I arc my back and shuffle a bit towards the left. The constable’s swinging lathi misses me by an inch. The second time, I am not so lucky. A thick cylinder of dry cane and rope slices its pain through my pants and onto my thighs.
“Saab, don’t hit me. Don’t hit me. Don’t hit me, please. I have a ticket. My name is Amar. I am going to Raxaul. Please don’t hit me.”
“Behenchod, madarchod. How dare you cut the line and try and jump into the coach? Madarchod, bhosad, saale.”
I beg him to stop. The man next to me pulls me out of another swing’s arc just in time.
“Give him the 50 rupees. He will stop”, his eyes reflect deep knowledge and a instinctive fear.
Amar takes the train back home
The coach is filthy. A dead rat and half a dozen cockroaches near the entrance. In the rush to board, I don’t remember if I made kheema of the rat or not. I think those behind me might have done it for sure. The window seat is empty. I hurl my bag just in time to intercept a stone and handkerchief landing at the same spot. There is a small hole right where I’ll be sitting, but I have a seat. I have a seat. I have a seat. That is my prayer now. Ramu chacha and chachi are opposite me now. Beside them are two ugly Bengalis and one very fat person. I think the fat person is some lala in some UP town. I already hate him.
“Get up from that seat, you bastard”, a loud voice booms. I turn my head around. For the second time in the day, I am hit by a person twice as large as me.
“Utt bey, saale. Who gave you right to sit at my seat?”
“Your seat? Your seat? I put my bag there first”
“Madarchod, you pushed my kerchief away and took that place.”
“Get lost. This is my seat and I don’t care what you say.”
My forearm almost cracks under the blocking manouver. I close my fists. Pump my arm. Draw my shoulder back. Maa kasam. He ducks. I rearm myself. This time I catch his left ear.
“STOP”. It’s Ramu chacha. He pushes me back. With all his might, he restrains the bearded monster. Others now join him. The fat lala gets up and puts his incredibly round hand on my chest.
15 seconds of insanity ends. I have won.
The bearded man’s mother has no space except under my feet. I feel guilty momentarily, but madarchod, I won. I don’t care. She is unwell and shivering in this 40 deg. Bombay heat. But I don’t care. Her blanket is thrown down, she rolls into it. I have to now travel feet up until she gets down. Karma, behenchod, karma.
Kalyan, Igatpuri, Nashik. More people into the coach. Bearded man is now sitting beside me. His mother is still below me, under the seat. She turns constantly, her hacky cough spit all around her. Bearded man hasn’t forgiven nor forgotten yet. He keeps mumbling madarchod every now and then. Fat lala is trying to protect his seat area. Two young boys going to Allahabad trying to make space underneath on the floor. One of them smashes a cockroach to pulp. Ramu chacha is trying to sleep. Ugly Bengalis are talking to themselves.
Manmad brings a smile to my face everytime. Lala asks why my face is beaming. I tell him about Solanki saab and my first job. My first money order home. My first proper leather chappal purchase. My green shirt. My first girl. He laughs.
Her toothy grin flashes in my brain. No. No. Kumari is waiting back home.
I should have filled water at Bhusaval. I am thirsty and hungry. Behenchod, that pulao seller was a cheat. 30 rupees he took for such less rice. It is hot. Fat lala has removed his shirt and placed it on his lap. He looks grotesque with his yellow color baniaan. His jowls touch his chest and his head is round and small like a bad potato. But I am thankful for his mobile phone and the old Ram Lakhan songs it is playing.
Old lady has vomited on the floor. The pool of yellowish, orange liquid is growing towards the two boys under lala’s feet. They are half sleeping and haven’t noticed. Bearded man does not seem to care. He is shifting his beads and chanting something. He seems like a robot, without any feelings. The old lady coughs, spewing out more vomit. This time the boys wake up and shriek in horror. Their pants are now covered in brown liquid. They are in the mood to fight the bearded guy. I can see it. I can so totally see it. But they back off. They clean up using some paper that was floating near the seat. The old lady sounds like she could die any minute.
I cannot put my feet down. It hurts. I have been sitting like for the past 6 hours, behenchod. I want to pee. Past Khandwa now. I still want to pee. Bearded man is sleeping and so are many others around him. Every step I take now is being on a mine field. Too many bodies on the floor, too much sweat. Too much stink. I cannot open the toilet door. I swing the latch violently until it gives way. There are 5 people inside.
“Kya chahiye, bey?” “I have to pee.” “So, pee, no? No one is sitting on the hole.” “But…but…” “You have a small dick that no one wants to see or what?” “No, but…”
“Madarchod, then pee and get lost no. We are not moving from here. Just be careful not to splash.”
I don’t like this train. But Kumari was insistent I come back home the soonest. I like Kochi. I like that beach they have there. All the pretty women. For two months, I was happy. The metro project people take care of you well. I have one room to myself and the toilet in the morning is clean. The only problem I had was with Abdul who beat me a couple of times because I didn’t dig the ditch far enough for all those sensor meters there were lowering into it. Abdul is a bastard. A fat bastard. If I am going to go back, I am going to complain about it. Ramesh and Golu will support me when I go there. Golu broke his arm because Abdul pushed him down a ditch.
But I like Kochi. For lots of people this is just a job, but when I have kids, I can tell them their father was one of the first people to work on a new, big metro project.
At Pipariya, I try to call Kumari, but the balance in the phone is not enough and I just get this “pip, pip, pip” sound. One of the ugly Bengali’s is feeling generous and hands me his phone to talk, “Ek minute baat kar, bas”. Kumari doesn’t lift the phone. Is she sleeping? It is unlike her to sleep for this long. Sigh.
The old lady beneath has shat. Disgusting. It smells very, very badly here. The bearded man is undisturbed and is eating kachori’s bought from the platform. The ugly Bengali who handed me his phone finally decides to take up the matter.
“I am not cleaning my mother’s shit. I am feeling fine. If you are smelling bad stuff, you can clean it yourself.”
Jabalpur and finally everyone around me has found the courage to corner the bearded man and evict him and his mother. He resists but the police are called and bribed to push him out of the coach. He bellows. And his mother, almost dying is still dripping shit. I feel sorry now for her and the trouble we are causing, but behenchod, there is still one more day left to travel. It was too much. An urchin is called and he cleans up the place. Everyone is feeling generous and gives him 2 rupees each.
The commotion has cleared the area in our coach. The two boys underneath the lala seemed to have left and there is some space finally. I stretch my legs for the first time in almost a day. There is a sharp pain, but relief too. It is short-lived though. Lots of people barge in and the little space created is gone. Five minutes after leaving, a man carrying a large backpack comes stumbling by looking for space to seat. He clearly doesn’t belong on this train; he is sweating profusely and looks very uncomfortable. He can afford a proper reservation ticket. Why is here? He grumbles to the man who is blocking his way forward and tells him to take better care of his armpits. He really should not pick a fight here. He’ll lose badly.
He asks if he can sit in the little space at the edge of the seat row. The old lady doesn’t want to move and gestures that he should move inside. He stumbles once again, regains composure and manages to find a tiny patch of seat beside me. My feet are in a comfortable position now and I don’t want to move. He smiles. I pretend to not notice. He tries to nudge. I push back. This goes on a few times.
“Please adjust for a couple of hours. I am going only to Katni”, he says.
There is a collective look of incredulousness all around. What an idiot, everyone’s unsaid words.
He has this little notebook and in this cramped space, he starts noting something. He writes, looks around, writes some more. He stares out of the window a lot and figets with his phone quite a bit. The lala is most curious of us lot and starts asking him questions. He answers them patiently. I find it hard to believe that anyone would travel just for “fun” like this. All these big city people and their money, I tell you. He is telling how he has travelled from Bareilly to Lucknow to Jabalpur. Pretentious bastard.
Kumari calls. Behenchod phone refuses to connect properly. Pip, pip, pip and cut. The city slicker asks if I want to talk. I feel stupid asking him a favour, but I haven’t heard Kumari’s voice in a week. I am glad I married her. She is such a nice person and keeps my mother on her toes. If I can take her away from the village to Kochi or somewhere like that, it’ll be so nice. She is so clever. She sounds like honey. That giggle at the end of each sentence. Sigh.
“Thank you, saab.”
“It’s ok. You talked properly na?”
“Yes, thank you very much. She hasn’t been well for the past month, so I am going back to see her.”
I don’t know why I told him that just now. He’s a stranger who is going to get down in a couple of hours. He nods. He asks where I am from. I tell him. He asks where I am coming from. I tell him. He asks about work. I tell him. I ask him about where he is from. He tells me. We get talking. The ugly Bengalis listen in on full attention. The lala is sleeping. Ramu chacha is swatting flies from the kachori piece that’s stuck on his moustache.
We talk on. It is easy. He tries to talk like Lalu Yadav. We laugh.
At Katni, Bharath gets down. I still can’t understand why he’s come all this way. “To eat lunch”, he told me when I asked him a few minutes earlier. It seems a very flimsy reason. Money spoils people, I am telling you.
Allahabad, Benaras, Chappra, Hajipur. Dirty towns. Dirty people. I am glad I don’t live in any of them. The crowd has thinned. The lala got off at Benaras. The ugly Bengalis at Hajipur. What are they going to do there? Didn’t they know they are hated in these parts?
For the first time in a day and half I can sleep properly, stretch my legs and not hit anybody. I am grateful.
Motihari. The cops stop everyone getting down and asking money to let us pass with our luggage. I pay 20 rupees.
Jhihuli and Kumari are just an hour away now.