Tuesday, August 17, 2010
She is wearing a sari which must have been white, once upon a time. At present its dirty grey. And torn. In tatters in fact. How can I deny her! She begs, not the sort of begging that the manager in my first job did. The thin childish manager would speak credulously choosing her words carefully but made things very clear. Her words were an order wrapped in the soft cushion of a request. Here it’s a cry mixed with years of denial. The wrappings of humanity have almost shed off.
I am sitting in Paschim Express travelling to Delhi from Mumbai. I quit my job 3 months back and have been teaching Social Sciences at a coaching class in Mumbai. Hence the sleeper class feels like home, otherwise in the MNC job anything less than a flight ticket is scorned upon. The lady standing before me with a bowel needs money. I give her a Rs 5 coin. She has a boy along with her whose nose seems to hold a whole glacier of the Himalayas. None of the passengers give anything to her. She moves forward. My co passenger speaks
“She is young enough. Why don’t these people do some work rather than beg?”
An old age man sitting on the RAC seat is about to open his mouth when the lady opposite to me spoke
“Who will give jobs to these people? Look at her body, so frail and weak. And then she has a son too!”
“Yes, exactly.” Supported the man.
The train stops at Vadodra station. I have the window seat. A beauty can be seen with her friend at the tea stall. She is on my train. My hormonal equilibrium has shifted. And her lips have gripped me. Hence I keep looking at them. It’s clear from the movement of her lips that the tea is hot. Suddenly it dawns upon me that its springtime. Her friend notices me staring and says something to my lady. She turns her head and eyes met eyes. And somebody keeps her hand on my hand. Now I turn. It’s the hand of an extremely old lady standing on the platform just beside the train. She seems to me to have lived generations; white hairs, bamboo stick, tilted at an angle of 45. She is saying something which I am unable to understand. Her hands were in the shape of offering a Namaz, I am her god. And then I saw the eyes on me. Fixed. Is it a test? Well who can take the risk! I took out a note of Rs 10 and gave it to the old lady. Something hits my legs. I turn my head to see that a small boy is sweeping the floor of the compartment. He signalled me to raise my legs which I did. When I turned to the window again, the old lady is gone. And my lady is paying the tea stall owner after which she turns towards the train and when we were the closest, gives her eyes to me, for a split second of course. But that is enough for me, the costliest thing the 10 rupee note could have earned. I follow her as far as geometry would allow. Somebody pats my back. It is the sweeper boy and now he is asking for some money. Everybody is looking at me as if I am the banker of the compartment! At first I ask him to go. But he is adamant. Then I give him a Rs 5 coin too. The old man on the RAC seat is just about to open his mouth when the fat lady opposite me asked
“Where are you going son?”
“Delhi, at my friend’s house.”
“O.K. Do you work?”
“Yes, I am a teacher. I teach Social Science.”
She then did not speak. So I asked
“Where are you going aunty?”
“To Mathura. My son lives there.”
The train had crossed Mathura station. Aunty had lighted down. After paying the sweeper boy, I had paid a blind man and his daughter and a physically handicapped man Rs 5 each. And I am frustrated. The limits of my philanthropy have been stretched and I have never paid so many beggars in such a short duration of time. Even though the amounts are little, there is something that makes me really uncomfortable. No it’s not the wretched state of poverty and sadness in our country! We have been too over drunk by that fact. Probably it is the feeling of being the odd one out in the compartment. Except paying the physically handicapped man, none of the passengers have been forthcoming enough. Why this made me uncomfortable, I don’t know. The lessons in ethics have already been archived in the library of my thoughts and decision making process. So they cannot be the reason. May be this is just me again. Uncomfortable and uneasy.
But the best thing is that Delhi is close and so is an end to this ordeal. My co passenger informs that in around 20 min we would be at Faridabad station. But before I could pack my things, I heard the most dreaded of sounds. A sound which echoes in my head for it contains a fear and discomfort comparable to being alone in a jungle surrounded by a group of lions. I hear the sound when some worker on the road is making his Tobacco (tambaku), when the vendors in the vegetable market woo customers and when while appreciating someone both our hands strike each other to manufacture the lethal “THHHH thhhh”. Only difference is that we do not follow the act by the words “चल पैसे निकाल.” The eunuchs were there. I could hear them far enough. I looked at the top berth. It is full of suitcases so a shelter above was not available. I had already tried the bathroom stuff during college days but they are smart enough not to be deceived by it. Catch 22. Looked at my wallet. There is no change; I had given them to the beggars. Just had a coin of Rs 5.
When they arrive it’s is huge tall dark figure with long hairs, wearing a sari.
“चल हीरो , पैसे निकाल” I give it the Rs 5 coin. She/he frowns
भिखारी समझा है क्या ? मिनिमुम 10 है . डिस्काउंट के साथ . तेरे को तो और देना चाह्हिये बे शाहरुख़.”
I liked it. Such praises at my mediocre looks were scarce. But I had no change.
मेरे पास change नहीं है .”
तो में देती हूँ न change . कितने हैं तेरे पास ?”
She took out a bundle of notes all folded once and started counting. I am counting too. She gave 8 Rs 10 notes to me. That makes it Rs 80. I said
“ये तो सिर्फ 80 है “
अबे तो एक्स्ट्रा 10 change करने के नहीं होते मुन्ना ?”
Conned. The discomfort inside me changed into anger. They must have at least some morality. But the history of my confrontational experiences is such small a book that it could start where it ends. And I am sure that my to- be- opponent here would be a champion in the affairs of confrontation. Hence as always I let things be as they are. But this time everybody in the compartment had to contribute Rs 10. Only my co passenger is saved. That too because he asserted
“में तो इसी के साथ हूँ .”He meant he is with me and hence my contribution is same as his. Bastard.
When the eunuch went away, Faridabad had arrived. The old man on the RAC seat made a reaction to speak again. No aunty this time so he could go ahead. Probably he is going to speak some wise words to soothe my bruised self. He puts both his hands on the seat, turns towards the window and spits out the paan he is having. I get the wise signal though and move with my luggage towards the door to get down at the next station.