The Indian society is in itself a randomly diverse mixture and any railway station across the nation seems to me an effective vantage point to observe it. You see people from all walks of life- Hindus and Muslims, beggars and professionals, children and the aged, blind women and mad men, young couples and anti-social policemen. You will see men who sit on the platform wearing shabby clothes and stare blankly at everyone. You will find men who clap and sing, and then bow towards an imaginary audience; you will find women, whose breasts have been flattened by diseases and malnutrition, sitting on the platform with ash-grey faces and begging; and you will find children, whose childhood has been snatched away from them, working as chai-walas. Then of course, you will bump into the middle-class people, who are quite busy yet somehow maintain a perfect balance between their professional and personal life by simply touching the screens of their smart-phones. You will meet students who are going home after exams on vacations, and couples returning with their newborns to the city after visiting parents at an ancestral village.
A few months back, I witnessed something quite nasty at the Guwahati station. I had gone to see-off a friend, and the train, bound for New Delhi was stalled at the station as certain compartments were being added onto it. The Ambubachi was just over and there was a considerable rush at the station. People had settled in their respective seats in the stalled train. I and my friend were standing on the platform and chit-chatting, when we saw a group of four policemen gherao a person and ask him about the details of the solar panels he was carrying to Delhi. The man seemed to be North Indian, and spoke an accented Hindi. His son, a little kid of around five years, was clinging on to his hand. The police was asking him to produce certain papers and documents, to which he replied that he had no idea. They continued to pressurise him and told him that whatever be the case, they wouldn’t allow him to board the train without the required documents. The interaction was going on, when suddenly one of the policemen slapped the man hard and swore at him. They clutched his hair, shook him and started dragging him out of the platform. A few onlookers had gathered around the scene but no one said anything or asked any questions. When the little boy started screaming, one of the policeman told him that if he cried they would break his dad’s legs. The boy, now silenced, followed.
After about half an hour, the four returned to the platform again, all smiles. I had no clue where the father and son were. The four of them stood near a stall and eyed the sleeper-class compartments. By now, I was conscious of the fact that there was something fishy about the group. After some time, I saw that all the four got up into the sleeper class and went to a certain seat where two young girls were sitting. There was a guy with them- and the three were busy talking. The uniformed gang went and sat with them. Next, one of them angrily indicated the guy to leave and sit somewhere else. Me and my friend tracked the guy and followed him. We found him in the next compartment in an irritated state. My friend politely asked him, “Bhaiya, aap ko kyun bhaga diya wahan se?”
Though initially shocked at our uncalled for interest in his case, the man replied, “Pata nahi. Mujhe dhamkane lage. Maine ticket dikhaya. Phir bhi mujhe bol rahe the ki agar jyada kiya toh andar kar denge.”
“Wo dono ladkiyan aap ke sath nahi hai?”
“Agar mere sath hote toh abhi tak mere hath chal gaye hotein.”
He explained that those two girls were travelling to Delhi alone. Their dad had come to see them off and when he found that this young man was travelling together with his daughters, he requested him to take care of them.
We thanked the man for the information and ran back to where the girls were being grilled. From where we were standing, it appeared as if the four of them were engaged in some serious discussion with the two girls. Making a grave face, they were explaining the girls something. This continued for the next fifteen minutes after which, to our utter bewilderment, we saw the two girls, take out thick bundles of hundred rupee notes from their purse and hand it over to the uniformed dacoits.
The train would leave in a few minutes and my friend went inside. I waved him good-bye, and took the foot-bridge. From the top, I could see the gang, giggling among themselves and counting the money. How they successfully threatened the girls to extort the money is still a mystery to me.
The other day while waiting for my late train at the Ranchi station, I decided to take a stroll towards the far end of the platform which was a bit quiet and secluded. Men urinated and dogs made love there, I found out. Suddenly I spotted a haggard- apparently a mad destitute- sitting on the ground, wearing a loose dirty t-shirt and torn pants. His entire appearance was rather brownish due to the dirt and dust settled on his body. He was eating something from a discarded packet, which he had most probably collected from the garbage heap nearby. As I was observing him, suddenly a dog came near him and sat. In the next few minutes I noticed that the man was saying something to the dog and nodding and shaking his head in such a way as if respond to the dog’s reply. I casually walked a few steps closer to the man and the dog, in such a manner that none of them would take a note of me. I heard the man say, “Where will you go without me?” He laughed mawkishly. Then, the man offered the dog his packet of food but the dog refused to eat and started walking away. The man softly caught hold of the dog’s neck, and whispering something into its ears, pushed it towards the packet. The dog began eating and the man patted its back.
While this was going on, across the station walls, from a posh hotel complex, around 20-25 continuous shots of firecrackers were exploded into the sky. It went on, one after the other for about 10-15 minutes- myriads of colours brightened the night sky and grey smoke billowed. Men and women had rushed to this part of the platform to have better view of the celebrations and Shakira’s voice blared from a loudspeaker inside the hotel complex. Probably a marriage ceremony was going on. I could see people wearing fashionable clothes getting down from costly sedans and walk towards the hotel gate with large bouquets and gift in their hands. A stage could also be seen at one corner of the field on which multi-coloured lights zigzagged and lanky women wearing shiny skirts were shaking their hips.
The gathered men and women in the platform were mesmerised by the lights in the sky. They started discussing among themselves as to how nice it would be to have such a marriage party. The mad man was still feeding the dog. He didn’t look up at the colours high up in the sky. He was busy blabbering something to the dog. Perhaps being mentally unstable has exempted him from the trials and tribulations of this material world, which makes us, the common mortals, suffer. And suffer, a lot.
The inequality and injustice in our society is appalling. And the sooner we stop turning a blind eye to the raging issues and stop being so selfish, the better it is for all of us.