All That Glitters is Not Gold

By Nirmal Kishor Prasad

It was month of August 2015, after finishing works at Patna, Shankar with his 74 year old ailing mother were about to reach Rajendra Nagar Terminal to catch the train Sampoorna Kranti Express for Delhi. This time Shankar had decided to bring his mother to Delhi. She was living alone in Patna and it was not wise to leave her alone at this age. She had knee pain while walking and climbing stairs. The auto rickshaw puller suddenly stopped the rickshaw just outside the terminal premises expressing inability to go inside and said, “Sir, I can’t go inside, if you say then I can, but extra 25 rupees you have to bear for parking charges.”

Shankar said, “You’re not going to park the auto rickshaw, only you need to drop us just inside and come back. See, mother has difficulty in walking and I’ve heavy luggage too!”

Shankar’s persuasion didn’t yield any result! He left the auto rickshaw there and paid the charges as decided earlier. Holding his mother’s hand in one hand and two heavy trolley bags in the other, he walked slowly towards the main foyer of the terminal.

Before finding out a niche of sitting for his mother, he tried to enquire the platform number where his train would come as there was no display of his train status on the panel. Leaving luggage aside of mother for a while, he went to the enquiry counter and asked. “The Train 12393 Sampoorna Kranti Express is delayed by 140 minutes from his right departure time of 5.35 PM and come to platform No. 3.” The person at the counter responded. 

It was a delay but experienced train travelers will not mark it as disappointment delay as many times it happens that trains get delayed by even 18 to 24 hours and finally declared as cancelled!

Shankar had such experiences, hence thanked God for the manageable delay, but repented for not doing enquiry on 139 before leaving home as his residence was not far away from the terminal.

Apprising the situation to mother, he went inside, looked for a sitting place for his mother. Due to the delay of trains, the station was overcrowded, benches were full, and passengers had occupied even the floors. After tiring effort, Shankar managed a sitting place for mother by requesting a family to adjust.

Though it was month of August, there was no rain; climate was very humid and annoying. Mother was feeling uncomfortable, but there was no ways for ease. Suddenly, a person sitting there left the place, and Shankar without loss of a moment adjusted himself there.

Sitting there, his started thinking about the consequences of this delay. Tomorrow, he was supposed to reach Delhi by around 8.35 AM and immediately he was to rush to his Office by 9 AM, which probably couldn’t be possible. To pacify his anxiety, he decided to take leave for tomorrow.
It was difficult to pass the time in such a horrible situation. Time was trickling down in its own pace.

It was difficult for Shankar’s mother even in occupying the middle berth as she can’t climb the stairs. Despite of all efforts, Shankar didn’t get lower berth for her. He had to manage with some co-passengers of lower berths for the exchange; many times such exchanges happened easily but at times if passengers were adamant, it was just impossible!

Shankar pulled the ticket from the pocket, glanced it for a while. Mother realizing the anxiety of her son asked with a smile, “Looking train ticket!”
“Yes, our berths are middle 50 and upper 54…” Shankar responded.
“Don’t worry much; some adjustment will happen in the train...I’ve such experiences.” Mother eased Shankar.
“Yes, hope so, this time also everything will be okay by the grace of God...” Shankar expressed his wish being a strong believer of Almighty.

After a while, Shankar told mother about the platform no of the train where it would come. It was platform no. 3, which meant, she had to climb the stairs from platform no. 1 where they were sitting at present and get down at Platform no. 3.
Mother assured Shankar again not to worry: She would manage stairs by holding the side support frames of the adjacent stairs and climb slowly; he should take care of the luggage. Words of mother were of some relief to Shankar.

Sufficient time had passed; Shankar in the meantime had filled up the empty water bottles from the chilled drinking water supply. It was around 7.30 PM. Suddenly, there were movements in the crowd. Shankar and his mother slowly moved towards platform no. 3. While climbing the stairs, mother was holding the side supporting frame tightly and stepping in each of her feet upward. After several repeat of such process, she could cross the last step and got exhausted, desired to rest for a while by stretching her back straight.

During that five to ten minutes stay on the middle of the platform crossing stairs between platform no. 1 and 3, Shankar watched other trains passing slowly under his bridge to far distant places. It was a great experience, from the childhood Shankar had enjoyed watching trains’ movements by standing from that point! Seeing mother sitting on the trolley bag, he wished every small or big railway terminals should have at least one escalator for senior citizens.

There was an announcement that Train no 12393 Sampoorna Kranti Express from Rajendra Nagar Terminal to New Delhi would be arriving in platform no. 3. Shankar could hear the announcement clearly from there. It was a pleasing event for Shankar just like result of some tough examination where he was declared successful! For a moment, he thought: had he got a lower berth reserved for mother, how pleasant his journey would have been! He took a vow that after reaching Delhi, he would suggest in MyGov portal to the Government to facilitate a mandatory provision for allotment of lower berths to senior citizens.

They had reached the platform number 3, kept waiting there for another 25 to 30 minutes. Train slowly approached the platform with many passengers hanging with the doors of general bogies.  The train stopped; luckily 3AC bogie was just on their front. Shankar put his luggage in the bogie, and helped mother to come inside.

Reaching his berth, he was about to set his luggage under the lower berth towards the window side, he heard a very strong voice, “Please don’t keep your luggage that side, lower berths are ours, we will keep our luggage there.”
Shankar turned around, saw a well built person aged 55+ with pajama kurta, a vermilion in the forehead, thick moustache covering his upper lip, was standing behind. With him a fair lady aged 50+ with artistic look, glaring eyes; wearing catchy salwar-suit was also there.
“Oh, I see… please put your luggage.” Saying, Shankar pushed his luggage to other extreme side vacating the space towards window.

The intense voice of that gentleman was speaking much more than the simple words which he uttered to him. Both of them sat on the window side, comfortably placed their heavy 4 to 5 big sized bags spreading both sides of lower berths, and also kept two carry bags on the wall mounted small table in between windows.
Shankar’s mother sat on the lower berth towards corridor. Shankar temporarily sat on the Lower Side berth as many passengers were yet to come. The train was already in momentum crossing Patna Junction.

Shankar had several train journeys, varied experiences but this time it was altogether different. His attention was effortlessly sinking towards the couple again and again. From the overall appearance, Shankar could guess that gentleman as a spiritual preacher or a person having association with some Ashram.  Observing the couple, it was unclear whether they were married or just traveling together. Being relaxed, they started looking, talking and smiling to each other.

Shankar was eager to adjust his mother to some lower berth. He saw a young man sitting on the side lower berth of his previous compartment. Curiously stood and sought his view on exchange. He replied gently, “No, this is not my berth, side upper berth is mine, just sitting as none has come.” Shankar said, smiling said.  “Okay.”
He came back to his place, looked around for other scope. Suddenly, his attention was drawn by a high pitched conversation of that gentleman over the phone. It appeared that on the other end, the person talking was in deep trouble and was seeking some further advice from the gentleman. The person had probably exhausted his earlier advice and his problem was not solved. The gentleman was talking very rudely by saying, “Did you visit the Ashram? How many times you met Guruji? How many followers you have prepared from your area? How many leaflets you have distributed? Nothing, how your problem will be solved! You will cry and cry forever…”

The sufferer on the opposite end was trying his best to convince something, which the gentleman was not listening at all. Finally, the gentleman started scolding on the phone aloud, “Just listen, if you don’t listen to me, then I’ll not listen to you. I’m going to Delhi on a preaching ceremony, don’t disturb me.”  He cut the phone and whispered, “Don’t understand how to teach such fools…”
The Lady with him, opened sweet box and offered some ‘Laddu’ and other sweets to him. He was pleased to accept them.

The train was in full motion. It was around 9.30 PM. Most of the passengers had finished their dinner. Shankar and his mother too had their dinner on the side lower berth where Shankar was sitting from the very beginning. It was time for sleep. On the front, the lady had slept. That gentleman, unaffected by his surroundings, was also taking a nap. The middle berths were still hanging.

The lower berth which Shankar was occupying was still unclaimed by anyone. He thought for moment to ask his mother to take rest there till the arrival of the actual occupant. At once, he saw a young man wearing half pant and a T-Shirt, approaching towards them. Shankar requested him for exchange of berth for mother. He gladly said, “I’m sitting with my friends in other compartment, you please ask Mataji to sleep here, I will take your upper berth.” He went away smiling. Shankar’s problem was solved within a fraction of a second which was just unbelievable to him! This was great solace to Shankar. Mother would sleep well, what else he needed!
Arranging bed for mother, Shankar went to the gentleman, tried to wake him up, and expressed his desire to lift the middle berth of the side where the lady was sleeping in the lower berth. The gentleman again had a shout to the lady, “Wake up, middle berth is to be lifted.” 

Shankar tried to put the middle berth in order, but two hanging traps were bit lengthy, were unable to hold the berth firmly. While adjusting one, the other one was coming out from the notch. Seeing this, instead of helping out, the gentleman once again arrogantly voiced, “You’re not doing correctly.”

“The straps are lengthy, not holding the berth firmly…” Shankar reciprocated in the same tone.
“I’m telling you the tricks to tighten, but you’re not listening… Just fold the strap once or twice and plug-in in the notch of berth.” He said being annoyed.

Shankar did accordingly. He went on the berth; spread his legs resting his head on the pillow. It was already 12.30 am. In AC bogies, it was difficult to guess which station had crossed when the train was running late. Shankar tried to close his eyes for a nap.

He was about to sleep, a high pitched voice of the gentleman collided to his ear. The gentleman was asking some person, “What happened to my reservation from Delhi to Ranchi? Scoundrel, I asked you to see the IRCTC website and confirm me the status. But, you’re sleeping. You know, next week, I’ve a big preaching event to my followers at Ranchi.  Rascal, for what I’m paying you! Go and see my status of booking and inform me immediately.”

Short Story continued here....