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|by Ramendra Kumar|
The Geetanjali Express lurched to a halt. Venkat got up with a jerk and looked out of the window of the three tier compartment. The all too familiar cacophony, common to any railway station, anywhere in the country, greeted him: “Chai, garam chai’, ‘taaza kela’, ‘fresh bread-omlette’, ‘paper, daily paper’, ‘T.T. Saab just one berth, I’ll give you extra’, ‘coolie, coolie, come this way quick....” The sights, sounds and smells were all so familiar.
Venkat had got his favorite berth - a side berth and that too a lower one. He had started exactly twenty four hours ago from Mumbai. It would take him another eight to nine hours to reach his destination - Howrah. He had appeared for his ninth class exam and was going to spend his holidays with his sister and brother - in- law in Calcutta. This was his first visit and he was quite excited about spending two weeks in the ‘City of Joy’.
“What is your berth number?”
Venkat was woken from his reverie by a gruff voice. He looked up. A short, balding
The man turned to the woman who was standing behind him.
“They have given you upper berth. You can request the young fellow to shift
The woman sat on the berth opposite him and the man soon left after issuing some last minute instructions.
“I am going to Kharagpur. To my elder daughter’s house. She was married two years ago and this is my first visit. We stay in Rourkela. The man who spoke to you is my husband. He owns a grocer’s shop - Pankaj Store.”
Venkat was cursing his luck. The last twenty four hours had been quite comfortable. The upper berth had been allotted to a young man. The minute the train had left Mumbai station he had gone up and disappeared from sight. The lower berth had been left at Venkat’s disposal and he had had a great time, lazing around, reading a Sidney Sheldon or simply looking out of the window at the countryside whizzing past him. But now this privacy had been destroyed. The woman sitting opposite him looked a compulsive talker and he had the feeling she wouldn’t leave him alone. At the same time he didn’t’ want to shift up since it would be quite hot and stuffy.
"Here take some tea,” the woman was now offering him tea in a glass.
Venkat got up a bit reluctantly and removing his tooth brush and paste from his
en minutes later when he returned the lady handed him a plate in which there
“Thanks. They are delicious.”
“Those days we were staying in Nagpur. The anti reservation agitation was taking place all over the country. However, Nagpur had till then remained peaceful. That fateful day college students took out a procession protesting against the reservation policy. It was a peaceful procession when suddenly things went out of control. Buses were burnt, shops damaged and even a police station was attacked. The police resorted to lathi charge and then firing. My poor son who was returning home on his cycle totally unaware of the situation was caught in the cross fire. A single bullet fired from the gun of some sightless and heartless policeman went through his heart. He died on the spot.” Tears were flowing down her cheeks and she made no attempt to wipe them.
Venkat felt really sad for her. He wanted to say something but didn’t know what
A little while later she asked him, “What is your name beta?”
Venkat looked at her, a trifle surprised. He had seen her husband. He could hardly be called good looking by any stretch of imagination. The woman too was quite odd to look at. She had small eyes, a flat, rather broad nose and buck teeth. It was hard to imagine their son being anything but ordinary looking. And yet she was saying that Venkat reminded her of him. Though Venkat was not an immodest young man, he was aware he was good looking. Tall, he was already five nine, fair, with thick curly hair, a sharp nose, bright eyes and an athletic body, he was considered handsome by most of his friends.
“Do you have a photograph of his?” Venkat asked, his curiosity getting the better of his reticence.
It was then that he remembered a Telugu saying ‘Even a baby crow, to its mother,
It was not physical beauty but a mother’s love and adoration for her dead son that had transformed him from an ugly duckling into a glorious swan - atleast in her eyes.
At Kharagpur, before getting down, the woman asked him, “Can you give me a photo of yours? “
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