Friday, 5 January 2007


6332 Trivandrum-Mumbai Express-the long python with an irresistible appetite for rails taking a short nap in the tumultuous Trivandrum railway station before starting another session of devouring of rails.
I got into the train and secured my seat. As of now there isn’t any one in my cabin. The air of solitude made me more comfortable.-an island in the sea of human beings. But soon the other claimants of the island came-a contingent of father, mother, son and sister. They were carrying bags and suitcases bigger than themselves. With great dexterity the father managed to stuff the baggage under the seat. Aroma of pineapple, bananas, halwas, jackfruits and other eatables were emanating from the gigantic bags. It seems that they are on a mission to do relief work in the famine stuck villages of North India.
Then the father, mother and the sister got out of the train deserting the son-a wannabe man of 17 or 18 year old. A sense of being disowned written all over his face. Then the father came to the window and gave him a list of instructions:
Do not stand at the door.
Do not get out of the train at stations.
Do not accept anything from strangers.
Call me as soon as you reach Mumbai
He nodded at every instruction. Every father would like to have a son like him.
Now it’s the turn of the mother .She held his hands through the window bars.
“Study well. My prayers will be always with you.” Her eyes were flooded.
“Yes amma.I will”. His reply came in a trembling voice.
“Potte Chetta “.Sister also bid adieu.
The train started to chug off. It was callously punctual today. The farewell scene was so heart-melting that it deserved to be continued for some more time.
I cannot understand why people sometimes express love in a manner, which defies all logic and rationale. They were weeping at the station as if their son is being sent to the gallows. Dear mother, do you want to have your son in your lap for the entire life?
I have also seen bewildering scenes of mothers sobbing at the occasion of their daughter’s wedding. At an occasion, which should make them happy, they shed tears. Its weird. May be the sense of parting with a person who was a part of their body for ten months is driving them to a melancholic mood. I don’t know. Love and logic never go hand in hand.
My companion was sitting there with his head stuck at the window bars. He was wandering in his own world.
“You are studying in Mumbai?” I asked him.
“Ha” He replied coldly.
I groped for some topics, which would keep the ball rolling.
“It seems that you don’t want to leave your native place.” I commented.
My comment made him to get up from his reclined posture.
“To be frank, I don’t want to leave home. It may sound quite babyish. Like a nursery kid crying ‘I don’t want to go to school’. But I wish I never had to return to that rat race. At home I feel that I’m someone. But there I’m just another person My life or existence doesn’t matter to anyone. I feel so tiny there. I wish I never had grown up. I want to be pampered for the whole life.”
I was wondering what made him to acquaint with me so much as to blurt out all his views about modern life.
“You feel lonely in the crowd, right?” I tried to sound a bit philosophical and abstract.
“Maybe. I’ve got lots of friends to hang out with. To chill out with. My co-celebrators. But none to confide in. No one to trust. Just a matter of existing with them and celebrating life with them. The more entertaining you are the more popular you are. Your acceptability among others depends upon your utility-how well others can make use of you. Everything is dynamic and vibrant-with all partying, clubbing and all. But there is some sort of hollowness everywhere.”
His sermon was getting into my nerves. He was sounding so pessimistic and desperate that I felt like jumping out of the train.
My companion again went back to his introspection. The boundaries of his own world wodened; to confront with the realization of his own negligibility in this world. Now he is just a drop in the distributary, which carries all sorts of sediments and sewage to the sea of people. Just to add another minute isle to the archipelago.
The train was moving ahead bisecting the dense rubber plantations of central Kerala.The rubber trees, which would determine the fate of lakhs of Malayalees.Train started to decelerate. Railway lines procreated. A yellow board with black wordings said
“For the attention of passengers…….”
Porters howling.
Engines whistling.
Rattling sound of trailers
The concert is in progress. The train’s monotonous voice was added to it and the concert culminated at a high note.
As soon as the train stopped a battalion of persons, aged between 60 and 65,made inroads into the train. They were pulaya people-the former untouchables of Kerala.These persons who were bare breasted and were clad in traditional lungi; whose sons who have got readymade collections of at least four or five brands. These persons who still acknowledges the fact that they are low-castes and still kneels before the so-called high castes; whose sons, who have placed themselves in the higher echelons of bureaucracy, thanks to Mandal, treading on the perpetrators of centuries of injustice in pursuit of vengeance. They were carrying lots of stuff. Following them were a middle aged man, a lady, probably his wife, two kids and an old lady of about 75 years of age, clad in traditional chatta-mundu .One of the battalion members dusted off the seat with his cloth and said in the humblest of humblest tone.
“Kochamme irunnalum”(Mistress, please take your seat)
The old lady sat there. She is a typical household Christian grandmother. Snowy hair, crumpled face. Ears, which got elongated due to wearing of the large circular earring, called kunukku. But her eyes were full of energy. They spoke the language of authority and stubbornness.
“Kochamme, will you forget us after reaching Bombay?” the battalion leader asked.
“How can I Kuttappa? You people will be always in my mind.” She replied.
“Even if you forget us, we can’t forget you. We and our coming generations will be always indebted to you and your family. It was your land, which gave us food. It sustained our lives. Now it may be in the hands of outsiders. But we will guard it till our last breath. Kochamme, you will be always in our memories. We are indebted to you.”
He joined his palms in front of his face. Tears were trickling down his cheeks.
“Kuttappa, the train is about to leave. Now you people may leave. Thanks for the help.”
The man said in a baritone voice. He offered three hundred rupees notes to him. He refused to take it.
“No sir. We didn’t do it for money.” The whole battalion moved out of the compartment.
The train started to move. It has witnessed lots of scenes like this and has now become quite indifferent to such emotional outbursts.
As the train started to gain speed, the old lady started to scream.
“Earthquake!!Earthquake!!Lord, save us”
The man and the lady went near her and consoled her. They made her to lie down and administered some pills, probably sleeping pills. She fell into deep slumber. Sound of her snoring resonating with thadak-thadak of train. Downfall of a powerful landlady!!
“Sorry. My mom is not used to train journeys. So she may behave quite oddly. We are sorry for that. Please cooperate.” The man apologized.
“She belongs to Pulimoottil family, which is one of the most powerful and affluent families of Kerala. You know, we were baptisized by St.Thomas. We owned most of the lands of Kottayam and Poonjar. And she used to manage all these lands. She was a lady with iron fist” The young lady started to brag off.
I didn’t understand on which fact the lady is taking pride in.-on the glorious past of that old lady from where she was uprooted or on the fact that the lady with iron fist is tied to their leash.
“ Now that she is old, it has become difficult for her to manage all the family property. And we, her children are scattered all over the globe. No one is interested in looking after the property. We kept on telling her ‘ sell it off. and shift with us to Bombay’. But she won’t admit. She was very adamant that she wouldn’t sell of ancestor’s property. She wanted to breathe her last in her forefather’s soil. We waited for three-four years. But everything has got a limit, right? This time all of us took a unanimous decision. We made her to sell of the land. And the proceeds were equally divided amongst us. Now she is coming with us to Bombay. There she will get better medical facilities. There will be anyone to attend to her, either me or she. Here who is there to look after her? These pulaya peoples who claim to be her trustful servants? You never know, when they will bite back.” The man justified his decision.
The old lady, bidding adieu to her hometown, forever. That too she couldn’t do properly, as she was in involuntarily induced slumber. These prolific coconut trees, lush green hillocks, golden paddy fields, vibrant River Meenachil, the Sunday Church Mass –everything fated to hide in her oblivion. If you try to replant a set tree from its milieu it will wither off. She wanted to embrace death in the soil, which witnessed her birth and growth; in the midst of her contemporaries. Now, she will have to undergo an alienated death; in any cold hospital room; in the midst of all gadgets; surrounded by persons speaking the language of jargons and lingoes. Her children could have granted her a tranquil death. However, sometimes avarice sucks out the last drop of humanity from you.
The train moved on. Past Kochi, Thrishur, Shornur, Palakkad. With great effort, it is now penetrating the Sahyadri Mountains. It was lunchtime. I was getting bored and decided to take a stroll across the compartments.
“Better you cut your nails before serving food “
I turned back. It was that retired Army Colonel yelling at the person serving food. I had met this fellow today morning. He was cribbing about the pathetic state of toilets. Now this fellow is taking on the pantry car fellow.
“Sir, my nails are clean “he retorted.
“ It doesn’t matter. Dirt can accumulate under your nails. And it may get transferred to food. And the passengers may get affected. Why don’t you get a shave and hair cut? Are you coming from jail? Hair may fall of from your face or head and may contaminate food. If we have paid we must get quality service. “ The colonel was steaming.
“ Ok Sir. All of us will the get shave off all the hair on our head and face. And we will cut off our fingers also. Will it satisfy you? “ The fellow replied in a bit sarcastic manner.
“Adjust Colonel. Don’t get too much fussy about these things. Make some compromises.” His fellow passenger advised.
“Shut up!!Compromises, egh? This is the problem with our society. Compromise with everything. Today morning the toilet was stinking like sewer. When I was complaining about it, people told me to adjust. Shove off!! This country won’t progress. This stupid democracy is full of adjustments and compromises. It should be scrapped off and military rule should be established. It won’t give any room for adjustments and compromises. Then only this nation would progress.” The colonel said.
I moved on. To the AC compartment. To get some cool air. To get in touch with some posh and pomp.
Two ladies were talking.
“You know, it took 7500 bucks to straighten my hair. Isn’t it flowing now? “
“Ooh!!Awesome.It took almost the same to groom the hair of my dog, Tippu. He was a Labrador. But last month he died. Because of food poisoning. Negligence of my servant. After that I beat the hell out of him. You know, Tippu was very sweet and lovely. After that I lost the interest in life. I thought of even committing suicide. I miss him very much.”
I left the compartment. I can’t take more posh and pomp. The train is now passing through the Naxal dominated areas of Andhra Pradesh. I wondered what the Naxalites would have done had they overheard the ladies conversation. They might chop off the 7500 bucks-worth-straight haired-head; to bring equality in society; to bridge the gap between haves and have-nots
I went near the door of the compartment. A young man was standing there. Not exactly standing. Hanging from the compartment with one hand on the bar. He had one bottle of Coke in the other hand. It won’t take any rocket-science to make out that the contents of the bottle were not non-alcoholic. He was howling and yelling.
“ I wanna die. I wanna die”
“Dear brother, why do you want to die? You are too young for that” I said.
“Why shouldn’t I? Will you tell me one reason?” He asked me.
What can I answer. I was puzzled.
“ I am a bloody loser. Loser in every field of life. My parents disowned me. About academics, least said is the better. All my friends ditched me. And girls. I proposed to many girls but all turned me down. Why should I live?. My virility is challenged. I should die.”
“No girls. No friends. No money. I should die.”
He started to sing this.
“Sir, if you don’t let us travel, then we’ll have no other option but to jump from this running train and die”
This statement turned my attention from this hooligan. I looked at the direction from which the voice came. Sitting on the floor near the other door were a middle-aged man, his wife and their three children. Their clothes and physique betrayed the days of utter poverty and malnourishment they have had. The man was having an argument with the TTR.
“Please understand. I cannot let you travel without tickets. I have to abide by the rules. I’m accountable to the government.” TTR said.
“Government! Hugh!!. Where was your government when all our crops where affected by drought? Where was your government when the moneylenders and the bankers took away all our lands? Where was your government when many of my fellow farmers ended up their lives? At least, we are making an effort to survive in this ruthless world. If your government is still showing its callous attitude then we will jump out of this train now.”
The man said.
I was thinking who had got the better reasons to die-whether the hooligan at the other door or this farmer and his family in this door. Finally the TTR melted and he let them travel.
I got really fed up. I cannot take more human characters in my mind. I had seen enough of eccentricities. Enough of weirdness. Enough of contrasts. I went back to my seat and slept.
Next day train reached Mumbai. I got down from the train and got dissolved in the crowd. I hoped my first companion would get adjusted with the rat race. I hoped that the old lady would have a tranquil death. I hoped that Colonel’s dream of a disciplined India would materialize. I hoped that the lady’s straightening of hair would have a permanent effect. I hoped that the lady would get over the grief of her Tippu’s death. I hoped that the hooligan would get a girlfriend. I hoped that the farmer and his family would be able to make a decent living in Mumbai.
I moved on. To get in touch with more eccentricities, more weirdness and more contrasts of humanity.