The central station was bustling with noisy activity. I came half an hour earlier and took my berth in the train. The compartment was getting filled up. An old man with his wife was sitting opposite to me. There were two young men on the side berths. There was another 15 minutes to go for the train to depart.
A young muscular man rushed in with a small red travel bag and sat by me placing the bag on the other side of the seat. He smiled at me and asked “How far are you travelling?” I returned the smile and replied Ernakulum.
He said “I am travelling up to Thrissur on my way to Guruvayur.My uncle is waiting outside. I will take leave of him and be right back. Can you please keep a watch on the bag?”
I nodded my head and he left immediately. The final bell and the engine whistle were heard. There was no trace of the young man. I saw through the window and there was none rushing to board the compartment. The train picked up its speed. I was worried whether he missed the train foolishly talking to his uncle oblivious of its departure. Thirty minutes passed by and there was no sign of that passenger.
On seeing my worried face, the old man in the opposite berth said ”Days are bad and we hear lot of warnings about unclaimed objects. Why would he stay away leaving the bag behind?”
Someone from the side berth remarked “I did not like the look of the guy. Let us tell the TTE and request him to remove the bag from here and deal with it as per rules”
I am by nature timid and wont to avoid all problems. At the whiff of a trouble, either I leave the place or settle for an amicable resolution. My apprehension was what if the guy comes after sometime to claim the bag. No TTE was however seen. There was some agitation and it appears only very few TTEs were deployed for the trains.
The lady in the opposite berth was heard telling her husband ”Could there be a bomb? Is it safe to travel with the bag in the compartment?”Her husband signaled her to remain silent but the point she made was not lost sight of by others.
It was then one tall man in Khaki uniform in his early thirties, with a long moustache and a baton in hand, was sighted at the end of our compartment. All our eyes were on him with much relief as he walked erect towards us oozing the authority that the uniform gave him. As he came to our bay, he stopped and tapped his baton on the side railings.
“What is the problem and why are you all staring at me?” he asked in a gruff tone.
The elderly man on the opposite berth explained our predicament with an unclaimed baggage on our bay and the owner not in sight.
The khaki man looked at me sternly and asked “Do you know that passenger? If not how can you accept baggage from an unknown person? What if it contained an explosive timed to certain hour? Do you hear any tick tick sound from inside. Have you told the TTE about it?” and added when I tried to place my ears on the bag”No.no.Don’t touch it. These scoundrels are up to anything. Tell me what do you want me to do?”
One of the two men from side berth spoke “You are on the train to protect us from any harm. Please take the bag away far from here and deal with it as you deem appropriate.”
As he produced the hand, I nudged the bag towards him. He seemed to hesitate for a moment and then took it in his hand and walked away briskly telling that he would carry it to the end of the train and do the needful at the next station.
There was a sense of relief as we settled down comfortably and started discussing about crime, violence and bomb culture. After about 15 minutes, to everyone’s surprise, the man who had left the travel bag appeared and sat down on the seat.
“Sorry folks, I almost missed the train talking to my uncle and by sheer luck I could board one of the compartments at the end while the train was in motion. I had to wade my way to reach this place” he said and turning to me, he added “I hope I did not inconvenience you much.”
“Inconvenience you say, you literally scared the hell out of everyone in the compartment leaving an unclaimed bag. We waited with fear for a long time. Luckily a constable appeared and we handed over the bag to him. He will be at one of the front compartments. Please go and collect it from him” said the side berth man
“How could you hand over the bag entrusted to your care to a constable? If I do not trace him, I will hold you responsible. One of you please accompany me to identify him” he said angrily.
They returned after walking through the entire train unable to find the man in the uniform. The aggrieved young man shouted at me, “I can find no one in khaki uniform. I had kept 3000 rupees and a watch for my father for his 60th birthday. I hold you responsible for the loss. Either get me my bag or compensate me for the loss.”
“I never agreed to watch your bag. You just kept it by my side before going out” I replied
“But you nodded your head” he retorted but softened down pleading, ”I am a poor man and cannot afford the loss.”
The other passengers were watching with interest while the old man from opposite berth said that I cannot be held responsible as the owner left the bag at his own risk.
But the man insisted that I should compensate him for the loss for my having nodded while he left the bag by my side .Realizing my mistake in not refusing, I agreed to pay Rs.1000 the maximum I could even though I was not certain the bag contained money and the watch. After haggling, the amount was settled at Rs.1500.Before I took out the money, the old man asked him to show his ticket. He stared at the old man with hostility and left in a huff.
Meanwhile one of the side berth passengers who had gone to toilet saw a tall man with mustache seated at the end bay. He was however not in khaki uniform but in a new dress. The baton by his side that seemed familiar raised his doubt. He lingered for a while till he saw the protruding red bag under the man’s seat. That turned out to be a giveaway.
With help of other passengers he was dragged to our seats. The bag was opened only to reveal the discarded khaki uniform. After a bit of roughing up by others, he confessed to their modus operandi and pleaded for mercy. With no TTE or constable in sight, no loss sustained and it was late for bed, he was let off. I dozed off peacefully with no problem to rankle my head