Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Tryst With the Gods

It was a fine morning. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and a handsome young man was walking through the ravines in the Chambal valley when suddenly- Dhishkyaooo! A bullet from Dakoo Bhairo Singh’s gun pierced the silence and the man’s chest muscles. Dakoo Bhairo Singh curled his eighteen inch moustache and grinned a 440 watt-yellow-toothed-smile.
About four hundred miles from all this, with nothing to do with Dakoo Bhairo Singh or the unfortunate (but handsome) nameless junior artist of our story, I was in a train, on way to college. In perfect oblivion of all that, I was sitting in the first class ladies compartment, staring out of the window at the dozens of residents of this city who live in toiletless homes and use the railway tracks for a variety of purposes- the earliest in the day being the smelliest. The sights and smells however managed to distract me from the perfectly offensive obscenities scribbled on the seat before me. Besides, odours from the woman sitting next to me were fiercely competing with those coming from outside, to the extent that I was contemplating suicide by holding breath.
Amidst the odour mania, general train squabble and the faraway, inaudible roar of Bhairo Singh’s laughter, Dadar arrived. Along with several other women (and their respective smells), she entered. Not a word escaped her mouth but all women showed signs of reverence to the “Western Railway” badge she wore. Automatically hands reached into pockets, purses, wallets and other places of storage (ahem) to bring out passes and tickets. I too conformed to this glorious tradition.
She looked at the tattered document I held out and then at me. After a tense moment she finally uttered, “Expire ho gaya hai!” My world was shattered. Those three words spelt doom. But not much could be done. At Elphinstone Road she led me to the Station Master’s office, or rather a dingy room which resembled those used by the armed forces for torturing POWs. Other passengers looked at me with sympathy, contempt, ridicule and Thank-God-I-Wasn’t-Caught looks.
But what could be worse than getting caught the very next day after your pass has expired? I was soon to find out, when I was made to empty my wallet, pockets and bag for money to pay for a fine of Rs250. I had a sum total of Rs.170.25.
The station master looked at me, as if to gage if I was a seasoned railway rules offender. He waited and thought. Finally he made a slip of “Extra Luggage” for Rs.165 and issued a ticket back home for me as I waited there like a criminal in trial for murder. Finally he smiled a 440watt-yellow-toothed smile, picked his nose and handed me the receipt and ticket ( using the same hand of course), but personal hygiene isn’t high on the list at such times.
I ran out as quickly as I could and silently thanked the railway gods who had smiled upon me. The situation could be well described by the Hindi films of yesteryears when the hero came out of the blue-grey metal (or thermocol) doors of Central Jail. Relieved and broke, I made my way back home, with a vow to check the expiry dates on railway passes in the future to avoid any tryst with the Railway Gods.

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