Thursday, May 28, 2015

The train journey

Rohit was tired after the long journey from the Kashmir border to Srinagar and then to Delhi. He was still in his informal fatigue and wished to catch some sleep before the train reached Gwalior. Luckily he had the window seat to recline. There were still five minutes for the train to start. He stretched his legs and closed his eyes.
“Excuse me. Let me keep my luggage on the loft. These two seats next to you belong to us," an elderly but short man said. His wife who was taller than him was standing beside him with two heavy bags in her hand.
“Let me help you. Give me the boxes and bags,” Rohit said
“Thanks a lot. It would have been anyway difficult for me to reach the loft," he said with a giggle.”We are going up to Bhopal. Are you also travelling to the same place?”
“No, I am travelling up to Gwalior.”
“You seem to be an army man from your dress. My son is also in army in artillery somewhere in Kashmir. He should have been here with us .We have finalized the marriage of his sister. We are going there for that purpose. Other family members and relatives along with my daughter have left by train earlier. My son had sent a message through someone that he cannot come due to exigencies of work and asked us to go ahead with the wedding." the old man spoke nonstop.
"I am sorry to hear that he could not come. What is his name? Any idea where he is presently?"
"Sohan. Unlike me he is a tall chap six foot with curly hair and sharp nose. I don't know the exact place. Some place called Uri or some such name. Would you know him by any chance?"
"Did you say Sohan...Sohan Gupta? Does he have a black mole below his lip on the chin?"
"Yes, right you are..He has the mole and a deep scar on his temple he sustained from injury while playing as a young boy. Do you know him?"
Instead of replying Rohit turned his head towards the window to see the station passing by as the train slowly started moving. The elderly man was waiting eagerly for Rohit to turn back. When he continued to look outside even after the station was left behind, the man coughed gently to draw his attention.
As Rohit paid no heed, the man asked him "You haven't replied whether you know my son. But you were right about the mole on his chin. How is it he could not get leave when you have been given?"
“I don't know him personally. I have seen him in the mess a few times. That was a few months back. I got leave only for a week as my dad is having heart surgery. Sorry, I am very sleepy as I have been traveling," Rohit said and stretched himself on his seat
The man mumbled something to his wife.
Rohit with his eyes closed was recollecting his close friend Sohan telling him about two weeks back how eagerly he was looking forward to attend his sister's marriage as his leave was sanctioned. Thoughts about him and their friendship slowly waned as he dozed off to sleep.
He woke up with a jerk when the man next to him nudged him to inform that the train was entering Gwalior station
“Thanks uncle for waking me up. I was very tired and fell asleep”
“I have one request. When you meet Sohan next, please ask him to write to us. It is nearly a  fortnight since we got to hear from him. We are worried at his unusual silence. I am happy to have met you. I shall pray for your dad’s well being,” the man said as he shook his hands.
After getting down, Rohit lingered by the door, where the elderly man stood, till the train slowly departed. Waving his hand at the receding figure, Rohit stood still unable to control the tears from his eyes. He had not the heart to tell Sohan’s parents, especially on the eve of their daughter’s barat, that he was the one who had sent the message about Sohan’s inability to come. How could he tell them that their son was critically injured  from a terrorist attack two weeks back and that he is battling for his life? He could only pray for a divine miracle.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Truth prevails

The board outside announcing that the store was hiring hands was godsend as he was roaming the streets in search of a job. Someone in the shop collected his name and address in a chit. In a few moments Kartik stood perspiring before the owner of ‘Vinayaka’, an air conditioned departmental store.
“Where were you working earlier and why did you leave the job?” asked the owner.
He knew a truthful answer would certainly not fetch him the job. The thought of his starving family troubled his mind. However, he was determined not to lie come what may.
He gulped the saliva and said “I was not working anywhere for more than two years.”
“Why? You do not seem to be in good circumstances to be without a job. Aren’t you married?”
“I am, Sir. I have a wife and a son. My aged mother is also with me”
“You have not answered my first question. Were you idling your time for two years or do you not wish to reveal the name of your previous employer?”
“It is not like that. To be frank, I was in jail for two years and was released six months back. I have been searching for a job since then without any luck”
He was interrupted by owner who said “Who will give a job to a criminal? I am sorry I cannot also.”
“I understand, Sir, but I wish to say I am no criminal. It was my destiny that I was falsely accused for a crime I was not even aware of”
“What do you mean? That is what everyone tells”
“I was travelling in a crowded bus and a seat was about to fall vacant. When I lunged for it, a man asked why I was pushing him and that he was not going to occupy the seat. I thanked him and sat in the seat. Within minutes there was a commotion and a scream from an elderly man that his pocket was picked and people saw the man who was talking to me escaping through the front exit. Someone said he had seen the culprit talking to me and the conductor saw the empty wallet under my legs. Despite my pleading that he was a stranger and he must have dropped the wallet by my side, I was handed over to the police. After beating me blue I was put in jail.Trust me, Sir, I have never indulged in crime in my life nor uttered a lie. My family is starving. Kindly help me. I swear by what I told you,”Kartik said.
“What you say may be true. I have no means of verifying it. But I am not in a position to take a risk and employ you,”  the owner said curtly and escorted him outside the store himself.
He had hardly moved ten steps, he heard a loud cry from a middle aged woman “Stop the cycle, he had snatched my chain” It took no time for Kartik to stand in the front of a speeding cycle and push the cyclist down even as he also fell down. The chain snatcher whipped a knife but was overpowered by other passersby. The chain was safely restored to the woman who profusely thanked Kartik for his resourcefulness and bravery.
Limping back home, he told his wife “No luck today also, dear. I found a place offering jobs but the stigma seems hard to erase.”
“Never mind. I have hot gruel ready. Do not lose heart. God will answer our prayers as you have done no wrong,” she consoled him.
An hour later a young boy in his teens was at their door asking ‘I am from Vinayaka stores. Is there any Kartik here? My owner wants him immediately.”
“I am Kartik. Do you have any idea why he wants me?”
“No Sir. Please come along with me in the scooter. He is waiting.”
When he was ushered into the owner’s room, he smiled at Kartik and said “I have since changed my mind. You can come for work from tomorrow as part of our security. I trust you fully. You will get uniform in two days. Give measurements before you go. Take these thousand rupees and buy provisions.”
Taken by surprise and not knowing what brought about this change in him, he said with tears flowing from his eyes “Only about an hour ago, you sent me away suspecting my integrity and now you are not only employing me but as security. My prayers to God have not been in vain”
“I judged you wrongly. Luckily and very soon I had a proof of your helping nature when you left my store. A compassionate man can never be a criminal. I was watching the incident from the store. Incidentally that lady is my wife.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Easy money

There was a nip in the air with the full moon shining brightly on the clear sky. Kapali was returning to Chennai in his empty mini-truck after dropping a load at Hosur. Humming a film song after a scrumptious meal at Krishnagiri, he seemed in no hurry. He switched on the recorder, lighted a cigarette and drove for an hour,
He saw at a distance two men waving their hands to stop the vehicle. There was a big bundle beside them. Thinking they needed a lift with the prospect of some easy money, he stopped the vehicle.
“This is our relative who fell from terrace by accident and died on the spot. He hails from Gudiyatham.We will pay you 500 rupees if you can hand over this bundle containing his body to two members of his family who would be waiting on the highway as you near Gudiyattham.They would have a lantern for easy identification. Can you please help us in this emergency?”
Though afraid to carry an unknown body, the lure of money tempted him to agree but he reveled at the prospect of extracting more from these village folks.
“I do not carry dead bodies for the risk involved. It is against company rules to carry unauthorized goods. But considering the urgency, the late hour and his waiting family members, I agree if you are willing to pay me 750 rupees and one of you accompany the bundle,” said Kapali.
They looked at each other for a while. One of them said “We agree to pay the amount you demanded but we cannot travel with you as we have urgent work here. We will leave early morning by bus. Our relatives would be there waiting for you. Please help us”
Kapali refused and required lot of persuasion
He finally said “I will not take a dead body without someone responsible for it accompanying me. What if the two men who are supposed to receive the body do not turn up? I would be burdened and stranded with a dead body in hand. There is a lot of risk involved in this business. Considering the urgency, I do not mind if you pay me 2000 rupees.”
“Our relatives would surely be there. Do not worry” they said in unison. They reluctantly paid the sum he demanded before placing the covered bundle on the rear of the truck.
Richer by 2000 bucks, Kapali was happy thinking that in two hours he would be relieved of the burden. He drove for some distance and stopped the truck for emptying his full bladder.
As he returned to his seat, he felt a very slight movement of the truck. Wondering what could be the reason, he felt the movement again. He looked behind through the opening to see whether the bundle was intact. His blood froze and sweat broke out on his forehead when he saw the bundle shaking violently as if trying to free itself. How can a dead body move? Was he imagining himself he wondered and pinched himself hard? It was clear that whoever was presumed to be dead is in fact alive. He got down and opened the cloth covering the body. There was a middle aged man bloodied all over with both limbs tied and covered in plastic sheet. He was seen trying to extricate himself. Luckily the man had not suffocated to death thanks to shoddy packing that left an opening near his face.
Kapali quickly removed the cloth cover and the plastic sheet. He untied his hands and legs and tried in vain to make him sit. The man was injured all over the body with a gash on his head. He seemed critically injured and needed immediate medical attention. After swallowing some water that Kapali poured in his mouth, the man opened his eyes.
“I was told by two men that you had died instantly after a fall from a height and that I should hand you over to your relatives who would be waiting at Gudiyatham.Luckily you are not dead and need to be rushed to a hospital nearby”
“Those two men were evil. They beat me up with rods when I went to collect the long pending dues from them. There was no accident or a fall. They tried to kill me and possibly thought I was dead. I have none at Gudiyatham.I belong to Bangalore” he spoke haltingly with great difficulty and almost inaudibly.
When Kapali told him that he would first inform the police at Gudiyatham and thereafter admit him in a hospital, he nodded his head and said “Thank you. I am feeling very sleepy. Please hurry”
Kapali pressed the accelerator not to lose valuable time and stopped only when he reached the police station. He ran inside and luckily saw the Inspector still there with two constables.
He narrated the event as it took place and said “The man is outside in the truck. I must rush him to the hospital as his condition seems critical. Meanwhile please try to nab the two wicked men at Krishnagiri”
“Let me talk to the injured man first and verify the veracity of your statement, “said the inspector as he came out..
Kapali touched the injured man who lay with his eyes closed and spoke to  him loudly, “The inspector is here. Please tell him quickly what you told me as I have to take you to the hospital”
The man did not reply. Kapali tried to wake him up again from his drowsiness. There was no movement to his great worry. He repeatedly asked him to open his eyes and tell the inspector. But the man lay inert.
The inspector turned the injured man’s head towards him when the head fell on its side. The inspector felt at his nostrils for breath and his pulse. He looked accusingly at Kapali and said “The man is dead.”
With a dead body on his hand and with no proof for his statements other than the only person who could corroborate already dead, Kapali started crying “I am innocent, Sir” even as he was rudely pushed inside the station. The inspector had a smirk on his face as the constable pulled out the bundle of 2000 rupees from Kapali’s pocket.