Sunday, June 29, 2008

angel in disguise

An Angel in Disguise

I had just managed to reach the railway station. The traffic was terrible. I heaved a sigh of relief as I paid the taxi driver and entered the railway station. I looked at my watch and I was overcome by panic, I was late and I could hardly make it to the train. I called for a porter to pick up the three big bags that I carried and with my son in tow I literally shouted at the porter to run and make it to the train. The overflow of human heads on the railway station was worse than the traffic that I had faced.

It had been almost three years since I had last visited my parents. My son Monty was only two. His father had shown his inability to join us and overlooking all sorts of caution by concerned relatives I decided to undertake the journey on my own along with my son to visit my parents. My journey from Punjab to Assam was quite eventless and that added to my confidence. I would make it back easily too. But that was not the way it was destined to be. My apathy started with bad weather and the resulting cancellation of flights. As I was running out of leave I had to compromise with a sleeper class ticket in a train that would take me ages to reach my destination. But it would be better than getting stuck up indefinitely.

Thanks to the North Eastern Railways the trains were late as usual and I managed to board the train just in time. For once the delay did not annoy me. I looked for the reserved ladies compartment where I was given a seat .The congested compartment had six sleepers. Five were occupied by a family who was going for a marriage. I requested them to exchange my upper sleeper for the lower one as I had a small child with me. They immediately obliged. I chained my luggage except for a big bag which contained eatables that my mother had packed for us, baby food for Monty and his medicines. He had just recovered from a bad attack of viral and was still on medication. My mother had bought some more toys and clothes for my son after I was done with my packing so I stuffed those in that bag too. I gave Monty his medicines and put him to sleep. Then started the round of introduction with my fellow passengers. Different people different life. They were going for the marriage of their handicapped daughter. They had meager means and with great struggle they had managed to collect the heavy dowry that they were to pay the groom’s parents for accepting their daughter. It was dark and I was sleepy, but by this time Monty had woken up. He insisted on sitting by the window, I shut the glass window so that he could see the scenes outside and went off to sleep. It had been a very hectic day and I dozed off immediately. I do not know how long I had slept; suddenly an odd noise woke me up. I sat up thinking that Monty must be trying to open the window. But he was sleeping soundly by my side. Was the train going to derail, I thought. But no the train was running fast in its synchronized motion. I switched on the lights and to my shock I saw a suitcase half stuck in the window and someone was trying to pull it out …..God!... from the outside. Before thinking what was going on just out of reflective impulse I grabbed the suitcase and tried pulling it back screaming hysterically. Though I was pulling at that suitcase with my entire strength the person on the other side was definitely stronger and it went out of my grip. My screams had woken up the other passengers. Someone ran up to the conductor of the train. I was sure that the rogue was hanging on to the train itself as he could not possibly have jumped off with the speed at which it was running. But nobody had the courage to open the door and check.

It was after I gathered my senses back that I realized that my bag was gone. The other baggages were safe as those were chained. But the bag had Monty’s food and medicines. What would I do for the 3 days it was going to take for me to reach home? I was under panic once again. The wailing family whose entire luggage had gone and so were the dreams of getting their daughter married added to my agony.Inspite of their grief they kept reassuring me. But they were to reach their destination early next morning. What would I do after that?

The next morning my compartment was empty and nobody came to fill the seat. I was alone in that compartment with broken windows and lost confidence. There was no medicine for my son and he was running fever again. His stock of food would soon be over. I didn’t really know what to do. I thought of calling emergency. I was going through these thought when I heard a knock at the door of my compartment. I thought it was the TT and made up my mind to ask him to help me file a complaint and get some medical help for my son. I opened the door, a fair, bearded young man in his late twenties stood there in front of me. I was gripped with fear, what did he want? He smiled and asked me if he could get in. I stood up in the doorway blocking his way and asked in a defiant tone ‘what do you want’. He said,’ sister, I have seen what has happened last night, and with a child it will not be safe for you to spend another night in this compartment with broken windows. We are traveling in a group and one of our friends could not join us, so we a have a vacant seat, if you want you can join us there’. Why did this stranger want to help me out in this manner? I cannot possibly trust him what if he has some ulterior motive. But there was something about this man that was striking about his honesty. But I politely refused and literally closed the door on his face. I would ask the TT to change my seat, I decided. The TT came and expressed his inability. The complaint could only be lodged at the destination, medical help was not possible till we reached a major station which was about seven hours away and he could not change my seat as there was no vacant one available at that point of time. I was feeling terribly helpless and felt like crying out. But I managed to control myself. It was a crisis and I had to keep my cool. I thought of the young man who had offered his help. I had no other alternative left other than accepting his offer, he looked honest and moreover even if he had some ulterior motive he wouldn’t dare try anything. I was building up a strategy before looking for him.

It didn’t take me long to find him. His seat was just adjacent to my compartment. The look on my face probably gave him the idea as to what I wanted to say. He got up immediately and helped me with my luggage. He tried to make sure I was comfortable. Once seated, he introduced me to his friends. They were a group of seven Kashmiri Muslim youth. Once again I started going weak on my knees. Militancy in Kashmir was in its peak. What if these were actually terrorists? I couldn’t sleep the entire night. For A couple of hours that I managed to do so, I had dreams of the train being blown up by the people I was traveling with. The next day Hamid was totally involved with Monty, arranging for his food, getting Monty’s bottles sterilized from the pantry, playing with him. As the day progressed I started feeling comfortable in their presence. One more night and I would be home. By the next morning the entire group had packed up their cards and books. They were all playing and taking care of Monty as if he was their family. Hamid then told me his story of his sister who died a couple of years back in a bomb blast along with her young son while returning home after visiting him and how I resembled her. He had tears in his eyes while narrating his story to me. I started feeling ashamed of myself. How could I have misunderstood his intentions when he was actually trying to help me? Perhaps the crime stories that we read about everyday have made us insensitive to humanity. The sound of violence is so loud that noble souls like Hamid live and die in oblivion. We do not realise that more than the bad elements around us there are noble souls who exist in silence and in spite of everything, continue to make the world a better place to live in. That caste and creed have nothing to do with virtue. I reached my destination at around two in the afternoon. My family was there to receive us at the station. Hamid and his friends helped me out with the luggage one last time. All of them were on the platform hugging Monty one by one. They would be getting off at the next station. Hamid brought a small wooden house boat and handed it to me and said, ‘I made this myself and I am giving this to you so that whenever you see this you remember this brother’.

Its around 18 years now, I still have that small wooden boat with me. It keeps reminding me that the world is not after all a place infested with rogues. There are a large number of Hamids around who will take you to safety when you need them the most.

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