I have stopped taking the train to office and it was high time I stopped. Mumbai local trains are now overflowing and you are not sure you can get down where you want to. So now I commute by the State Transport buses. Conductors are mostly arrogant and drivers drive as if they are taking you on your last journey. But I can live with that, at least I get to sit and breath. But I still miss the trains. They become your home away from home. You make friends and some become more than friends. (And I also miss sometimes standing near the ladies’ compartment and glancing in once in a while!).
I also met my girl on the train. She must have been nine or ten. She daily carried a basket of oranges and boarded the train at rush hours which scared even the most skillful of the commuters. Many times I was really worried watching her catch the basket with one hand and the steel bar of the compartment door with the other. But she always managed to get in. Having boarded the train, she would start moving through the aisle, calling out in her sweet sing-song voice- “ Mitha Santri….. dus ka paanch, babuji lelo, bhayyaji lelo…….”. Some bought without saying much. A few tirelessly tried to bargain. She would patiently explain to them how she couldn’t afford to sell oranges for any lesser price. Whether she sold oranges or not, she kept flashing her enigmatic smile. Imagine exercising such patience when you are being pushed in and shoved out from all side in a crowded compartment!
For many days, though I watched, I did not really pay any attention to her. Then one day, when a passenger tried to bargain for less, she simply exploded. “ Bada babu bana phirata hai… dus rupiye ka santra bhi nahi kharid sakta? Fokat mein le ja… apne baccho ko khila de meri taraf se….”. All the noise in the compartment seemed frozen in a minute. Next moment she retreated towards the door and when the train stopped at a station, got down. For many moments, I was scared. I kept thinking… what must have caused such an outbreak from the sweet child who had always offered nothing but her innocent smile to the world?
Next day, she again came into the compartment. But this time she was not alone and did not leap into the still moving train as usual. She had a child of four or five with her. She told the boy to remain near the door and not move a bit and started moving through the bogey selling oranges. But today the haunting smile was missing and she was barely audible. When she came where I was sitting, I asked her who the child was and why she had brought him to such crowded train, she said- “ Bhai hai mera. Kal ammi mar gayi aur baap kaam pe gaya hai. Ab to usko har din saath leke aana padega”. I did not dare to look at her for many days after that. Now when she came to me, sometimes she smiled but it was such a sad smile that I wished she did not smile at all. I was also so scared of her I could not even ask if I could do something for her. All I could do was buy oranges though I do not like them much. Days passed and I too was less burdened by guilt and sorrow. Sometimes I asked how she was doing and she said- “ sub thik hai bhayya”. After a few days I stopped taking trains altogether.
My girl, the only mother her sibling now has, I still miss her. And I am trying hard not to remember her.