August 9, 2015, 10:29 AM
The oppressing heat entered from every pore of my body, the stench of sweat mixing with the heady perfume of chameli garland worn by the women, the occasional draft of wind reminding of the fish that lay in the baskets at the entrance of the coach. The coach was packed with daily commuters, the early morning rush, the brushing bodies making space – some forcefully while some apologetically.
I clutched the hands of my five year old; afraid that the deluge of human bodies would wash her away from me, my eyes wary and the mind ever burdened with the fear of the fatal that only a mother can concoct. The raspy voice of the namkeen vendor pierced through my thoughts and I looked up into a pair of bright eyes set in a frail body that was barely covered in rags.
He pushed a peanut packet towards me – “Only Rs 2 Madam” he lisped.
“No” came my curt reply as I gestured him to move ahead only to be cut in the middle by an insistent tugging on my sari.
“Please Maa”, Rimi said.
“Please Maa” echoed the man.
I glared at the man with all the hatred that I could muster onto my face, my nose flaring up in distaste at being juxtaposed into such close proximity with the likes of these dirty bodies. “Go away” I said rudely, pulling my daughter closer towards myself, the latter also being at the receiving end of my foul mood. Lips quivering, Rimi gave a tiny wave as he departed, implanting a smile in his hollowed cheek as he reciprocated her wave. The remainder of the journey she spent in mournful sadness and refused to engage in any form of communication whatsoever with me, preferring to sulk and stare out of the window.
She regained her vivaciousness when she found him sitting prostrate in front of the toilet door as we stood in the queue of people waiting to disembark the train. Her eyes lit up at the sight of him.
“Mummy can we give him some money? He looks hungry…” she said looking at me with her round eyes that were filled to the brim with hope.
But I didn’t want to entertain any such thoughts; my mind having reached the peak of anger at being forced to make an uncomfortable journey in the train, forsaking the comfort of an AC car, and now desperate to escape this labyrinth of human bodies, smell and display of abject life.
“Ignore him, these are not good people. They take little girls away in their bags” was my final advice to my daughter, the man and the incident to be dismissed and forgotten at the earliest.
Or so I thought.
We had hardly gone a few paces on the platform when I heard a voice screaming in my direction. I turned to see the namkeen vendor, flagging his arms in the air and shouting –
“O Madam ji…”
The impudence of the man! It fueled my anger further at his audacity to follow us. I pulled my daughter behind me and increased my pace, ignoring the shouts from behind. Half running and half walking I headed out of the station, turning back to see that the man still followed, limping and balancing his bag by shifting it from one shoulder to the other. At the exit I hailed for a taxi, praying that it would arrive before the man did and we could escape this nightmare before any untoward incident occurred.
I didn’t wait for the taxi to come to a complete halt before I opened the door and pushed Rimi inside. Quickly I got into the cab and had just closed the door when there was an incessant banging on the windows. I told the driver of the cab to step on the accelerator, but he hesitated. The banging on the window increased, and I could hear the vendor scream –
Something bright and shiny caught my eye. My eyes widened as I recognized it. The man held a gold bracelet in his hand – it was Rimi’s!
I rolled the window down, and he instantly thrust it towards me –
“Madam, your daughter gave it to me just as she got down from the train…”
I was too shocked to speak, a paralysis taking hold of my reactions. My mind conjured up images of what had possibly transpired when I had momentarily turned my back to my daughter and the vendor.
He pulled out a peanut packet from his pocket “for the child” he mumbled with a deference that is typical of their creed, giving it to Rimi who jumped on the seat with excitement, smiled at her innocence, waved and was gone.
Gone before I could thank him – not for the peanuts, and not for returning the bangle, but to thank him for managing to crack the wall of prejudice that I had built around myself and changing my world forever…