Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two hours as they were

I get down on the Bhubaneshwar station at O450 hours. I’m here to meet a few special friends. First on the roll is sis, who is supposed to meet me not earlier than 10am. 5 wee hours of the morn to be spent all by myself…well not quite…

I’m delighted to find that my boggie is the last one and it’s a long saunter to the flight of stairs. I walk at a pace that would even give snails a reason to booze and dance(but how!!!). I carry a crushed bottle of packaged drinking water to the main platform. There’s no dustbin on the platform number 4 at all!

The city sucks at this time of the year. I’m sweating at 5am!!

I cant take a bath. There’s no way I can leave my bag outside the bathroom in the 2nd class waiting hall, which doesn’t even have a clothes hanger. But I have to freshen up desperately. There are three wash basins with a non-functional one at the centre which is ornamented with the coolest splash paintings in red – an exclusively Indian form of art passed on to generations of fervent paan-chewers. I take off my tee to the discomfort of a datun chewing elderly not-so-gentleman who expresses himself in murmurs supposed to be heard by me. Not ready to buy my reasons behind not doing so, he asks me to “wash” myself in the bathroom in the rudest possible manner. All I’m doing is wiping my upper body with a wet towel in a hallway full of people too confident of their masculinity to roam around in underwear. After a lot of courtesy that goes disrespected, I talk to him in a manner I’ll never be proud of. But it works!

Sprinkling loads of DermiCool over myself, I get ready and lie down on a set of three vacant chairs under the ceiling-fan that refuses to provide its services beyond two feet of its circumference. The guy with a chonic incapability to wake up before 10, unless pressurized, cant sleep a wink.

Twitchy, edgy, restless, I get up and start watching the spirit of true India, in a range of colours of skin and clothing. Sooner than I realize, a kaleidoscope of emotions fill me up.

[Recalling all of them would be akin to teaching salsa to Sunny Deol but I’ll try, nevertheless.]

I cant help but get amused at the sight of the uncle in the adjoining pic whose belly sucks all the oxygen of the hall when he inhales. I feel sorry for a polio-stricken man who needs his folks’ help for getting down the chair. I’m upsy-daisy-ing a cute tyke who keeps tripping down every couple of minutes. I’m smitten by the eyes of a beautiful young lady until she starts talking over the phone in a loud crass voice. I’m amazed at the gigantic magnitude of luggage a family is carrying along. I envy the peace on the faces of those engulfed by the sweet kip. I’m annoyed by the never-ending “Your-Attention-Please” in three languages, Oriya being the most irritating of the lot. And I wonder if time could pass any slower!!

God I need a smoke…no, I’m trying to quit.
Come on, one wont make a difference…one or ten, it’s the same.
Fine then, ten it is…dude its easy, just don’t think about it.
Aaaarrgghhh who am I kidding, Nicotine calls.

The walk to the countless shops on wheels just outside the platform is punctuated by the likes of “Auto, bhaina”, “Kahan bhaiya” and civil refusals correspondingly.

One cake, one tea(cake and tea are countable nouns commercially), one smoke and I’m good to go. It isn’t even 6am and I see two seemingly sleep deprived street urchins – a boy and a girl - of not more than six in ragged clothes, dirty unkempt hair and worn out slippers. They are the Indian “beggars”, out on duty before the Sun. They ask every proud smoker and tea-sipper for alms. Some oblige, a majority doesn’t bother. I’m sure they haven’t had a bite of food after waking up as evident by the looks they give to the edibles arranged on the shop-decks. They come to me.

I’ve seen the detestable “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” act in Slumdog Millionaire. I’ve seen Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal. I’m aware of the network for which these poor souls “work”. And it disgusts me to the core. I very well realize that an act of well-intended succor may go a long way in the forceful entrapment of a couple of more kids in this repugnant nexus too lucrative for some of the “biggies”. But I can’t help it. I’ve nearly always obliged. The helpless look in the eyes of such kids does it all for me. I consider myself to be luckier than a cosmic proportion of India’s population and this is my way of giving back. I’ve been advised otherwise, by well-thinking mates, in the long-term interests of the nation but what about them who have already been trapped? I may be a weak giving-in escapist but turning the face the other way doesn’t help the cause either.

The girl, who had a really cute dimple on one of her cheeks, plucks my chinos near my right knee. The shopkeeper yells at them with disdain, as if they’re there to plague his business. The boy tries to move on, taking her by the hand. I stop them.

I ask them if they would like to eat. With a puzzled look on their sullied cherubic faces, they don’t know how to react. I get them a plastic cup of tea each. The shopkeeper’s visibly disapproving gestures don’t trouble me. I ask them again what they would like to have. The girl wants to say something but is hushed up by the dominating male, her elder brother in all probabilities. He still seems to have some misgivings about my motives. Or rather, he’s still too incredulous. I try to ask the girl again. Her gaze is fixed at a loaf of bread, the cheapest of the available options! I doubt she has ever had any other baked item. I get them a piece of cake each that the girl devours in seconds while the “doubting Thomas” still holds it in his hand while finishing off with the tea. I get the duo the coveted loaf of bread who leave without saying a word. They stop at the next person after the boy has gobbled up his share of cake and do the daily round. The girl turns back and looks at me. I smile back but get no response. I still cant help smiling.

I come back to the waiting hall and lie down on the still vacant set chair triplet, earphones plugged in. None seems to have left the hall and there is a higher attendance. Its 0640 hours and I try to sleep. It’s a magical feeling of self-assurance and I actually get some sleep only to be woken up by “Yatrijana daya money dhyana diyantu” moments later. Crap!!!