The train slowly rolled
along the crowded station and came to a halt abruptly, as if it had been pulled
back. The station was very crowded. The hawkers’ chorus immediately peaked up,
trying to over-shout each other. People thronged to the entrance doors of the
train, desperately and chaotically trying to find their way in and out. In the
rush, shoulders got rubbed and loud abuses were heard.
Rahul’s eyes had a
childish twinkle in them. But peeping out of the window, he witnessed a sea of
humanity which made it difficult for him to differentiate one face from
another. The thought of being a part of this milling crowd sent a shiver
through his tall and frail body.
Having been born in a distant village of Uttar Pradesh, Rahul had grown up in the peace and serenity of nature. His parents had sent him to this vast city of Delhi with great hopes to earn and settle down here. His uncle had agreed to take care of him in Delhi. And here he was at the railway station of the capital, his first outing to an urban city, scared by the sheer mass of human beings. “Would he be able to find his way out of the station and into the city? I will do it,” he mustered up courage.
All along his life of twenty-three years at home in the village, he had been treated as somebody too important not to be noticed. But at this moment he felt lost in anonymity. He desperately imaged his parents. The serene face of his father instilled some life into him, and he got up from the seat to pick up his suitcase. There was commotion all around in the cabin.
Something hit him hard on the knee and he bent in pain. A man carrying a trunk shouted at him, “Fool! Why are you blocking the passage?” The man walked away muttering his curses.
Rahul rubbed his palm on the knee and, picking up his suitcase, limped forward. “It must have been my fault,” he told himself. He was bumped by another suitcase on his way out of the train, but without giving it a thought, carried on. Indifferent stares greeted him as he alighted from the train. He hesitatingly asked a passer-by which was the way out of the station.
The man laughingly replied, “Follow the crowd.”
But the crowd was going both ways. Rahul caught sight of a family getting down from the train and moving towards the right. He followed them.
A stern-faced ticket collector at the exit asked for his ticket. Rahul’s hand proudly went into his pocket, to take out the wallet gifted by his sister. His hand felt only a handkerchief in the pocket. He tried the other pocket, but found only some loose coins.
Panic mounted him, and he anxiously looked for the wallet all over his body. The search was in vain.
Losing his patience, the ticket collector spoke harshly, “I know your tribe too well to be deceived. No, don’t open your mouth for an excuse - just get out,” he pushed him through the gate.
Rahul paused, and looked around helplessly. The wallet had not only contained his ticket and money, but also the address of his uncle Badrinath, with whom he was to stay. By God! What was he to do? All that he knew about his uncle’s home was that it was about thirty kilometers from the station.A shiver ran through his lean frame!
With pleading eyes, he looked around for someone with whom he could share his plight, but got only cold stares from the fast-moving crowd. In desperation, he seized the arm of the person passing by and said, “Sahib*, I have lost my wallet.”
The man, in his early thirties, jerked his arm free and looked at him up and down, “What can I do about it? Go to the police,” he pointed towards a distant police booth.
Fear gripped Rahul’s heart. Ignorant of the ways of the city people, he felt diffident. Helpless, he walked towards the police booth.
A middle-aged man in police uniform was dozing in it, his feet placed on a stool. For a while Rahul was not sure whether he should disturb him. He coughed loudly and said, “Sahib! Sahib*!”
The policeman opened his eyes and turning to him, asked roughly, “What do you want?”
Seeing that there was no response, he continued irritated, “Speak up, boy. Don’t waste my time.”
Rahul fumbled, “Sahib*! I -I have-lost my purse.”
The policeman replied matter-of-factly, “So what? What can I do if you have lost your purse? You should have been careful,” he shifted his glance to the main street.
Stammering, Rahul tried to catch his attention, “But, Sahib, it was lost in the train.”
“Then there is no chance of getting it back,” the policeman smiled. The loss of the purse seemed to have an amusing effect on him.
Rahul folded his hands in front of the policeman, “Sahib, I have no money, and no place to go to. Everything was in that wallet.” He told him about the address-slip of his uncle that was in it.
The policeman waved his hand at Rahul as if to dismiss him, “Go now. I can’t help you. I have other work to do. You people must learn how to take care your belongings.” He pointed to the road as if directing him to it. The next moment he yelled out for a cup of tea from the nearby stall.
Rahul stood there for a while, nonplussed, and then slowly moved on. There were tears in his eyes. The traffic on the road was moving in a mad frenzy. Buses, cars, scooters- all seemed to be participating in some sort of a mysterious race. It was difficult for Rahul to comprehend so much of activity around him.
A stray dog lay half-asleep with half-closed eyes, on the side of the pavement. Rahul slowly went and stood by its side, cautious, least the dog should pounce on him. Fortunately, the dog was too lazy even to notice his presence there. Rahul observed that even the people going up and down the pavement, didn’t seem to be aware of his presence there. The tension from the crisis that he faced, showed distinctly on his face.
“Why are you looking so sad?” He had been standing there dazed and stupefied for a while, when he was brought back to reality by the soft voice of the young girl. She was standing next to him. He hadn’t noticed when she had come here. With her, was a young boy holding her hand. Both were dressed in cheap and rather dirty clothes. But the simple yet charming face of the girl caught his eyes. She sounded sympathetic and he looked at her gratefully. The girl appeared to be in her late teens. Her gaze somehow pierced him and he felt almost naked. He could not bring himself to find suitable words, and he went on staring at her.
“Come, you seem to need a cup of tea. Let’s go to that restaurant beyond the road.” She pointed at it and started walking.
“This girl is god-send,” he told himself, and followed her mutely.
She had led him to a poorly kept small-roomed restaurant with a few tables placed at random. The flooring was of mud and the roof of tin sheets. Having sat down, and away from the maddening crowd, Rahul felt his nerves relax a bit. The girl sat opposite him. She called out for tea and biscuits. Looking around, he realised that the young boy who had been with her, was nowhere to be seen. He inquisitively asked her, “Where is that boy who was with you?”
She replied casually, “Oh, he must be somewhere around. Don’t bother. Now tell me, who are you and why are you looking so lost?”
Her warm and friendly tone boosted his spirits, and he gathered the courage to narrate his story of anguish. Her child-like round and attractive face with a dimple on the left cheek arrested his attention. She reminded him of one of the village girls who was always bringing him his favourite sweets whenever they were prepared in her home. He had always relished them, more so, because of the secretive way in which she smuggled it from her home.
The girl’s eyes absorbed the distress on his face.
The short story continues here....