Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Four Fingers and A Fortune


The train had halted in the midst of nowhere. All I know is that it is Andhra. All I can see is a parallel track and dry deciduous jungle after that. Trees stand tall but devoid of any leaves. It is summer after all. And it gets really hot in late afternoons in this part of the world. The constant mild breeze offers a sigh of relief especially as taps in the toilet almost always run dry.

The air is filled with the chatter of hawkers. Samosa, garam samosa... Chay...Chay... Biscuits, cake, son papri... Water bottle... Interestingly, since the introduction of bottled water in trains, the availability of water in the taps has become rare. Now a days, people need to buy Bisleri to even wash their asses. Occasionally, you get to hear "gutka, cigarette.." even though, they say, these are prohibited in Indian Railway!

I find my place near the heavy iron door. This is one place in the train from where the view is vastly different compared to other places, be it the upper berth or the lower. The breeze blowing through the bamboo shoots is composing a music unheard of ever before. As I lend my ears to this strange flute, all the hawker cries seem to be fading, as if coming from a distant star. It is more like the silence of the deserts disrupted only by the blowing wind.

The train had been halted to give way to another train approaching from the opposite direction. The silence of the desert is disrupted by a distant whistle. The intensity of this whistle increases as the train approaches closer and closer. It reminds me of Doppler effect that we studied in school. Never ever the school teacher had taken time to demonstrate it. Then suddenly a flood of heightened air pressure hits my face, accompanied by deafening noise of whistle and iron wheels beating against the track. My visual field is filled by the fast passing boogies for a minute. Then the same silence again. And the same song of bamboo.

Suddenly I find a dirty palm next to my face. I look at the owner of the palm. A young man with one arm decapitated from shoulder. Grief stricken face. A layer of sweat and dirt has covered his face giving it a shine against the dying sun. A stout body in black baniyan and darkened shorts. The red talisman on his intact arm had almost become brown. He did not say anything, just spread his palm and a look hoping for a dime. I did not shell out anything. He looked again in my eyes with immense hope. And I gazed his palm. Four fingers of his sole palm sported 6 rings studded with stones. They seemed like silver but I ain't no jeweler to tell by precision. While the coins in his hand fluttered to attract some more companions, I was wondering whether he had put on the stone-studded rings after losing his hand and ability to earn or before. Possibly, he bought the rings after his misfortune believing the stones will bring in more alms. Or possibly the rings adorned his fingers well before his fortune tumbled. In latter case, was there any reason for him to continue wearing them, waiting for goddess of fortune to lift him from misery? I ain't no mind reader and couldn't figure out miseries in his life. But his belief that these dead stones will change his life was unmovable.

I wasn't of much use for him. Hence, it was in his interest to take leave from me and look for a soft soul. Or was it the stones that made him do so.
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