow you to choose the number of hair in their mustaches.
In contrast to her observations on Indians in general, she found both the men to be too animated while talking. Tina picked up the word “Pistol” during their conversation. Were they the dacoits she was warned against? The only comforting factor in such situation was a hint of eyeliner in the otherwise hardened masculine faces. She kicked herself, metaphorically of course, for not heeding to the warnings. The fantasies of deep forests and simple beautiful people were now replaced with thoughts of getting robbed at the very best.
Things took a more sinister turn when one of the men opened his bag. She spotted blood stained clothes and a shiny long dagger. Tina gasped in horror which was noticed by both the men. The man quickly zipped the bag. The men exchanged the looks and their lips curled; Tina could tell that both of them read each other’s mind.
“Let’s finish it off”, one of them said.
“Patience.” said the other.
“Do you think they suspect?”
“True, doesn’t matter.” They laughed devilishly.
Tina’s heart was pounding by now. She feared that a reaction in the form of a scream or trying to run away would only hasten the inevitable. She just sat there, waiting for things to happen. Certain adventures are not worth taking. Right now she could have been served a sandwich by an air-hostess. She would have ordered an orange juice to go with it. The pilot would have been announcing the landing shortly.
Cursing her romanticism, she peeped outside. A small town was approaching.
“An excellent opportunity to slip out, if I survive till the station.” Hope hadn’t given up on her.
As soon as the station approached she stood up to go to the door. Both the men left their seats too.
“Have I seen more than I was supposed to when the man opened the bag? Are they going to 'take care' of me for doing that?”
She jumped out of the slowing train and walked as fast as she could. She turned back and saw both the men following her. She ran frantically outside the station and into the streets of this unknown town. Three bystanders simultaneously expressed the opinion that she ran faster than P.T Usha. None of them had seen a deer running when chased by tigers.
She sprinted until she could run no more. She stopped, panting for breath. The two men were nowhere in sight. She turned her head towards a long boundary wall. And there they both were. But, in a poster. “Are these two wanted men?” She couldn’t read what was written in Hindi below the poster. Then she spotted another poster. “What are they doing dressed like ancient warriors with swords in hands? And why are there wounded men lying around them?” She got hold of a little boy and asked him to read what was written below the posters.
“Twin Girls. Uttejak nazare, dekh mere pyaare. Shankar Cinema Hall.”, said the seven year old who looked a lot like Bittu.
“Not that one. The one above that.”
“Bharat Nautanki Group. Roj 2 show. Lal Maidan ke pass.”
Many realizations dawned upon her. She took a rickshaw back to the railway-station. Next train wasn’t until the next day. Buses were on strike. The taxi-wallahs of Madanpur had never been propositioned with an offer to drive till Delhi. Tina’s only option was to take the most expensive hotel in the town for a day.
Once in the hotel room, she took a bath and reflected on the happenings of the day. A little later, she found herself picking up the phone and asking the receptionist “How to reach Lal Maidan from here?”