He was not even 12 as it appeared from his decrepit bony figure. I’m writing about a bedraggled and unkempt kid who, if alive might still be struggling to find his identity.
HISTORY IS often made to glorify or destroy one individual. Ironically, the individual I am talking about was not even a grown-up man but a child. He was not even 12 as it appeared from his decrepit bony figure. I’m writing about a bedraggled and unkempt kid who, if alive might still be struggling to find his identity.
It is another matter that I am lucky as I am writing his story sitting in a room warmed with an oil heater. Where is he at this moment? I don’t know. It is difficult to survive the Delhi nights with the deadly chill on the road while the mercury is touching 7 degree Celsius.
A few days ago I had to make an urgent trip to Lucknow. I was able to afford Tatkal payment for ‘Garib Rath’ so I entered the train with Rs. 800 and a worn-out traveler’s brief-case. He had boarded the train with shards and flints in his dirty crooked hands with the nails that were never cut. His torn shirt had no pocket.
His trousers had so many colors that you could call it VIBGYOR in action under the domination of soiled hue. Having entered the compartment I checked my berth and planted myself like a Maharajah. He stood in the middle of the berths and began with a dirge of Talat Mehmood’s – “Aey mere dil kaheen aour chal, ghum ki duniya se dil bhar gaya….dhoond le ab koyi ghar naya.”
I remember Talat Mehmood – the golden voice of Indian cinema who became the second victim of creative intrigues of film industry after Master Madan. Talat was my childhood favourite and the child’s rendition of this in this wintry evening put the clock back for me.
Talat was a singer of the century. He was compelled by circumstances to sing at the birthday parties and weddings of the rich in five star hotels. This child was obviously a beggar and his circumstances had put him in Garib Rath. His delivery was clear with a fair grip over pronunciation that reflected his background. He played with those flints in his fingers with a mastery that could put to shame many of our copy-cat music directors. The train was yet to leave Hazrat Nizam Uddin Railway Station and the passengers were still boarding the train. After the performance he held out his palm with an appeal in his bleary eyes. Some one rupee coins were thrown at him and he disappeared.
“Garib Rath” was Laluji’s baby to make the middle classes enjoy the luxury for at least one night at reasonable prices, what the rich take for granted. It doesn’t have the shutters of ordinary trains which you could pull down after smoking the bidi or when the icy wind chills your bones. It has packed glass-windows which run the length of the train. Your chattering teeth stop hitting their sharp edges once you enter the compartment. When I looked out there were hundreds and hundreds of people on the platforms waiting for other destinations. I appreciated the new sense of discipline of Delhi boarders as no one was knocking at the door “let us in, we know you have space in there!” At the assigned time the train pulled out of station.
My co-passenger in the next seat was a Mantriji’s relative and his retinue. As the train crossed Ghaziabad, two suitcases were erected vertically and a long rectangular six-ply plank was perched on it. A servant put up the day’s newspaper on the plank to make a smart table. Some tiffin materialized from somewhere and presto! It was a healthy competition between “Chappan Bhog” and “Kareem Nematkada” right before my eyes.
They asked me to join in. I politely refused as a principle. My heart was willing my mind was discrete. A lot of food was still on the table when Mantriji’s relative and his staff called it a night. The residue was gathered and wrapped in the crumpled newspaper in a slip-shod way and pushed under the seats. After some time the travellers began to feel drowsy and berths were unfolded, the lights of the compartment were switched off and Garib Rath rather the ‘poor’s palace-on-wheels’ continued its journey.
I got up around midnight to go to the toilet. It was an unfriendly hour but you can‘t refuse the call of nature. One needs to be a circus acrobat if you want to land safely on the floor from the 3rd tier height. As I was struggling with my belt, there was a barrage of rarest abuse just outside. Then there was more banging and I felt more secure inside than outside.
As the commotion came down to a low pitch I gathered courage and ventured out. Now I was fully awake. There were people in the corridor and all were embroiled in high pitched dialogue about a train-thief. I was wondering if I was dreaming this but it was for real. The same boy at the door. Now he had a small broom in his hand for cleaning the floor of the compartment. He was almost hanging from the door. I thought they were pushing him out. No, they were not that unkind. They were just abusing him for not getting down at Moradabad. Someone instructed him to get down at the next station.
I said, “Don’t be silly. Where he will go in this chilly night?”
“Saley bhikari char atae hain…………”.
“But where will he go?” I tried to reason with him.
“Aap bahut hamdard ban rahe ho. Jab tumhara kuch qeemti chal jaega to hum hi ko ilzam doge.” You are showing compassion for him but you would be the first to complain when any of your costly belongings are stolen. Poverty has many reasons to turn to crime. The poor are aware of that trait and rich are more afraid of that trait.
Garib Rath slowed down as the next stop was approaching. A new station, a new destination for few arrived but it didn’t matter for the passengers who were bound for longer destinations. This boy was offloaded at a station which was never his destination. I may be wrong. Any station could be a destination of a poor kid.
A few decades back Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of a train in South Africa. He was strong and he had fought against that treatment. His had succeeded in liberating his own country from the same races. Tonight a new Gandhi failed desperately in his own country. One of Gandhi’s children was again kicked out of the train in winter. This kid is not the first and would not be the last who will be thrown out of a moving train. Another Mohd Toughlaq was defeated tonight; another without-ticket kid might have become the object of Talat’s melody – out of this duniya of ghum – ghum ki duniya se dil bhar gaya. Perhaps this winter is too cold to survive.