Sunday, April 03, 2011

The Journey

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 19; the nineteenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.




'Train number 4362, Palghat-Hyderabad Charminar Express will be arriving on platform 8 shortly'. The metallic-sounding announcement floated above the din of the Palghat railway station. 

Sethu spat out the chewing-gum though the railings as he made his way up the stairs, to get to Platform 8. Everyone was rushing, pushing, shoving, shouting. Someone stamped his sandal-clad feet. He retaliated by stamping on the feet of the little boy next to him, who being too innocent about the ways of this wicked world, did not pass on the 'charitable act', and just contorted his tiny face in pain. 


Amused, Sethu surged on, through the human tsunami, only to pull up short behind a burqa-clad woman in his path. Drat, he could not go forward unless she moved. She was struggling with two big suitcases. Exasperated, Sethu tapped her on the arm, and offered to carry them for her. She turned around. Sethu found himself looking at a pair of large grey eyes set in a fair face. A young girl of not more than twenty or twenty-two. 'Let me help you', he said again. She shook her head 'No, Thanks, I will manage'.. She tried to drag the suitcases down the stairs, on her own. She scanned the crowd ahead for someone, but did not seem to find what or who, she was looking for. God, she would never make it without causing a stampede. Embarrassed and realizing that she was holding up the people behind her, she turned to Sethu with a shy smile and implored him to help her. He shrugged his shoulders and picked up the suitcases. She offered to hold his 'airbag', but he refused, playing the part of a chivalrous gentleman to perfection.


Sethu escorted her to a bench. While she muttered her thanks, he grabbed the chance to take a ‘pucca’ look at her. The small shiny beads of perspiration dotting the fringes of her forehead. The auburn wavy hair. Her fair hands. The white and pink Puma shoes on her feet. He noticed that her hands were hennaed. The finger tips looked like they were covered in deep red gashes. He winced at the unpleasant thought.
"Which compartment is it?" Sethu asked.
"B1", she said
Oh what luck, he gleefully thought to himself. He was in the same coach. 'I will have a good chance to befriend her.' Though she did not seem the fast type, the fact that she had easily smiled at him and met his gaze throughout, encouraged this perception. 
He strolled here and there, checking out some girls in the process. He was not sure if she would talk to him in public, what with her burqa and all. After some time, when he returned, he saw a middle-aged lady talking animatedly to her.
'Oh great, there goes my chance to chat her up.' he mumbled to himself. A pretty young woman traveling with an elderly lady was never a good combination.


After the train arrived, Sethu barged in, amidst all the flurry of flailing arms, hurrying human traffic. His seat was the one on the side, where two people could sit with their legs stretched out. The compartment was almost empty. Being a weekday, not many people would be traveling. 'Thank God, no crying kids to disturb my sleep" he thought with relief. Maybe some would board the train at the next stations. But overall this particular train seemed to have very less passengers in spite of all the rush outside. He deposited his 'air-bag' on the upper berth and went out to get a packet of cigarettes.


When he returned to his seat, both women were not to be seen. He looked around and discovered to his utter delight, that the big suitcases were stacked right underneath his seats. By now, the train had started moving. Sethu looked out of the window wondering about the girl.


After some time, he saw her, coming from the direction of the toilets. She came to him, smiled and asked, pointing at the burqa, now lying on her arm

"Is it ok, if I put this on ur berth for now?"

Sethu jumped at the chance to start some small talk.

"Oh sure, no problem. Your mother is not travelling with you?" He asked, warily eyeing the berths around him, half-expecting to hear the old lady screeching at him for talking to the girl.
"She was not my mother, she was my aunt. She had come to see me off. It’s just me now. That's why I can take off this stupid burqa.", she replied.
 

She sounded educated, refined. Sethu guessed that she would be; the moment she took off her burqa, inviting malicious stares from the people around them, especially the two Muslim families. It was akin to blasphemy, this display of a burqaless body. And worse than that talking to some young unknown man from another caste. No modesty, no shame - he could almost hear their thoughts going around.
She didn't look like she cared. If she had, she wouldn't be dressed like this. In capris and a sleeveless tee.
"Where are you getting down at?" she asked.
"Hyderabad, I work there. What about you. What is your name?" This journey was turning out much better than he anticipated.
"Jahanara. I'm doing my B'com third year. Can't wait to work, but have to plough through all these studies, no?". She narrowed her eyes. "Do you smoke?" she asked.
"Wh...What?" Sethu had not expected this. 

"Yes, I do. Why?" He tried to bring his chin down to try to check if he smelled of the glass of whiskey n cigarettes he had just had earlier in the evening in a pub. He thought maybe he stank of the smoke and the booze and maybe, just maybe it was bothering her. He did not get any smell except that of Hamam soap and Axe deodorant.
"No, I think I have forgotten my lighter. Do you have one for me to borrow later in the night, when everyone is asleep?", the words came out of her mouth without any hesitation.

"Ye..Yes, sure I do have one." He fumbled in his pockets. "Here".
She stretched out her hand to take it. "Thanks."

He hid his disgusted expression under the pretense of drinking some water. A South Indian girl smoking, that too in a train??? She must be a slut. No Decent Indian girl would ever do that. First she is talking to some man she doesn't even know, and then she asks whether he smokes..??!!'

At Coimbatore, Sethu bought some biryani for them. By this time, they had set a conversation going. They had already talked a bit about her college, friends, his colleagues.
She was very friendly. She smiled and laughed often, showing pretty even teeth.
Sethu found it a little hard to believe that this was the same girl he had seen at the station. There she had appeared so helpless, innocent. But now...well....
By 11:00 pm, everyone had slept. Besides the two Muslim families, there were only 3 Hindu families and a group of 5 boys. In all they totaled 22 passengers. However between Sethu's seat and the door, there was nobody. Since it was an AC second class coach, the passengers had drawn their curtains across. Sethu n Jahanara continued to talk in huddled whispers.
'Let's go, I need a smoke badly." She implored. Searching for their sandals in the dark was a bit of an effort, but they managed to retrieve them.


They stood near the doorway, puffing away on their cigarettes. She leaned out of the door, feeling the wind on her face, her hair flying about wildly. 

They heard the whistle of a distant train. She opened her mouth to say something to him, and the cigarette fell off.

"Well that was the last one I had. Can u lend me one please?" she asked.

"But I have only Gold Flake. Wouldn't that be too strong?" he knew usually girls smoked only Classic Milds or Mint flavored cigarettes.

"Oh, anything is fine. A cigarette is a cigarette, whatever brand. Experts don't care" she winked at him.


Sethu felt a sudden onrush of warmth in his body. While handing her the cigarette, he slightly brushed his arms against her breasts. But she didn't flinch nor move away. Either she had not noticed or she had ignored it. He was not too sure.
But emboldened by her reaction, or rather, no-reaction, he decided to advance.
Jahanara definitely looked like easy-going, in fact too easy-going.
 

He slid his hands around her waist.
"Will you spend the whole night taking pleasure from cigarettes only or something else too?" He leered, pulling her closer, tighter.
She stared at him, mouth open. Pushed him back. She looked a little taken aback at this turn in his character.
"Excuse Me? I didn't get you" she said to him, her breath catching in her throat.
"No, Listen. Look I'm a decent fellow. U seem to be very forward. So why are u panicking now? Did u just want to speak to me, just being friendly? Didn't u want anything else this night?" He pulled her back to him.
"I didn't know you were a lech. Let go of my hand" She hissed. Flames of anger leapt up in her eyes.

He tightened his hold.

She struggled, twisting her body away from him, then gave up.

"If u don't let me go now, I will shout and wake up the passengers, and call the police." she said through gritted teeth.
She reached towards the inside door. Almost pulled it open.

Sethu covered her mouth with one hand With the other, he grabbed both her hands, pulled them behind her back.

She bit him. She thrashed out.

He swore. This was proving to be a difficult situation.  But now that he had got himself into this, he had to end it somehow.
Sethu felt the fury rising in him.
"Bitch, u act all modern n forward. Now when I'm giving u what u want, u fight n grovel and pretend you are not interested?" He snarled.
She kicked him in the groin.
He doubled over in pain. She tried to turn around reaching, again, for the inside door. "Help", she shouted. But her shouts were muffled by the sound of an approaching train. The same one they had heard a while ago.
By this time, Sethu realized that he would not be able to have his way.

He did only what he could do at that moment.
He lifted her up and pushed her out of the train.
She still fought with every ounce of strength in her. Resisted with all her might. She clung to the guard-rails refusing to give up.
He tried to shut the outside door on her.
She screamed. She shrieked. Frantically she clung to him.
But, no one heard her cries in the noise of the goods train, now passing by.
Like a mad man, half-terrified, half-angry, Sethu, kicked at her, kicking, n kicking, until her hands loosened around the bars, and she fell off.
Now she was a fading thud, now a distant glimpse, now gone.

Sethu stared at the darkness. Squinted into the pitch blackness.

He sensed the Beast inside him grow weaker.
His senses returned. Sharpened. His ears pricked up, trying to catch any unfamiliar sound. Like a ‘What was that sound? asked by a groggy-eyed passenger, woken up from a fitful sleep. Like an interrupted snore-song.
No sound came.

He thought he heard voices. 

Maybe someone had wakened up. Maybe someone had seen her falling.

He ran to the toilet. Bolted the door from inside.

Waited for the sound of approaching footsteps. Waited for the sound of pounding. Or for the policeman’s whistle. Anything.
Nothing. Just deathly silence. No footsteps, No knocking. No whistle. Nothing at all.
Just his thudding heart and the soothing rhythm of the train. Just him and that dark stinking cubicle.
After some minutes, he came out, walked back to his seat.
Silently, he climbed onto his berth, stuffed the burqa into his bag and slept like a baby.


                                                                  ***

How fickle this Journey of Life is. Like a Night-Long Journey in a Train, we board an unknown compartment. Inside we battle with Fate, drawing on our reservoir of Strengths, Abilities. Sometimes their opposites. And walk out in the Morning. Some of us Changed. Some of us Unchanged.


The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

 

32 comments:

The Fool said...

Well narrated. But real dark one. Nicely worked on many men's wrong impression. Incidentally the starting of your story was very similar to mine.

Someone is Special said...

she might be modern but not as sethu wished.. It is bad to know that sethu pushed her out of the train, sweated and came back to berth, slept.. What is the motive? or just he want to good personality mask..? Sad and cruel.. mine is a dream a journey of...

Someone is Special

Shilpa Nair said...

Thank u 'Special Someone', I'm actually going thru' ur post..... So far I have loved it.... :)

the critics said...

interesting lays a thought behind

the critics said...

interesting leaves a thought behind.........who is the real villian there??...sedhu or the girl herself or the changing face of society where culture is left back and everything is considered modern

Shilpa Nair said...

Thank You for your comments 'Lucifer'...I went n read ur post after I saw u comments, n yes it is startlingly similar...!!!
This is actually something written last week, which I republished today under a new title. Looks like Manish and Sethu met in one of the trains at some point in their lives...Haha..
Ur blog is my new coffee-table book :)

Shilpa Nair said...

To 'the critics' as well as 'Lucifer' and 'Special'...
I had written this based on the numerous incidents where women have been pushed out of trains. Apparently most of these incidents were not planned but just impulsive, spontaneous acts of vengeance.
Though I don't smoke in trains, I often make conversations with my co-passengers, n have felt a few of them feeling what Sethu might have felt at one point. That 'This girl is too forward, maybe she is not Decent'....At which point, I clam up n start wondering how to act 'decent'..?
As long as extremes like Sethu n Jahanara exist, this friction is bound to co-exist.

Geeta Singh said...

well narrated ..nice post ...all the best Dear:)

Shilpa Nair said...

Thanks Geeta :) :)

Enchanta said...

WOW!

Excellent, excellent job!

This was such a fresh read!! In spite of the slightly lengthy trait, I hardly noticed it; it was so gripping!

You definitely deserve to be one of the winners.

Hope to read more of you!

All the best!

Enchanta said...

I would also add that women are liberated and just because we speak our mind and feel free to express, it does not mean we are being slutty and inviting men to appease their carnal senses.

Again, I loved the post!

Someone is Special said...

@ Shilpa..

I accept your point on girls.. a well compiled story.. Good.. and thanks for your sweet comment..

Someone is Special

monty said...

hey...really nice one...reminded me of the recent case in kerala where a girl was pushed out of the train n then brutally raped...it is a pity that in our country after so many years also it is unsafe for a woman to travel on her own...good work!

D2 said...

Wow. Amazing story; and the way you wrote it was like I could see everything happening right before my eyes. Astoundingly well written.

As for the story itself, I guess I could call it something quite realistic indeed. It is impossible for most girls to know when men they're simply borrowing a cigarette from can be such maniacs. I wouldn't blame the girl (as some others deem a little necessary..from the comments above) but I wish she'd been a little more cautious. It's a train, for crying out loud!
And some men want nothing else but sex. It's pitiful.
Anyway, this post is spectacular. All the best for BAT. :)

Shilpa Nair said...

@ Enchanta - Awww....That is so sweet!!!! Thank u so so so so so much !! And yes, just coz we are bindass, doesn't mean we are asking u for it. And I get ur point, I don't know what to do about the length :( They just keep coming out, the words I mean :( Maybe I should prescribe my blog for people who want to fall asleep reading...Lol...

Shilpa Nair said...

@Monty - Thanks man! Yes that incident was at the back of my mind as were the numerous incidents on Mumbai trains. Most of them were just random acts without any provocation.

Shilpa Nair said...

@ D2 - Thanks 'muchly' for ur comments :) :)
A to "the way you wrote it was like I could see everything happening right before my eyes" is the biggest compliment u can give any writer.

It could happen to anyone of us. A spontaneous gesture that could be minsinterpreted by anyone.

Enchanta said...

I completely understand the never ending flow of words but that's exactly what I admired in your post. The length was hardly visible...Each and every word grabbed on to the reader's interest!

Sureindran said...

I truly enjoyed your "journey". Your words were magic! And guess what, the length suprisingly didn't keep me away.

Sureindran
www.sureindran.com

Shilpa Nair said...

@ Enchanta - Gosh, that's so delightful to hear :)

@ Sureindran - Thank you for your kind words :) Thank u !!!

Vikram Pyati said...

A very well written post which exposes our hypocritical attitude towards the female kind. Though pushing out of the train may not be so common, but equating modernity with loose character is surprisingly common.

Shilpa Nair said...

Thanks Vikram. I'm glad that u also recognized what exactly I had in mind while writing this.
However I disagree when u say that the incidents are not common. People are being pushed out of trains in India more frequently than we think. The last incident was on March 27th at Kasargod.
In this story Sethu had no alternative, coz Jahanara was the kind of woman who would definitely create a ruckus and hand him over to the cops. The only way he could do it was pushing her out of the train. Quick, bloodless, instant.

Gireesh said...

Very nice short story .. also all the best for ur BAT :)
If yu can also read my short stories http://casualcast.blogspot.com/

Shilpa Nair said...

Thanks Gireesh ! Hope to hear more from u on this space :)
I will be going thru' ur blog as soona s I can n leave my comments :)

aativas said...

Hmm.. that is how people turn into criminal. But I guess the girls' character you painted creates some wrong impressions!

Shilpa Nair said...

Hi aativas, Thanks for stopping by!
This is exactly the notion I was trying to create for Sethu.
There is nothing wrong in a girl asking a man for a cigarette.
Just because she talks to a man doesn't mean, she is asking for sex or friendship.

Yamini Meduri said...

A modern woman doesnt mean that she is ready to take all the bloddy shit of these men...!!!

Well narrated story dear but the dark side of it hurst...really hurts... my experience says this..!!!

All the best for BAT..!!!

here's mine..!!!
Yamini Meduri- Journey

Shilpa Nair said...

Thanks Yamini!
And yes, It is accepted by the society if a man approaches a woman, but the other way round, and the disapproving clucks start..!
I will read ur post too as soon as I can. :)

Mudassir Abdullah said...

i was just wondering what would have happend if the gurl dint remove her 'burkha'. what if she dint ask a young guy fr a ciggarette and what if she did mind a guy comming soo close that he wud come in contact with her body?
undoubetly a good litrary work..imagination nicely transformed into words! Al the best for the BAT !

Shilpa Nair said...

Hi Mudassir
Then I guess, she would be deemed a 'good decent girl'.... :)

Saket Dabi said...

now this is what i call "one heck of a work " awsm write , dark creepy witty :) .... congrats for your BATOM in the first BAT . not many have done that :) splendid .

Shilpa Nair said...

Thank U, Saket,
Thank U very much, is all I can say :)