7:52AM and the Virar - Churchgate slow local entered the Bandra station spot on time –just like it had for the last hundred years, or so it seemed. The sequencing was rehearsed perfectly, the motorman stopped the train, peeped out of his cabin, and the track change took 4 minutes and the signal correction about 2 minutes. He would hop out of this cabin, stretch,and get back in. Two loud whistles later, the train was on its way to its final destination.
The ticket collectors would get ready to catch ticketless travellers; the tea stall vendor raised his jug high in the air to pour tea in a cup 3 feet below. Just ahead in a lone bench, a lone woman watched quietly as life rolled by.The same old clothes, the same black bag hung across her shoulders, the same lost look across the platform.No one ever looked at her,or spoke to her.
The same crowd and the same pull and push. For some the same past, but for most, the same future. The journey back competed hard to be exactly the same as the morning, but sometimes lost its battle by a whisker. The rains would disrupt the pattern sometimes. But otherwise, life in this journey of life was remarkably predictable – so unlike my better half - Mumbai.
My journey was just the same. I would latch on to the handle swinging above, stand near the open door, and feel the breeze hit my face with the same message every single day. Choices and options were not something I was offered often, or got seldom. The routine was impeccable – board the same train, same compatment, same spot, reach out to same tea –stall, borrow the old newspaper - a quick glance over the sports page, finish a half cup tea - “cutting chai” and then just before running back to board the moving train, I’d give the small change to the lone woman, who sat there everyday. She always accepted whatever I gave without any acknowledgement or conversation.
As the train moved out of the platform, my life moved on , on the same track, on the same train, again and again. As the years passed every station of hope, every platform of stability and every junction of necessity, it gave signals of approaching my final destination. In the entire journey of my life, I had never pulled a chain, stopped the train or got off mid-way.It was always the ususal. So many hopes die before they even reach the final station isnt it? Mine was just another one, on track. I often associated myself with the lonesome woman on the platform. Our lives were possibly quite similar – being alone in a big city meant the only conversation was with our thoughts and some unavoidable mundane.
Some customary pleasentaries, gestures and perhaps the occasional short talk. Being a security guard in a small textile mill hardly warranted any attention or concern from all beings living or dead. She sat there at the same time everyday; her conversations were possibly lesser than mine, but the outcome possibly quite similar. The occasional wave of the hand to wade off the curious housefly, would reveal the violent scars of the past on her face.
A melee of hollow eyes, dried tears, and forgone fears, all played their part perfectly. No one ever spoke to her – no one ever spoke to me.So one day I thought of speaking to someone just like me. That evening on my way back, I got off the train midway – a first in the twenty-one years of local travel.
The tea stall vendor wouldn’t have looked at me startled, had I not asked for two teacups and a cream bun- a massive departure from routine. But there was more to come. Being at the fag end of the month and end of day, I had no money left. I gestured indicating that the payment for cream bun would be tomorrow. He frowned, & leaned forward to check if he had heard correctly.
I made a silent plea tweaking my face.
He looked at me for sometime, and handed over the snack to me. I offered a polite smile just like an empty seat in a crowded train.
With two cups of tea and a cream bun in hand, I walked towards the lonesome woman. She sat there as usual without any acknowledgement of her environment, in a state of perfect nonchalant bliss.
‘Tea’? I gently, yet gingerly, inquire.
Her gaze was still uniform on the opposite platform.
I cleared my throat and reinitiated my request – ‘Tea?’ No response still.
The second time did make me nervous I admit. Maybe she didn’t want to be disturbed, or worse, was she incapable of hearing?
I tried again. ‘Would you…?’ I found it hard to complete the sentence. I mustered up some courage and sat down beside her. I am not sure how much time passed by, but tea stall vendor was gone. ‘You know this tea is getting cold, and the cream bun is attracting insects.’ I stated matter of factly.
After a few anxious moments, she lowered her gaze and slowly turned right, to look at me. I let out a sheepish smile, unsure of the apt greeting to exchange, in a local train station, late in the night with a total stranger.
‘What do you want’ - I thought I was speaking to myself, but it was not the case. She did speak.
Fuzzy me ,mumbled something that ended with the words ‘cold tea’. She took the cup and cream bun from my hand and began eating it. I almost gasped at the suddenness of it all, but managed to conceal it well.I wasn’t entirely sure I had a sense of humor. Perhaps, burried at some station, nevertheless I decided to give it a shutning.
‘You know you remind me of “Goddess Kaali” I stammered slowly.
‘Why?’ she asked sharply.
‘I don’t know, but you look angry like her, with big eyes and flowing hair’.
It was the first time she smiled. It was beautiful.
‘Well now you don’t look like Goddess Kaali, you look like ‘Goddess Lakshmi’ – we both laughed at the irony of the situation.
‘Goddess Lakshmi’ is revered only because she brings wealth and prosperity –and looks like we have none’.
I nodded in agreement. ‘I guess my first class ticket, will have to be in the next lifetime’ I added.
‘Did you know, those with a lot of money, are also not happy’ she queried.
‘I would trade that with my current life any day’I smirked.
‘But wealth is not alone - with wealth also comes destruction – like Goddess Kaali, so you see they are a team’ she commented.
We both laughed.
As the frequency of the arrivals and departures reduced, our conversation topics increased.
Soon we were, talking about everything from Virar to Churchgate and even little about life outside the station.
‘Its late – I’ve got to go now’ she interrupted abruptly.
‘Oh I am sorry I didn’t realize’ – I blurted.
‘Can I give you something as a token of appreciation?’ she asked.
‘Appreciation for what?’
‘Well you offered me cream bun and tea even when you had no money’
‘No thanks; I think you should save it for yourself. I’ll get going and hopefully some day we will find some time to talk again’ I said trying to recall her name.
‘You know we spoke for so many hours and I don’t even know your name – I am Sachin Dharker.’ I announced proudly.
‘And I am Goddess Lakshmi’ she quipped promptly.
‘Well if you are Ma Lakshmi, then I am Lord Shiva’ I guffawed.
Then suddenly lights in the station went dim and a cold breeze blew across the platform, the dangling lights began to sway furiously, the strewn papers began to fly. It was as if the world was spinning and I was at the epicenter of it all. I shut my eyes and shook my head vigorously. Everything was quiet again. I couldn’t fathom what was going on. Maybe it was an earthquake, maybe my sugar levels had plumented, maybe I was just hallucinating.
I gingerly opened my eyes. The only thing I saw in front of me was an empty seat. The lonesome lady had gone.
She left her bag of trinkets behind. I thought for a moment. What could she possibly offer? Old biscuits or bread perhaps?
Either ways, I wasn’t too keen, because I knew whatever she offered would mean nothing else would be left for her considering her situation.
I rubbed my eyes and looked for her around the corner, behind the tea stall – but she was nowhere to be seen.
She had just gone – vanished – kaput. As I stood there alone, and wondered what to do next – maybe I should come back tomorrow and return her bag – but what if she’s not there, what if she doesn’t show up tomorrow – what do I do with the bag?
Should I give it to the tea stall vendor or the station master?
A myriad of thoughts went through my mind,before it asked a fundamental question - what is in the bag?
I tried lifting it – it was heavy. I grew suspicious.
‘Could it be a bomb?’ I whispered as my mouth went dry.
After a few moments, I chided my self back to rationality – thinking if it was a bomb why would she sit with me & talk for hours?’
And then it struck me. ‘Wait a minute – something is not right.’ I thought aloud.
I recalled our conversation and realized that she knew I had no money to buy the extra cream-bun.
‘How is that possible?’ I decided to open the bag and take a look inside.
After a brief moment of jolt I yelped – Ma Lakshmi.
Gyanban Thoughts - This fantasy was originally written for Fablery, so thank you for the Genre inspiration. This is a simple story of an everyday man travelling from one end of Mumbai to another end in a local train,till one day he comes across a life changing event.A lot of the expressions in the story have been written keeping trains, stations, and similar things in mind.For the uninitated Goddess Kaali is a Hindu goddess associated with time and change along with power.Goddess Lakshmi is associated with wealth and prosperity. The story is also inspired by the millions of tales I heard on my journey through those lines.Standing on the endge of the door, would give someone a life changing experience, quite literally for some.
The local trains of Mumbai have everything inside you could possibly imagine. Women cooking,men singing songs, the entire compartment singing songs, global policies, corporate dreams, bollywood masaala, the famous dabba-wala's carrying food, the occasional tourist, the flabbergasted newbie and ofcourse the saviours.
This itself is nothing short of fantasy no wonder the Gods chose to travel with them through all the crests and troughs of their lives.