He stood by the railway platform waiting for the train to arrive. It was six minutes late. The crowd was getting restless. No one wanted to get to work late on a Monday morning. Just then it struck him, he had forgotten to take the newspaper again. It would be left hanging in the door post for somebody else to swipe. The thief was simply stealing his newspapers. Why would anyone steal newspapers? Aren’t they going obsolete? He hoped Mrs Sabnis would take the paper in and hold it for him till the evening. He hated to have his dinner without the newspaper. Eating alone wasn’t his best experience.
The train slowly chugged into the platform. And then began the mad clamber to get in. Mr Phadke, as usual, jumped into the still entering train, like a jackrabbit. Then, went Mr Iyer and Damle. He was still amazed at the urgency of these men to get, not to work, but inside the compartment. He squeezed in just before the rush was beginning to take over. Slowly, the compartment filled up, like water flowing into a vessel. In the beginning, a thin trickle, then suddenly a gush of people packed in. Soon, there was no space to stand.
Sandeep was sitting at the window on the right as usual, and Mr. Joshi was catching his forty winks. Soon, the train picked up pace. And the scenery outside began to move at a steady rhythm. The lush greenery of the first month of June, was moving in a beautiful blur. He reminded himself of sending a picture to his parents back home.
Mr Phadke, slapped Sandeep on the shoulder.’Kaay re kaartya! Haltos ki! Old men are standing here and you, young fellow, sitting comfortably. Get up, lazy bum!’
Sandeep laughed, ‘Kaka, kaay…Morning morning only you fought with your wife or what? Why take it out on me? Joshi ko dekho… How soundly he is sleeping? You never wake him up? Best friend no he is your?’
Sandeep was a 12th standard graduate working as a peon in a corporate organisation. You could not have told it from his attire. The stylish belt, the branded jeans and the checked shirt would have cost him more than a thousand at any store.
Joshi Sir heard the conversation and lazily opened one eye and said ‘Sanya, he is my best friend. Ask him last time who brought Kande pohe for breakfast? I did no. Now till next month, no one will wake me up from the seat. At least till Kurla.’
Mr Iyer had already caught a seat. He was involved in a deep conversation with Rajesh. Rajesh was a software engineer by profession. Since the last few weeks, Mr Iyer was offering him suggestions about investments and mutual funds. Not many people knew Mr Iyer did this as a part time. His full time job was as an accountant at an engineering firm.
‘See both the Madrasis are sitting discussing something. This is the bad habit you people have. All the time, you get together and keep talking in some unknown language’ Phadke snapped again. He had this annoying habit of making comments. Iyer was not very fond of it, but he bore it because he was not fond of confrontation either.
In the corner of the second row, a couple of young college kids went through their notes. Struggling through those years was something he remembered clearly. He was not a bright student, but he got through just fine. Now, was a different time.
Damle had, by now, immersed himself into the Navakaal newspaper. The paper had frontlined the news of the fire in the State secretariat. The news had become the main spread across the train compartment for the week. Damle would never shut up about how it was a conspiracy from the congress party.
‘It is. Can’t you see? The corruption, all those files are burned now. Nothing will come out of this inquiry-winquiry!’ he groaned.
‘Kaay pan kaay!’, rebutted Joshi, ‘Nothing like that. Did you read the papers or not? No important scam papers were damaged in the fire. The government has lost already. Why plan a fire now? They should have done it before people came to know about such news.’ Well, he had a point.
Sandeep turned and asked, ‘You want to sit. You are standing since a long time, no? Sit. You get down at Dadar, right?’
He nodded. The standing journey had made him tired indeed. He was dying to sit down. He crumpled himself at the window seat. The space was small, but at least, you could sit down and rest your calf muscles, he thought.
The train had passed Thane now. The crowd inside the compartment was exceeding the limits of humanity. All he could see was a mass of arms and legs flailing around. Mr Iyer had finished the never ending conversation and was now beginning to look for his friend from Thane, Suresh Yadav. Yadav was late, but he bungled his way through the mass of arms.
‘Damn crowd! Every day it grows more and more. I don’t know where so many people come from.’
Sandeep laughed ‘Sab gaanvvaalon ko lekar aa gaya ab kya rota hai?’
Even Mr.Iyer couldn’t resist a chuckle at that. Rajesh responded, ‘Nahi nahi. Its about the city population growing. It had to happen some time now. You can’t blame people from outside for this’
Yadav frowned ‘Tum logo ko koi aur kaam nahi hai. Everything is blamed on outsiders. Khud to kabhi mehnat nahi karoge.’
Sandeep would’ve taken the argument further, but he spotted an old couple struggling through the crowd. He waved them over.
‘Kaaka, yaa ikde. Basa. Arrey, unko andar aane do. Itni gardi me kyu chadte hain pataa nahi? Basa ikde’
He sat the old woman and uncle down. He was a kind man, the one who grows up in very difficult places. Kindness is often valued highly amongst people who are surrounded by violence and injustice. Sandeep, growing up in the slums knew how cruel the world could be.
Yadav worked as a manager at a firm in Bandra. His travel everyday was accompanied by a dish, packed carefully in his suitcase. Breakfasting in the train was a practice he had developed over the years. Of course, Mr Iyer had a habit of stealing his dabba before the bag even reached out to the upper loft. He did it again.
Iyer sat down and unwrapped the silver foil, and opened the parathas in. He offered a piece to everybody. Yadav could only stare as his beloved breakfast vanished again.
‘Iyer,Ghar pe khaana nahi mila kya? Your wife sending you to office hungry again? What did you do this time? Pull out early?’
Iyer replied ‘Nahi. Since I decided to eat your breakfast, she has stopped cooking for me. It is also very cheap you know.’
Damle piped in ‘Ye accha hai. See, Yadav. He is saving his money. You are doing work of charity by feeding poor hungry people’
Iyer added, ‘Yes. He is manager. Where do we accountants get paid as manager? We are poor only, no.’
Yadav nodded ‘It does not take money to feed people. It takes heart. You should learn from me. No dil only, I say.’
The train was jostling past Ghatkopar by now. Joshi had already made his way to the door. The college kids were also off. The lane between the door and the inside of the compartment was packed still.
I should probably get up, he thought to himself. He got up and offered Damle the seat. Phadke was already snoring his way to glory on the right. Damle squirmed into the gap between the window and Phadke.
‘So where do you work,’ Damle asked.
Sandeep piped up ‘He works in a HR firm’
‘And how did you know?’ Yadav asked, ‘You even know the meaning of HR?’
‘Arrey baba, he gave me his card once,’ Sandeep said, ‘Kya tum log bhi? What? If I don’t pass graduation, I should not learn anything of the corporate industry, kya?’
Rajesh was now preparing to get off at Kurla. His journey to his office in the BKC would take him another 30 minutes. He strapped on the laptop bag and made his way through the crowd. The customary goodbyes followed him to the door.
The compartment was beginning to get lighter now. The mass of the crowd would empty out at Dadar. That is where Damle and Iyer would get out too. For now, they were catching a small nap on their seats. Sandeep had borrowed the newspaper and was reading the film page. Deepika Padukone stared out dressed in a swimsuit. He laughed. She wasn’t the same league as Katrina, he said. Sandeep nodded.
The day in the train ended uneventfully, he thought, no fights today. Not even the high toned argument between Yadav and Sandeep. Those people are getting sober. He got down at Dadar station and waved a formal goodbye to Iyer. The old man needs to lighten up, he thought.
The roads were crowded as usual. He walked up the centre and tried to stop a taxi. The cabbie would not have stopped for anything. The world was growing crowded he thought. He had to get back home. Mom would love it. She kept complaining about how he had lost touch with the culture and tradition back home. He’d have to talk to the management to see if they had any opportunities or projects running back home. Ohh, he’d love it.
He took a step further, before he could hear the horn. He turned to face the metal grille of the truck coming at him. He was not very sure if he was dreaming or if this was real. Sandeep would have laughed at the confusion. He thought, what the others would think if he did not make the train tomorrow.
But most of all, he wished Mrs Sabnis would really take the paper today. He wasn’t going to make it home.