Yesterday I posted a blog post on my train journey experiences during the twelve years that I was working in Durgapur. You can read the post here.
I wrote that post after visiting the VT station in Mumbai. I went to pick my wife, son and my in-laws who were coming to Mumbai from Bangalore.
It has been almost 14 years since the time that I regularly travelled in Train. Even when I travelled by train during this period, the tickets were booked by my Company and I invariably ended up travelling by Upper Classes.
Or by overnight train...
Whether you are travelling by Upper classes or by overnight train, you lose touch with the people on the ground. In overnight train because it is dark outside. In upper class because the windows are tinted. You are segregated from the public and you are in a matrix of your own. Whereas if you are travelling by the sleeper class, you are in touch with the 'Real India' warts and all.
Especially in an upper class, you are like the proverbial Airline pilot who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Up there, you do not see real people, people like you. From up there, you only see small creatures walking around or driving around in match boxes.
When you travel in Sleeper Class, you have a physical and emotional connection with the people with whom you are travelling, as well as people on the ground. This is not there when you are travelling upper class.
Why am I mentioning this?
14 years of no-train-travel can do stuff to you. You are changed, the railways is changed, the people are changed.
Three incidents happened in the one hour that I was in the station, that made a lasting impression on me.
I was all excited when I went to the station. I wanted to write this blog and upload a few photos. Hence I went to the station armed with a camera. I was clicking photos of various trains and the railway station with gay abandon.
Suddenly a police man called me.
"You there", he pointed at me, "come here".
I looked around to ensure that he was calling me.No one was there. "Who me?" I asked to confirm.
"Yes you", he responded testily, "who else do you see there?"
I went to him. "I see that you are clicking the photos of many trains. What is the matter?"
I was suddenly proud of our police force. Highly observant, if you see what I mean.
"I have not been to the railway station in a long time. It was about 12 years since I travelled in train. I see that the trains have become very colourful. I liked the new trains. So I was taking the photos" I informed.
He became friendly. "If you want to see colourful trains, you should see 'Deccan Odyssey' he told me. "That is a very colourful train"
With that advice, I left him.
I was a little rattled by this experience. It is not everyday that a Policeman is asking you to explain your innocent photographs.
I moved on to see the other parts of the station.
While walking towards the other platform, a very flustered lady approached me. "Sir, can you tell me where I can find a police man?" she asked almost sobbing.
I wanted to tell her that if she is looking for poilcemen, she had reached the right place. If there was any one passenger in that station who can give direction to the policeman, it was me. After all I had just been questioned by one. I directed her to the nearest policeman.
I was rattled by this sobbing woman who wanted to meet a policeman. What could have happened, I wondered? Did somebody steal something? Did she miss her train? How will it get resolved?
And the worst, could I have done something to help her rather than just directing her to the nearest policeman? Should I have got involved.?
Whatever be the answer to that question, I knew I was not going to like it.
I went out for a tea outside. On the way back into the station, I saw a number of beggars sitting and begging in the middle of the road. I espied this one girl, very small, around 10 years probably, who was sitting in the middle of the road with a cloth laid out in front of her. By now I was inured to the poverty and suffering around me and I watched this girl casually. Just as I was looking, she took out a dirty cloth and wiped the sweat off her face.
It was a simple gesture of a tired person. But to me it was so heart wrenching. There was no complaint in her eyes. It was hot and sultry and she was wiping the sweat from her face. That there was no complaint in her eyes hurt me. It pained me. Here was a 10 year old girl, begging in the streets, reconciled to her fate and not having any expectations from the society, having given up on the society. "Your sympathies do not matter to me", she seemed to be saying, "By now I know that you will not be doing anything to help me. I am resigned to my fate (eventhough I am only a small girl). If you have something to give me, drop it on the cloth. Otherwise please move on"
14 years ago, I would have seen this girl, and would have moved on without so much as a cursory glance at that girl. Now, 14 years later, the look of resignation and acceptance on that young face is not leaving me.