Remembering Mahatma Gandhi

Penance for violence, unheard in history,
from the land of variety and mystery.
Fasting for peace! Is it a means to freedom?
Debated press and public across the kingdom

Peace was restored, brokered by a weak man,
He who advocated self-reliance with a spinning yarn.
When praises and fame became a hindrance,
He accepted dhoti, acknowledging poverty; in abundance.

The kingdom exploited the poor, taxes even on salt,
He led the masses to break the monopoly, to boycott.
Clubbed and beaten, the salt they tasted,
Was in the stream of blood; but their spirits undefeated,

Jailed him several times, but he never succumbed,
And held steadfast to his staff of non-violence and brotherhood.
Until the day, the kingdom yielded,
The man with a walking stick had the King defeated.

Violence can kill, but can’t buy obedience
Ahimsa in itself is the best offence.

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3 zeroes are zero – A tale of an exam

The trio “back-benchers” had done miserably in the semester exams. All they managed to do was produce 3 replicas. The whole class was amused, even the teacher chuckled when she handed the answer sheets.

You guys could have submitted one single paper and added all your names in that. Atleast spare me the effort‘.

Everyone in the class burst into laughter.

Ranjith was not amused.

Copying in exam

Yes!! I had copied the papers from Dinesh who had inturn copied it from Rohit. But have you seen Dinesh’s handwriting, it looks more like a cipher. May be he writes to confuse the teacher and gain half a mark here, half there – benefit of doubt. But its quite a task to read and copy it faithfully. Thank god Rohit didn’t write more than half a page… I wonder how she read Dinesh’s paper and gave us equal marks… May be she counted words … no she knows we would have copied; anyway we haven’t made an exception ever…

Ranjith looked at his scores ‘ How hard is it to get a zero … but it is definitely hard to spend 2 hours in the examination hall waiting for just the opportune moment when the examiner is not watching and then grab the sheet from Dinesh‘.

Thank you bright scholars. Please go back to you seats.

All three of them turned to face the class in perfect discipline and marched towards their seats. As they passed each row, the students giggled. Someone poked Rohit, instinctively he turned back. ‘3 zeroes are zero‘ someone shouted and everyone erupted into laughter.Even the teacher was smiling as she continued  to examine the next paper on her desk. A devilish twitch flashed in the corner of her lips.

**************

I will give you one more chance …Here these are the 4 important questions from the syllabus… Come prepared..I will conduct a separate test for you 3 and I will ask 3 questions out of the 4… If you can answer all of them right, I will give you pass marks‘ the teacher said as she handed them the questions on a small piece of paper.

The trio looked at the questions and it took them no time to start scheming. Some hush words later they slammed the palms of their raised arms with each other in jubilation.

**************

Two days later the results were published. Students were crowded around the bulletin board.Dinesh, Ranjith and Rohit pushed their way inviting angry remarks from their colleagues who were checking their results. The whole place was buzzing, like flies over sweets kept in open. Dinesh with his protruding belly,propelled himself easily. Inspecting the result pinned on the bulletin board,  he  ran his fingers down the list of names and then drew a horizontal line with his finger to reach his scores in Chemistry … ‘Zero!!!.. What .. How‘. Ranjith was equally perplexed he pushed Dinesh aside and checked his score.. ‘Zero‘. Rohit never bothered, but Ranjith checked Rohit’s score as well; out of curiosity and was a little relieved to know that he also had the same score. Zero!

3 zeroes are zero‘ the words ringed in his ears.

**************

How was that possible?‘..

They had all copied the answers on blank answer sheets that they had managed to sneak from the staff-room a day prior to the exam. The plan was perfect. On the day of the exam,they were seated early, bubbling with confidence. They waited patiently for the questions to be announced. The exam started exactly when the clock ticked 9:00 am; as time progressed, they made every opportunity count. They stealthy pulled out the smuggled answer sheets one by one every time when the examiner looked away; distracted by people walking by the corridor. The time was 9:15 am ,the allotted time was nearing; they hurriedly pinned each of the sheets question wise. When the job was done , they walked up to the examiner one by one and asked for additional sheets- all part of the plan.Finally they waited another long 15 minutes in the exam hall to ward off suspicion. At the end of the bell at 9:30 am, they proudly marched to the examiner and placed their answer sheets on the table. Dinesh even wiped an imaginary sweat off his forehead, as he handed the paper to the examiner.

Can you please avoid your over-acting‘ Rohit whispered in Dinesh’s ears menacingly simultaneously he stamped on Dinesh’s foot. Ranjith quickly silenced the groans with his hand over Dinesh’ mouth.

As they walked out of the classroom that day the closing credits would have shown ‘ And they lived happily ever after‘…

**************

Fast-forward to today.. The trio wore blank expressions and were looking at each other, bewildered at the conundrum. Couple of seconds passed before a jostling colleague interrupted their emotional stalemate. A battle-cry followed and like warriors of the infantry smashing into the opposition army, they invaded the staffroom. To them their teacher sitting in her cabin at the far corner of the room looked like a petty queen evading arrest at the hands of the mercenary. The trio were standing in-front of the teacher. Unaware of their presence she was immersed in a journal in-front of her, marking paragraph after paragraph with a fluorescent marker.

Ranjith wanted to slam the desk and induce respect just as a mercenary would have subdued his prisoners, but only a meek “Ma’am” escaped his lips. She looked up as if she was expecting them and retorted with a stern “Yes?”. Suddenly the roles had been switched she was the victorious queen and the trio- prisoners of war.

Ma’am” we had performed so well in exam, but why have you given us zero‘ Dinesh asked as humbly as to shame a donkey with brick load.

You know it well … you cheated not me , but yourselves‘.

‘No ma’am we have … n‘, Dinesh implored.

Really!…‘ she interrupted a scorn spread animatedly on her face.

‘I don’t have time for silly argument….you know it…. I thought you guys were dumb and that’s why I gave you a chance, but you people are clever … too clever…… Get out‘, she said the last part under her breath. Almost like the rumbling of clouds far away.

Their cause was dismissed. As they walked towards the ground they murmerred to each other. ‘How did she know?‘. Questions turned to accusation and they were throwing blows and kicks …in quick movements but with maximum force ..like a duck paddling the water wildly underneath yet maintaining a calm composure above.

I take back my words.. not all of you are clever, you have a fool for company‘, the teacher muttered. Yet in the room, at that moment, her words resonated. The trio stopped and looked back.

What are you looking at… one genius among you stapled 3 sheets

So what is wrong in that, there were 3 questions’ their puzzled faces replied.

The 3rd sheet … I never asked you that question‘, she tore the papers angrily and threw them into the dustbin.

****************

2 + zero=zero a new equation was formed.


The day Harry met Julian

Cobbled streetHarry walked through the cobbled streets of Paris. The dark aroma of coffee wafted through the air and caught his nostril; stirring memories of Julian.  A familiar fragrance , the brush of air through her silken hair and the white lavish satins. He felt uncomfortable, he missed her so much.

This was the same place he had met her for the first time,confessed his love and committed his life; all in a day. Yet when he walked these lanes he felt as if he was walking the same day again. The old man selling fruits on the cart grinned – just as he had on that day. The boy holding a toy brushed passed him , shouting “Sorry Mister” – Just as on that day.

Harry looked around something strange was happening the deja-vu was too strong to be dismissed off. Adding to the mystery was his own growing anticipation.For some reason his heart was racing away, he was sure that something familiar was going to happen.Instinctively he looked up. The tall houses on either sides of the street were kissing each other, their eager lips held apart by the radiant sun. Harry smiled he knew what was coming, his walk was slow and then steadily gained momentum before he broke into a run. He stretched out his left arm to hold a lamp-post on the corner and whirled himself around. As he did, he bumped into a beautiful girl.

Their gaze had not yet met , but he knew it was Julian. His eyes slowly travelled up from the edges of her flowing stain white brocade. Each inch of the sight cried out “Julian !”. She was more round now , but the beauty had not faded, the lines around her eyes were beautiful he thought. “Harry, come with me.. you took so long to find me” she mesmerized him. A spell was cast and Harry just followed her. Walking slowly they disappeared into the horizon.

For the world Harry has just passed away.


The woodpecker on John’s window.

Little John ran upstairs to find his friend of 2 weeks was back to old ways. No amount of persuasion would deter him from banging his head on the glass window.

Stop it will you!” John shouted. His friend the woodpecker looked dumbstruck; then again

Knock, Knock, Knock..

woodpecker

What’s the problem , don’t you get it, you cannot build a nest in a glass window“, John parted the curtains on the window and scared the bird away.

The bird was now perched on the bark of a teak tree and furiously pecking at the wood.

I can’t let you in buddy… Mom says you will dirty the floors… n dad doesn’t like pets.. You build your nest there on that tree so I can see you everyday..

John went downstairs and within a minute the woodpecker was back on the window. No amount of shooing would drive the bird away. Just that little John was too small to notice that on the wall facing the window hanged a framed photo of his daddy’s first catch with his gun.

A woodpecker.


Understanding Disablity.

Today has been a revelation.

I am down with a slight injury and I see my chat and mailbox flooded by messages. Some a direct taunt, others light humour and still others wishes for speedy recovery. I just imagined what it would be if I were never to get up of my bed or if I was Impaired.

Disability

1. Disability

Probably the most painful way of realising one’s own disability is when you are seen less than 100% fit for doing an activity.When you have to ask for assistance ..no matter how minuscule the effort required.Irrespective of

a. Whether the favour is returned or not.

b. How sincerely the act is performed.

c. The person who performs it.

There is an inevitable surrender. A surrender of realities. I am saying loud “I am helpless.. I am at your mercy”. A proposition that is never comfortable.

What is our stand when we meet a person who is physically disabled ? We try to offer help/assistance. A kind gesture some might boast.

But, did that person ask your help ?

Why did you ever imagine that the person needs your assistance?

Your perceived assistance based on gross miscalculations made by your sensory organs are no match for all the experiences this man would have assimilated through self learning. Prove me wrong!!

How many blind-man have met with crazy road-accidents ? How many deaf people have ever bumped into someone? How many mute people ever had a difficulty with confessing their love? How many people with Autism ever had a problem understanding the tear in the eyes of their mother? How many amputee’s would have missed their best friends wedding.

As a matter of fact majority of the normal people do. So then who is really disabled?

Have you ever talked to someone who has been held on false charges. Their trauma of being victimized can be so demoralizing and disturbing that the victim and everyone around would always do their best to help the person forget the episode.Imagine having to undergo a similar trauma almost everyday. Trauma of being treated as disadvantaged when you are self-sufficient, of being challenged every now and then to passively admit a disability – by someone offering assistance.

Offer assistance only when asked.

2. Sympathy

Another dangerous misconception is that people are moved by our sympathy. As I understand sympathy between equals is well communicated, but when we have already decided that there is an imbalance between a normal person and a “disabled” person can there be sympathy. No. It is just pity. And what is so pitiful anyway.

When you shout at someone and then you realize that the person is deaf, you say “sorry”, again who is disabled ?

Definitely the one who failed to check his emotions. Sympathizing is just a glorified word for ignorance. Instead what must be done is to understand a person who is differently abled. When you hold a hand let it be for friendship. When you want to talk, learn their language. When you want to help know that disability is not a handicap. It is just a word wrongly put.


A note of faith – Part 1

I rejected my own reflection on the showcase of the bakery.I had grown lean and dark circles had formed around my eyes. I am not complaining but just a couple of months ago , I was a rather “Healthy” (read Fat) teenager. What had changed between these few months. I wonder.

What do you want?‘, I was pulled back to reality. Finding my self lost, I looked around.

You there… what do you want‘, I regained focus and I was looking straight at the shopkeeper. He didn’t have the inviting smile of a merchant, rather he sounded more like a military general.A no non-sense type.

Uhum ?the shopkeeper raised his eyebrows in a questioning gesture, in his eyes I read his resolve to drive me away as soon as I would have shrugged my shoulders meaning ‘Nothing’.

‘I am looking for some sweets,‘ I spoke to avoid public disgrace.That allowed me some time as the shopkeeper now turned to other buyers requesting attention.

**********

Bakery Bakery shop at bus station is a winner in Kerala. Considering our culture of hospitality, we buy sweets, cakes, tea time snacks and sometimes even chewing gums to gift those we are visiting.Infact,I don’t know if we ever think outside the realms of eatables for gifts. It really doesn’t matter what time,what occasion or whom we are visiting, we surely carry some eatables as gifts. Of-course there is no disgrace; even if you are to gift a pack of orange candies or cashew nuts when visiting your grandfather who is struggling with his teeth. Thankfully, people appreciate the act more than the monetary value of the item. So, you buy a case of rare dry fruits or a roll of poppins, you get the same generous, warm welcome.

I looked at the customers at the shop. Some were bargaining with the attenders and some were striking a compromise with their kids – “Kid wins” kind of compromise. ‘At-least the attenders are ready to listen.’ I amused myself.

My reality as compared to the kids was not different. They were dependent on their parents for everything just as I was only that I had grown to sprout moustaches and patches of facial hair. With age people add a new dimension to a teenager’s behaviour “maturity” which also packages itself as ‘understanding the situation’. While these kids could scream, howl and embarrass their parents to submission, I had to live with my monthly allowances, which is justified in the fact that my parents belonged to the every growing middle class; characterized by high ambitions for their kids and negligible bank balances to propel those dreams.I was a victim of these ambitions and I am now pursuing an Engineering degree in a newly started engineering college in my home-town.

My share of responsibilities included me to sacrifice many aspects of my freedom. I am staying with my cousins, sharing their bedroom,accommodating myself to their routines and likes and acting a good listener to their gossips even if I despise such futile conversations. In a way the trade is fair, I get to stay with them minus the rent and they get a dumbass to share their household work.

I do not regrets my condition. To pacify my frustrations, I imagine, had they been my real brothers and sisters, ‘Wouldn’t I have done all this?‘ The answer is invariably a ‘Yes’,and it is my mind that answers as matter-of-factly . My conscience however probes further ‘If they were my real brothers and sisters wouldn’t they consider my interest before dispensing me off to do odd works?..

Wouldn’t I have the freedom to say NO? …

Wouldn’t they care buy me new clothes when they buy it for everyone else in their family? …

Wouldn’t they introduce me to guests as their brother …

Wouldn’t they take me as a representative of my family and give me equal importance at social functions..Wouldn’t..

I refrained myself.

It was during these turbulent times that a friend introduced me to a fellowship of Christian friends who gather on weekends for prayers and sharing. That soon became my escape from everything and I found new courage.

**********

I searched my pocket and all I could come up with was 12 Rupees. ‘5 Rupees for fare.. balance 7.. hmm’ I told myself. This month I had just 400 Rupees and there was still another 1 week before the month ends and I get my allowances,.. I wish I had another 3 rupees to spare so I could have bought those cakes.’ My eyes fell on the plum-cake slices – cut vertically into square shapes and then wrapped in translucent white paper.

So then shall I take some of these?‘ the shopkeeper had returned and he had followed my gaze. He never meant a word to entice me into buying, he just wanted to browbeat me into a decision or at best drive me away. I decided to strongly defend myself from his repeated jabs on my self-esteem, If I can’t win this I will surely prolong his irritation.

How much for those cakes?‘ I pointed towards the cake slices, acting ignorant of the price tag already kept near the item. I was just buying my time to take a decision a balance between my craving for a cake and the money I had in my pocket.

That is 5 per piece.. minimum 2 pieces‘ the shopkeeper pushed the words businesslike.

Emm…shish….‘ I twitched a corner of my lips to show my supposed apprehension.

Do you have any other cakes?

Would you want some pastries,I have chocolate… vanilla and cookie..

Never mind, I don’t like them‘, I was surprised at my royal arrogance.

Then I don’t have anything else … If you want something buy it fast, I don’t have time for your questions…..‘, I had pressed the wrong buttons and I wasn’t ready for what was coming.The shopkeeper looked at me intensely for a few seconds. His face now turned meaner and demonic.

How much money do you have huh … come-on tell me how much do you have…‘ He voice now fiery. His coarse language immediately drew the attention of the people around, who were now looking at me. Their sneers pained me and I wished I would rather die.

I am just asking you for..‘,my voice grew meek.

What asking!!..he cut me short and started yelling, his hands and tongue twisting and turning as they hurled insults at me.All this guy has done in the last 10 minutes here is just ask..He was addressing the curious crowd that had by now gathered around the shop. I wanted to hide somewhere , my eyes now followed my feet as they scratched the floor.You think I run this shop to answer your questions … what’s the rate of this..what’s the rate of that… that is all you can do…. don’t have a penny in your pocket but you still want to know the rates ….

Words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. If I had anger to punch him one moment, the other moment I was clouded by shame. The barbed whispers of the onlookers, resonated in my ears. I was rendered motionless with abject misery.My lips quivered and I bite them to contain myself.

Just two rascals like him is enough to spoil a day’s business … what are you waiting for… come tomorrow, I will give you everything for free… he paused a moment. ‘Look at him …. you must have a skin of a rhino to stand here shamelessly.‘ Insignificant.. is exactly what I felt in that moment. My mind raced to find words that would form a fitting reply, breathing grew so heavy I could hear it,my toe pressed so hard on the sole of the sandal that it hurt. Even then, I didn’t have the courage to raise my head. I waited for some miracle to happen.

Read the second part of the story


A note of faith – Part 2

A young boy visits a bakery to buy some cakes, but soon he is publicly rebuked by the shopkeeper. Read the first part of the story

This boy is not begging here OK… and who the fuck are you to yell at him.. did he steal your money….? You are not the only one who runs a shop here and you definitely don’t sell the best… ‘,someone intervened, his voice deep and authoritative.

I should have joined this man in his attempts to resurrect me, but I never bothered, my mind was diving into a sea of self sympathy. I was a little unsettled when this man reached into my breast pocket and pulled out a few coin. I was still hiding my head in the sand.

Here .. he was asking for a cake right, you better give him that now…‘ I heard the clink sound of coins as they hit the counter. I imagined that the stranger would have flung the coins at the shopkeeper.

Here take this‘, he handed me a parcel, and lightly stroked by head.Two cup cakes had been stacked one top of another and wrapped in newspaper to give it a cylindrical shape. He then, gently propelled me forward. ‘The show is over…’ he snarled at the gossip mongers.

**************

I occupied thBus_insidee window seat of the bus. The clock fixed on the steel frame separating the front glass of the bus read ‘1:47 pm’.

Another 8 minutes to start‘. 

The events of the day were still fresh and I was ashamed at myself for not having thanked the man who saved my face.

Close to the clock was a porcelain figurine of ‘Christ the redeemer’. Arms stretched out and overlooking his subjects.

What does god mean to anyone, even the shopkeeper had a photo frame of the Compassion of Christ…’. Just a moment back, while looking at the figurine, I had made a cross. Our actions are involuntary and our faith fluid‘ I scorned myself first and everyone else who practices religion secondly.

I pulled back my gaze at the parcel placed on my lap. Not that I had forgotten the incidents of the day, but I was somehow satisfied at the outcome. I pressed my toe and lifted my knees up to roll the parcel in my lap into a play. Slowly the play became engrossing and I pillowed my head on the handle bar of the seat immediately in front of me.

************

I felt someone pat my shoulder and I woke up alarmed. The bus had been speeding for a while and I was lost in sleep.

Ticket‘.

I reached my breast pocket, pulled out the coins and handed it to the conductor. The conductor examined the coins and when he handed me the ticket, he winked – ‘joy of exact fare‘.

Then he moved across to the next seat while balancing himself with great care as the bus took a turn.

As I was pushing the ticket into my pocket, a realisation struck me. ‘God!!..where have I lost it‘ , I panicked.

The parcel of cup cakes was missing. I stood up in the wink of an eye and searched my pockets frantically. I must have unsettled my co-passenger as he murmured a word or two. Some passengers who were standing soon joined me in my search under the seat and everywhere else.

What are you looking for‘, the conductor asked as he pushed his way through the crowd and came towards me.

I .. I had a small packet wrapped in newspaper… It had a cylindrical shape… I had it on my lap…now I can’t find it‘. ‘Did you look under the seat’. ‘ Yes I did … the packet is cylindrical in shape.. it could have rolled off‘ I ducked again to look under the seat.

Hello .. can you all check under your seat, a boy here has lost his parcel‘, the conductor announced to the passengers. Immediately some head ducked while others maintained their indifference.

I raised my head from inspecting under the seat when I heard some one shout. ‘Hello … is this your parcel‘, I saw an old man standing ; a couple of seats in front of me; smiling and holding a newspaper wrapped object in his raised right hand. I nodded my head in approval.The old man pressed the parcel into the hands of a passenger near him. I watched as the parcel was being passed from one hand to another and finally to me.

Something about this parcel is different‘ , I examined the parcel visually while it was still be transported carefully. My assumption was correct. The size of the parcel was right, but it’s shape.. it looked a lot more rectangular .. a cuboid…I flipped the parcel to see if the wrapping had been tampered.

‘Nothing here’ I relieved myself. Then I noticed some brown marks .. ‘Gosh! … someone has stepped on it.. my cakes!!!‘. I cursed my fate, tension building inside me. The thought of losing the cakes was more than the insult I had suffered. I brushed the soiled marks on the parcel with the back of my hand and looked at the man who handed me the parcel.

‘Who stepped on this parcel’.. my tone was stern and direct; the parcel held raised in my hand. I stood there for a while and nobody replied, only a few heads ever bothered to look at me. I panned my gaze to look at everyone who was looking at me, finally fixing it on the old man who had found the parcel. His toothless grin admitted his ignorance. I was not amused but what could I say, the damage was done and definitely it wasn’t his fault.Infact he had helped me find it. I turned my gaze from him and dissolved into my seat in complete rejection.

Ramanattukara …. those who have taken ticket for Ramanattukara please alight here quickly‘. The bus stopped at crossroad. Ramanattukara is my home-town and it is a small town with few shops. The life here revolves around farming predominantly rubber plantations.

I took a while to push my way through the crowd. I was the last person to get down and the attender mouthed a long soliloquy on time management and a few harsh tips on planning. I didn’t even bother to reply because he says that to everyone as if it is his duty.

I waited for the bus to start and then for the cloud of dust and smoke to settle as the bus took off from the bus stop. Then I crossed across and made my way towards home. I walked past the ‘mom and pop’ store and waved at old ‘Sathishettan’ as he packed grocery items in newspaper and tied with jute threads for a customer.

Aaaaa…how are things‘ he called excitedly.

All good … jolly good‘ I replied loud and continued.

What’s that in your hand …‘, he quizzed. ‘You could have bought the candles from here‘, he commented while scratching his bare back with the tip of a knife. His sales pitch is always straight, bizarre and at times rude, but his smile and enthusiasm never leaves his face. That could probably be the reason we all called him ‘Chettan- Big brother’.

His question had made me aware of the parcel in my hand. ‘That’s just some stationary items for my college assignments‘ I lied.

OK see you later‘, I hurried away. A few meters away from the grocery shop and the crossroad where I had de-boarded from bus, I took a left deviation into a rubber plantation. The narrow pathway through the estate was a short cut to home. I took the short-cut for another reason, I wanted to finish my cake before I reached home, where I would have to share it with my cousins. Moreover if they happen to see the stamped parcel, it wouldn’t be a day or two before they stop harassing me with lectures on ‘responsibility’. Sometimes I have wondered if speech could be a disability.

I pulled off the stapler pins binding the ends of the parcel and started unrolling the parcel. With every flip of the parcel, the shape became more even and finally a perfect cuboid. But more than the shape it was the content that surprised me. Instead of crumbled and flattened cup cakes, I found two translucent paper packs and my heart was racing away at the miracle that was unfolding infront of me. It was somehow difficult for me to accept.What I saw was two plum cakes.

My first thought was is it someone else’s parcel. I wanted to rush back to the bus and return it. Wait a minutes … may be the man who rescued me from the shopkeeper had bought it. No .. I clearly remember him handing me a rolled parcel. If this belongs to someone else then where is my parcel. While a thousand questions flooded my thoughts, it all settled to only one picture and to me the answer became clear.

Christ the redeemer

The figurine of Christ the redeemer had a faint smile; I recollected.

 Christ the Redeemer  Image Courtesy – finding the universe

Bus Image Courtesy – Kerala RTC


Guilt – Part 2

An Intern Loco pilot finds a strange sack lying on the track. He halts the train and gets down to inspect. Only to find that it was just the tip of the iceberg. Read the first part here

Part 2 – ‘Madira’ my escape from bitterness

You clever son of a whore..what you think you were doing‘ a voice whispered coarsely in my ears. I felt a sharp pain as my arm was twisted a little more to induce higher degree of torture and the sharp edge of the dagger was pressed closer to my neck. My eyes opened up involuntarily and my mouth uttered words of forgiveness without my knowledge.

Tears rolled down my eyes and my heart was pounding so loud I could hear it. My legs felt weak and I collapsed in fear. My oppressor kicked my back with his knees; the pain brought new life to my collapsing body and I sprung up.railway

Take that girl and lay her back on the track‘ he shouted to his comrades.

While I was watching the men force the head of the girl back into the sack and tie the rope on the end, she began to wobble and quiver. Her groans of agony pierced my heart and soul.

The man behind me released my hand for a second before pulling my hair back. He then pricked my ‘Adam’s apple’  with the tip of the knife, pushing it a little until I screamed in pain. I felt a drop of blood flowing from the wound down my neck toward the neckline.

From the corner of my eye , I saw a few men carrying the sack and placing it back on the track in front of the engine.The struggle of the girl was horrific, she continued to moan and move inside the sack . One of the men who had carried the sack to the railway track pulled out a wooden club and silenced the girl with a heavy blow.

A few bones might have broken‘ I Imagined and I felt bile build up in my stomach. I couldn’t control my emotions , fear and pity ; I wept like a baby.

********************

You listen to me carefully, you are going to start that train and run it to your goddamned destination. If you show any signs of resistance I am going to pack you with that girl in that sack and beat you to pulp. You understand me!!! … You are going to DIE‘,  the menacing voice my oppressor echoed in my ears.

He threw my head forward as he released his grip on my hair and pushed me forward. The warning had registered not in my ears but in my soul, for I became detached from myself; this world. My ears went deaf and my movements mechanically. My eyes never blinked for they were fixed on the sack lying motionless on the track.

My legs felt heavy with each step weighing a  thousand pounds. I wavered everynow and then, almost falling down. I supported myself on my knees. My throat was dry and my vision blurred. I was gasping for breath as if I had just finished a marathon.

One more push or was it a kick, I don’t remember, and I was now climbing onto the engine. Through the window of the engine I could see the sack lying in front of me . A patch of red had now spread on one side of the sack and I reigned my mind from imagining the details.

The man with the wooden club banged the side of the engine so hard that I felt the vibrations of the impact on the lever and the control board. I closed my eyes and prayed all my gods to forgive me for what I was about to do.

Meanwhile the mob was shouting abuses at me, throwing stones aimed at the window, everything possible to push me to drive the engine forward; only that my hands on the lever wouldn’t move. This was my ‘moment of truth‘. I was forced into inaction by my fear for my life and pity for the life that I was about to take. No amount of will could move the lever which I held so tightly. I prayed under my breath and I clenched my teeth to force myself to action.

All of a sudden I felt a hand close over my hand on the lever and it pushed the lever forward. I didn’t open my eyes for the fear of discovering the face of man who had held me at knifepoint. Slowly the engine came alive and hissed, I felt the wheels moving and I imagined the scene as the distance between the sack and the engine was closing. I waited obnoxiously long to feel a thud or a vibration of wheel as it would run over the sack. I lost count of time passed until the grip on my hand released.

He might have jumped out of the train‘ I comforted myself and opened my eyes. In front of me, the train had now picked up quite some speed. I looked back to see Debashish standing behind me, his eyes filled with pity , I pressed my head onto the side windows and looked back in the direction of the tail end of the train. The mob was still standing on the sides of the train, I kept staring at mob as they stood motionless in anticipation. The outlines of their bodies dissolving into the omnipresent darkness and only the flame of their torches dancing in the dark.

While I was still looking, I heard gunshots fired into air and howling of the mob as they broke into celebration.

They had confirmed the death of the girl.

**********************

I succumbed to desperation and shrank onto the floor of the cabin with my head hidden between my knees. I wept, screamed and poured my heart out. The last half an hour of my life ran several times  through my head.

The face of the girl will haunt me forever… I am a murderer now … my hands are tainted‘ I raised my head to look at my hands and then pressed my face into my arms. Then anger engulfed me and I banged my fist on the floor of the cabin.

Debashish pulled me up and said ‘Your burden is heavy , but you know that you are not to blame yourself‘ his voice was steady and gentle any stimulant effects of the palm wine were now missing. ‘What you need is a medicine to free yourself‘. He offered me the pint bottle containing his brew. I looked at the bottle for a second and then at the face of Debashish and gulped the bottle empty. As my eyes closed, I found peace,stars twinkling everywhere, cool breeze and the soft tone of bells.

Alchol (Madira) – My escape from the bitterness of life.


Guilt – Part 1

Part 1 – Debashish and the palm wine

Honk the horns the attender shouted to me, instinctively I looked back at the tail end of the wagon.The guard was waving the green flag frantically. I  turned forward and looked at the signal which was now lit green. The attender instructed his helper to place the tools back in the toolkit, he then turned back to me and waved his hand.

Bon Voyage sirji, we are all done here‘.

From my vantage point I looked down at attender he had sweat formed as tiny droplets all over his bald head, some were trickling down his sideburns onto the khaki collars of his shirt. His khaki attire spoke a story of a hard day at work.

You should be reaching the Biswanpur station by 8 pm… ask the shunter there to have a look at the coupling.he pointed the spanner in his right hand towards the rear end of the engine.

Then wiping the sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand, he saidKeep the speed under 60‘.

***************

My mom’s constant push for a secure government job had landed me a job with Indian Railways and at the age of  24, I was starting my career as a goods train driver. After 2 years of rigorous training at the Railway yard as ‘Trainee’ this was my first journey on a freight train as ‘Assistant Loco Pilot’.

Engage the bell … and Notch 1Debashish instructed as he climbed  the engine. He brought with him a severe stench of Palm wine ,Toddy. I am repulsive to any form of alcohol and I wondered how a staunch Hindu brahmin like Debashish could act with such unholiness. Forget religion, this was serious violation of rules.

The engine which was still buzzing when I set it to ‘Notch 1′ now came alive and it hissed and shrieked. For a couple of minutes the noise was so high that nothing could be heard. Then when I slid the window on my side of the engine, some sanity was restored.

Notch 2 Debashish shouted in my ear as he closed the window on his side of the engine. The stench travelled faster than sound and I wonder if I followed his instructions in fear of the stench or in obedience of a subordinate .

Sir, you are drunk, isn’t that a violation of duty rules? I questioned with all humility.

Your internship on matters of duty begins todayhe chuckled and reclined into his seat.

He then pulled up a corner of his shirt to take out a pint bottle that was tucked hidden inside waistband of his underwear. With a swift motion of his palm he patted the cap of the bottle twice and then uncapped the bottle.

Cheers!! … to duty rules and your internshiphe laughed out loud, his oversized tummy wobbled to match his joy.

***************

Guilt

It had been more than 2 hours since I started off from the Marze Station and the sun was setting right in front of me at the farthest end of the railway track. The Orange orb of the sun and the golden wheat farm on either sides of the track was perfect picture. Occasionally, sheaves of grains were stacked together in pyramidic shape on the fields and birds were feasting around in urgency before they left for their nests.The twilight was slowly descending and few stars were visible.

Meanwhile, my senior pilot was fast asleep. The gush of strong wind coming from the open window on his side regulated the stench of the toddy.I looked as far as I can in the direction of the setting sun. ‘This was just me, the engine and wide span of farms’..I thought.I patted the control board just as a jockey would pat his whining horse.

My thoughts now travelled back and forth randomly.

The speedometer read 90 km/hr, well above the advice of the attender.

****************

At first it looked like fireflies spread evenly on either sides of the track , slowly I could identify the flicker of flames. Then as the distance reduced I saw something lying on the track, like a boulder or was it an animal?. Something was definitely moving.

Screeecchhh …..the brakes were engaged and the engine shook violently and revolted. For a split second I thought I would have derailed the bogies. The brake reading was now shooting to red from yellow. All the while my eyes were transfixed on the sack in front of me. I was clenching onto the lever of the brake, my feet were pressed heavily on the floor; in anticipation of the misfortune that was about to happen.

Smoke billowed from the sides of the engine and it wheezed heavily as the train came to a halt. From the cabin, I couldn’t  make out if I had over ran the object. With prayers on my lips I jumped down from the cabin onto to the ballast that lay on the sides of the track. I hurried my steps towards the front of the engine and scanned the track. The sack was nowhere to be found.

Instinctively,I hurried back towards my cabin and stopped midway and then bent down to inspect the wheels to confirm my horrors…Nothing there.

I pulled my britelite torch and flashed it under the wheels and under the bogie wheels as far as possible. The hot air emanating from the engine made it difficult to keep my eyes open.

Then, I thought I heard the grinding of ballast…….. a second of silence except for the chirping of crickets……. Then again the same uncomfortable sound. I tried to focus my ears in the direction of the sound. Something was moving or something was being dragged.

******************

I found the sack on the other side of the engine and it was indeed dragging itself towards the field and I was unable to distinguish if it was being dragged by an animal or was it moving on its own. I was myself scared of venturing in the direction of fields as the visibility from the engine was limited to a few feet.

I aimed a stone in the direction in which the sack had by now disappeared.

Goooommmm…. mooohh …. mooooo “.

I heard a plaintive groan; horrified,  when i recognized that  it was a human cry. I stood there unable to decide what to do ,goosebumps ran all over my body and I suddenly felt weak.

******************

I ran back to the cabin and called Debashish.

Sir, there is someone stacked here in a sack, please help.’ I shook him with urgency.Mand your buzz..ness ….. , you leave it .. mind ..he muttered unsteadily in his half sleep.

Will I be a coward or will I stand up.If I leave today, I will never  be able to face myself… I have to take a call… I have already broken the rules and  stopped the train…., am I inviting new troubles ?my mind was busy processing a decision.

I breathed deeply and clenched my fist. I had made up my mind. I am going to unleash… whatever trouble it isI told myself.

Just when I was about to leave, Debashish caught my hand.Pleeze…. leave it..lisan tuo my wordshis tongue faltered with words and he collapsed from his chair and continued to murmur.

*****************

It was quite heavy to drag, heavier than I had anticipated. All the while, ‘someone’ inside the sack
kept groaning. I managed to bring it to near the engine where visibility was better if not poor.
The sack was now wobbling uncomfortably and I had to wrestle with it to keep the top end of the sack steady and untie the rope tied at the top of the sack.

I looked into the eyes of a girl. ‘Black eye’ ,brusies all over her face, hair all messed up and strands of hair  sticking to the facial wounds.  She looked disoriented. A cloth strip  was taped over her mouth and she was choking. I reached to lower the tape that was almost obstructing her breathing. Her eyes were fixed on my approaching hand and she jerked violently to protest my attempts. At that moment I read terror in her eyes and my own fear of the situation discouraged me from making any further attempts.

Do you want some water I inquired.

She threw her head back and forth rapidly to indicate her urgency and thirst.I ran back to the cabin and brought a bottle of water that I had carried for my journey.

Just when I was about to lower the cotton tape on her mouth and help her with the water, I heard  a rustle in the wheat crop. Torches appeared here and there and slowly they seemed to move towards me. I looked around and the torches were closing on me from all directions. I was terrified beyond words.

One man appeared, then another, then another; all from different direction. The torches they carried emanated smoke that smelled of kerosene. In the light of the flame , I was not able to recognize faces,  their bodies up till the torso seemed alike; all wearing cotton dhotis,bare chested, bare footed with a heavy round anklet on their right foot.

I was in the most defensive position that I could be in. Arms drawn in towards my chest and in an obstructive position and my knees slightly bent like a sprinter , ready to run at the opening opportunity. I slowly circled to analyse my situation, trying to lock my eyes with the figures that stood behind the torches.

I realized a warmth growing behind me and before I could turn around, I felt the cold edge of metal on my neck and a strong arm twisted my right hand around my back. I jumped on my toes in agony.

All this is a dream and when I open my eyes this will  be over‘. I comforted myself and shut my eyes. My whole being was terrorized and I felt my calves trembling.

**************** To be Continued ******


Lost Love

Lost Love

Lost Love

The blotch spread faster than the words could flow,
flashes of a love ran wild.
The story of a ‘Lost love’ untold,it begged
for being expressed at least this one time.

Motionless he gazed at the white board,
The story pleaded its creator to start.
Distant the recognitions of other creations,
mocked at the impuissance of the ‘Lost Love’,and laughed.

‘What is wrong with me!’ he quizzed himself
The story implored ‘The Wrong is already done!.

‘When the life was full and youth brimming
Love found way into your life
Eazily dismissed as companionship,
it lingered long for its time to arrive.’

‘You searched for definitions
when it was superfluous.
You spared no time
when it begged for just seconds.’

And one day when it humbled itself to your torturous rejections,
it walked away.
and you found an expression for every emotion then after
quite a writer you have become, they say.

As you celebrate with your admirers
you long for an expression that never was yours.

Your phony tales of fiction
tell no story of a true love.
Because the web of life is still complicated
for you who write about love.
To write tales is your destiny but you will never feel
for a love walked away,

your ‘lost love‘….


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