|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|SETTING||Railway platform OR Inside Train|
The train was ready to start its journey. There were barely two or three minutes more. Joseph and Mary were happily seated in that first class cabin. There was no body else to journey with them. Joseph was visibly happy.
“We…just the two of us can enjoy the journey atleast up to Vijayawada” he said gleefully.
Though Mary was inwardly happy to hear that yet she showed faces and pretended as if she disliked that statement.
“You are talking like a young man. Don’t forget your age. You are 46” reminded Mary with reddened cheeks.
Nearing her further he said with a mischievous smile, “Hey, tell me! Am I really forty six!?”
She continued her mono act by pushing him gently away. The train gave a long whistle indicating its preparedness to move forwards. The guard was standing in the platform with a green flag, consulting his watch. At that time suddenly one elderly couple, obviously villagers came rushing to the platform.
By their looks it was quite obvious they were seeing a train for the first time. For a few seconds the old man stood transfixed on seeing the gleaming train and the crowd of passengers. But his wife, with a child in one arm and an ugly cloth bundle on the other, urged him loudly to move. Joseph was watching the couple with a smile.
“See that idiot! Probably passengers without ticket. Wait and see. Some TTE will push him away from the platform!”
Mary too found it amusing to watch them with a peevish smile. But to their dismay the old village man was rushing towards their cabin after enquiring something with an official who was directing him.
“What!?…To this first class cabin?” Joseph was shocked for a moment.
“Oh God! Those ugly idiots are searching for this cabin..!!?”
The guard had by then started waving the green flag. Virtually dragging his wife and the child the ugly village man threw himself into that cabin occupied by Joseph and Mary.
Immediately Joseph cupped his nose with his towel and Mary followed suit with her sari. Unmindful of the discomfiture of the fellow passengers the village couple came inside the cabin, exhausted. Holding his heaving chest on one hand the man fell to the floor of the cabin and his wife and the child followed suit. Obviously they were hesitant to go in that plush cabin and occupy the cushion seat inside. Joseph and Mary were annoyed beyond definition.
“It seems Mary, these ugly idiots will travel with us. May be up to Vijayawada. What to do? We have to endure this ordeal.”
Commented Joseph a bit loudly. Mary cupped his mouth urgently.
“Hmm m…they may hear you.”
“What if?” roared Joseph in disgust turning his face away.
Joseph was a high-ranked Officer in Central Government. He used to visit his native village around Chennai once a year availing the Leave Fare Concession. This time also he had visited his village as usual. He was returning to Delhi to join duty.
Joseph was anxiously waiting for the TTE, hoping he might throw away those two ugly creatures. The moment the TTE entered the cabin, Joseph jumped off his seat and showed his ticket and said in English so that his fellow passenger could not follow him,
“See Sir. I am in Central Government. I booked in first class so that I can travel happily. But see my fate. These ugly idiots are sitting here making the whole compartment smelling. Can you not send them away to some other place considering my social status!?”
But the TTE simply smiled and expressed his helplessness. Disappointed Joseph did not lose heart. He had a faint hope that the villager would not have a proper ticket. But to his surprise he produced the correct ticket. Murmuring continuously Joseph turned his gaze outside the window to watch the trees rapidly going backwards and the hesitant moon at the far end of the sky which had slowly started coming out.
Train had gathered speed. The villagers were just observing the cabin and whispering something to themselves. Joseph noticed that there was a slight trace of sorrow in their eyes and that tears had gathered at the threshold of eyes of that old man and his wife. He imagined they would be highly hesitant to travel in that Class and hence were lamenting. The train was moving along merrily.
After about fifteen, twenty minutes suddenly the child started crying.
Mary whispered to her husband, “See the man must be definitely sixty plus. She will be atleast fifty five. How come they are having such a small child?”
Joseph slapped his forehead murmuring something. As if to clear her doubt the child started crying louder.
“Thatha (grandfather) I am hungry.”
After trying to calm the child for a few minutes, the lady opened her cloth bundle. Immediately a heavy odor of rotten tomato and onion spread in the cabin forcing Joseph and Mary to cup their noses once again in extreme disgust. Mary forcibly prevented a vomit by swallowing water.
The child refused to eat anything offered by that old lady from out of that nasty bundle. The old man after lots of hesitation stood up from the floor and sat in a corner of his seat eying Joseph with respect and fear. The woman was busy comforting her child. The child was adamant in refusing food but did not stop crying.
“Hey! Dog! What else you want?” shouted the woman in village slang.
The child stood up hesitantly, tottered along and went in the direction of Joseph. He was looking away in frustration. The child slowly caught hold of Joseph’s pajama by its soiled fingers and demanded,
“Thatha! Thatha! Please give me that chocolate!”
Joseph did not expect that. He understood the chocolate was protruding from his pocket. He kept it there since he was a diabetic patient. Unable to withstand the child touching his clothes, he stood up dragging his dress further away. The village lady caught hold of the struggling child in time. Otherwise it would have fallen to the floor. The child was adamantly demanding that chocolate.
Feeling extremely uncomfortable Joseph removed the chocolate and threw it in the direction of the child which caught it carefully. In the very next moment the child removed the wrapper and started chewing and biting the chocolate happily. The woman and the village man were all in smiles. They thanked Joseph profusely for his good gesture.
The child finished the chocolate in no time and immediately reached Joseph once again. With wet stains of thick chocolate all over its fingers the child touched Joseph’s pajama once again and demanded one more chocolate. Joseph would have almost slapped the child hard had it not been removed in time by the lady. The stains of chocolate were all over his pajama. He almost shouted at Mary to give him an alternate dress.
“All because of this chocolate!” murmured Mary.
“See our fate! I am working in the Government in high grade. I am travelling in First class. But this illiterate idiot…just because somebody had paid him some money…or had he stolen money from somewhere…is also travelling by my side. This is our bad time. I am serving this country and getting these comforts. These village dogs…what have they done to travel in this Class…that too…along with me!?”
Joseph murmured continuously in English in irritation. Mary could understand his frustration. She too remained deeply worried.
“Whether this adamant child will allow us to sleep well in this night!?” she wondered.
“Even on that fateful day…in that hotel room I was not this much uncomfortable. Guns were booming all around. There were cries, shouts and strange sounds. But I was sure somebody from our police or army will rescue us from that hotel. God sent that brave Officer to my room who took me down. I subsequently heard he too had fallen to the bullets of those terrorists.”
Mary nodded in total agreement. She too felt that was going to be a long night for them. They were right. As feared by them that night proved to be horrible. To compound their worries, the child was waiting always for an opportunity to take something from their baskets. They had loaded those baskets with fruits and snacks at Chennai. Fearing the child, they could not open those baskets as well.
They tossed and rolled in their berths with roaring stomachs on that night. Joseph had not experienced such problems so far in his life. He rattled off innumerable curses on the railways and on that couple. Mary too could not sleep. Throughout that night the child kept on crying in bouts disturbing all the inmates of that cabin. The ordeal continued throughout their journey up to New Delhi. The villagers did not get down at any intervening station as expected by Joseph. The irritation and anger of Joseph had grown manifold in the meantime.
When the train finally reached New Delhi, Joseph heaved a great sigh of relief. Before he could open the door of the cabin, his driver came in politely to collect the luggage. While getting down Joseph noted that some Army jawans were walking briskly towards his compartment. He was not sure.
“Why army men are coming here to receive me? Whether the Government has announced any special reward for me in the last 24 hours!?”
With lots of doubts and hesitation he stepped forward with a smile towards the jawans. Ignoring him they straight went into the cabin. One jawan removed a garland from his bag and put it on that villager with respect. Others clapped happily with tears in their eyes. Joseph was startled on witnessing that scene. He could not digest what was happening before his eyes. Nearing a jawan he enquired about their garland and the reception.
“They are parents of our brave Captain Palani. He was brave enough to enter the hotel which was captured by the terrorists six months back. He saved atleast a dozen lives before laying down his own. He has been chosen posthumously for an award by the Government. Refusing flight these simple but great citizens of this country have travelled in this train to receive that award from the President tomorrow. They are guests of Indian Army now.”
Joseph almost swooned. With tears welling up he looked at those innocent villagers. Now they looked like heroes to his eyes. Wiping out his eyes, he fell down on the feet of that old man.
“Oh Great man! Now I understand that your son had actually saved my life on that day. Please forgive me!”
The villager could not understand why Joseph was seeking an apology. He started moving away with an uncomfortable smile. Wiping out his tears with remorse Joseph removed one more chocolate from his pocket and offered it, this time, with abundant happiness, to that child.