Tuesday, 6 August 2013

My Life as a "wanderlust" ... The Miracle on the Train...

Again back with another story from the days of my travelling... not that it has stopped... the travelling that is...not at all...

This one dates back to my college days... people who have passed those days can remember them with fondness and a peculiar smile on their faces... life in the college gives you wings, literally, one has a host of new ideas, new imaginations, concepts never thought of, could be entertained and debated... and the entire world seems to be within one's grasp...

Anyways, those were heady days for me... I had started scorning my parents ideas, ideas, which I may point out, I had grown up with, ideas that seem to me, too constricting, conservative and irrational... I was charting out my dream, and my aspirations seem way too broad minded and liberal than my middle class parents could handle. I can still remember that summer when I went home, I had a huge debate with my dad, on the existence of god... slowly, but surely, I was turning into an atheist... and my parents feared that with my believe in a "godless" world, my moorings with my traditions and customs would also vanish...

I had been raised a Hindu, and as long as I could remember, my mum, used to teach me the names of the thousands of gods and goddesses that constituted the Hindu pantheon, their stories, how the "asuras" (demons) and the gods fought, and countless other mythologies... At school though, I was growing up following Christianity because anyone who wanted a good "English medium education" in India, in those days had to go to a convent school, and one of the essential requirements of the students were that they pray and follow the words of Christ. Hence I knew the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Ten Commandments and numerous stories about Christ and his followers... whenever I prayed, I prayed to the Trinity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in school and at home I was required to pray to another completely different set of gods... this was my "religious education" while growing up...

So this "religious paradox" that I was growing up with, led me to believe that there couldn't be a god who existed, and even if he did, understanding him or her wouldn't be so confusing and complicated. So that summer, I refused to pray, to take part in any religious ceremonies that required my participation and worse, returned all the small, bright pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses that my parents had given me, while going away to college, including a beautiful silver cross... I told them straightaway, that if there was a god, and he/she didn't like the ideas that I was entertaining, he/she could tell me themselves... my parents were stunned and deeply hurt... I felt bad, yes I did, because, whether you believe or not, religion and religious beliefs are often time very sensitive issues... but I was too stubborn in my beliefs, too vain to even entertain the thought that I could be wrong...

And yes, I was going to be proved wrong soon enough...

While returning to Mumbai (a very big metropolitan in India, where I attended College) that summer, I was travelling in the Mumbai-Howrah Mail, an express train that the Indian Government claimed could outrun the wind... well, that still remains a vain propaganda on the part of the Indian government and anyone who has traveled on that dratted train would tell you that speed is not one of its forte...

In the days, when I was in College, there hadn't been an advent of cheap air travel, as there is now in India... trains were the most common form of long distance transportation, and as students, who lived in the college hostel, we would get Travel Compensation, another program on the part of the Indian government to lure girls in far-flung areas to study... we would get a fifty percent discount on our train tickets both to and from home, thus the need never arose that we would spend money on air travel...

The Mumbai-Howrah Mail, completed the journey from Kolkata to Mumbai in two nights and three days... a journey which is now covered by low cost air companies in a mere two and half hours... thus the train was not merely a method of transportation, for many, it was a way of life... you met many different types of people, from different regions of India, many languages were spoken, and different ideas exchanged... I have even known of a young boy and girl from neighboring states who met on the train, fell in love in the course of those "three days and two nights" and eventually got married to each other...!!

So anyhow, here I was, after bidding tearful farewells to my parents (although I am not sure, I cried so much that summer, but of course my mum did), she still does, wherever she comes to leave me at the airport... there were five passengers travelling with me and being extremely talkative and congenial by nature, I soon knew their respective destinations. That night after securing our luggage under our respective berths, all my co-passengers, including me went off to sleep...

It was 3 am when I suddenly woke up. The train was standing in a rather forlorn station called Gaya (Budh Gaya, some call it, it was the place, where Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, found his Enlightenment), nowadays, though it is notorious for petty theft. The rule of the book, whenever you wake up in the middle of the night during your train journey in India is to

1. Check your luggage
2. Check your footwear is not missing

Those two done and being satisfied by the result, I went to lie down again, anxious to get my sleep back.

It was then, that I noticed.

The window in front of my seat was open, just a few inches and the hand bag that I was carrying, which I had most conveniently positioned just near the window, and which held some of the most important and basic things, a person needs on the journey, sliced wide open, as if someone had taken special time and care to slice through the bag with an extremely sharp knife.

I was stunned... a cold feeling crept up from somewhere in my stomach to my heart and finally to my hands...a clammy sweat formed on my forehead, and I reached to check the lost contents of my bag... my keys to the luggage were gone, my money was gone, along with my pretty pink purse, my College Identity card was gone and gone were my train tickets....the one proof that I was a valid passenger in this train.

I have no memory of how the rest of the night passed except that my co-passengers soon woke up and the Ticket Checker was called and a hundred rebukes and consolations followed. The next two days, I was on a virtual exhibition, people from different ends of the train, kept coming to visit me, my story of how I was robbed had indeed traveled throughout the train... sometimes, they came with consolation, sometimes with inquiries and sometimes with rebukes...whatever it was, they always felt, I had been hugely irresponsible and that these days parents and teachers weren't teaching the stuff that they really needed to teach to kids.

Unlike these days, when all of us are connected through the miracle called cellular phones, we did not have those back then, and once you were on a train, you could only get in touch with your loved ones when you reached your destination.

One of my co-passengers had the sense enough to contact the Railway Police and file an FIR (First Information Report)... any theft that had taken place on the train, were to be reported to the Indian Railway Police, these guys had Police Stations stationed in all the train stations and you could contact them on the platform itself. It wasn't much help though... the young Police Constable, noted down with sincerity all that I had to tell, and then rebuked me on my carelessness, taking the time point out that "Gaya" was an extremely unsafe station and his final conclusion was that my parents shouldn't have left me to travel alone... which in a word, did absolutely nothing to help my situation.

Soon it was the end of our journey, with hours left for the train to reach Mumbai, I was in a bad state... I had  lost my Identity card, I had no money to get a cab at the station and to get to my hostel... I had some money in my suitcase, which was locked and the keys had already been stolen... it was a Sunday, and I would not find any locksmith in Mumbai station who would help me in my peril... I was finding no way out... every solution I thought of, needed money, which was safely lying at the bottom of the now "locked" suitcase.

Sensing my discomfiture, some of my co-passengers tried to lend me money, so that I can at least get to my hostel safely, but where would I again meet them to give the money back... travelers in the train met only once and as one steps off at one's destination, they become a mere memory like the journey, one is undertaking.

I desperately wanted my suitcase opened, if someone, by any chance could open my suitcase, I would be able to retrieve the money needed, get a taxi back to my hostel, from where I could call up my parents and tell them the whole sorry tale... but all these would be achieved if someone could break the Lock on my suitcase and get the money out... I was desperate, and it is in desperation, always that man turns to pray... no matter, how much I had belittled god that summer, I was desperate for his help now, I prayed feverishly, that somehow, someway, something would happen which could end this sorry situation of mine...

Now we were only three stations away from Mumbai, a mere hour... I was beyond fear and prayers had long stopped, I had reached a state of "thoughtlessness", if anything such exists, all thoughts, rational and irrational were obliterated from my mind and I stared blankly out of the windows at the passing trees, shrubs and the scenery.

Suddenly, a young man came into our compartment.

"Yesterday, I heard, that a robbery had taken place here, who was robbed"?  He asked settling himself down at the end of my seat, a little distance away from me...

"Not a robbery, you could call it a theft", answered the old man seated in front of me.

I looked at him bitterly, for he had not spoken a single word of consolation and had the gall to rebuke me continuously for the past two days, as if just being senior in age gave him some form of dominance over me.

" It could have easily been avoided, had she (pointing a bonny index finger towards me) been a little more careful..."

"How so?", my new enquirer asked

" Only, she should have kept that bag of her's away from the train windows... nowadays, children seem to have little common sense left in them... studying in such big-big colleges and not an inch of common sense"...

 Again I looked bitterly at him and scowled... this had been his continuous rejoinder, how I did not posses "a single common sense".

" So what are going to do, when you get to Mumbai ? "  the young man asked me now...

I turned to him, and answered, "I have no clue"... and I really did not... I could hear the old man in front me give a long sigh.

" Can you suggest any idea ?"

He looked at me a bit longer and said he could give me some money to get a taxi till my Hostel. I told him plainly, that it was not a solution and there had been others who had pointed out the same.

"Then what are you going to do?"

"If only I could get someone to open this suitcase for me, I could take out the money myself "", I said...

The old man "tch-tched" under his tongue...

"Why don't you take the money, now, who can open a suitcase in a train ? " came the steady rejoinder.

" I think I can help you out with that ", the young man replied

"You can ? " I asked, almost willing to believe him... "Can you open the suitcase for me ?"

"Yes, why not, I can open it with a safety pin..."

"A safety pin, where can you get that in a train", the old man snorted. Probably, he was again thinking of rebuking the fellow.

" Oh I have it, right in my pocket"... and he took it out.

I stared at him incredulously, I had never before seen any man carry safety pins in his pockets.

Whatever...

We heaved up the suitcase, and for some minutes, he fiddled with the lock... after some tense minutes, there was a little "click" and lo and behold, the lock was unlocked and the suitcase lay open in front of me...

" Here's the lock, I don't think you'll be again able to use it"... he said as he handed me the now broken lock...

I looked at him and at that moment, I could have hugged him tight... the old man in front of me, was profusely thanking him, and I, in my relief, seemed wordless...

I just continued to stare at him...

" All the best for the journey ahead ", he smiled and and left... it was only for an instant, that I noticed piercing blue eyes in his face... then he was gone.

I fervently opened my suitcase and took out the money and flopped back on my seat...

Then it occurred to me, I hadn't even thanked him...

" You could at least have thanked him... he deserved that much... today's girls...!!!"  The old man seem now really annoyed with me...

"Yes I should have... I think I'll find him in the next compartment"...

I left my suitcase there, in the care of the old man, and snaked through the rows of the compartment, nowhere was my "savior" seated... I even got down at the next station, but he was to be seen nowhere...

Mumbai came and I alighted, took the taxi back to my hostel, and everything turned out normal...

But from that day onward, I started believing in God, and also in miracles...





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