By: Lal Pushp
Translated by Param Abichandani
The wheels of the local train was partiely under water. It had been a heavy downpour during the night resulting into almost in a deluge. The Andheri local no: S-1320 departed from Andheri station at ten in the morning instead of its scheduled time at nine.
It arrived at the Khar station at 10:15 instead of 9:15. No one was sure of arriving at the destination; and now, S-1320 rolled out of Bandra station, covered a short distance and stopped over the bridge. The railway line ahead was not visible. It was under water. On occasions the fierce gusts of wind accompanied by a blinding shower swept over the lines and made the rails visible for a moment. The rails looked like serpents. Twisted somewhere in the middle — black serpents. Above than an hour had elapsed; the train had not yet moved away from the bridge. The patience of the passengers was on the ebb. The windows and doors of coaches had been closed. On opening the doors for a moment, the shower with its full fury gushed in. Cigarette smoke had gathered inside and in its thick haze only the blurred, tired, harassed, exasperated, bored and helpless faces could be seen. When would the train move? No one could tell, because the very question was preceded by another question: When would it stop raining? Since there wasn’t any easy answer to the latter question, there wouldn’t be any to the former. Fortunate were those who had books with them, and more fortunate were the ones who had interesting books at that – (meaning those who thought their books were interesting). It seemed that the passengers had already licked the news dry and, flapping the newspapers intermittently to keep off the rolling cigarette smoke, they tried to read advertisements. They had to kill time, somehow. ‘If the train can’t go on, why don’t they roll it back?’ The Bandra Station was only that far; it was very near and could be seen at a distance, looking hazy though, owing to the blinding rain. Apart from that, the train had been stopped over the bridge and, obviously, this was fraught with danger; they were playing with the lives of the passengers. Surely the heavy downpour couldn’t be the reason; something must have gone wrong with the engine. It was clear that the rain had been made merely an excuse. The other day they detained the train for a full one hour in the scorching sun between Matunga and Mahim. The sun must have been the reason, just as the fury of the rain is the reason now. Haa .. haa … haa … haa … hee … hee … hee … some passengers laugh. Those who don’t, resent the others laughing — it’s cheap and vulgar they thought.
* * * *
The rain had come down in torrents on 12th August, 1974. All the means of communication had broken down that day. (You can verify the fact from the newspapers of that day. I know you won’t accept the facts given by a writer. You will never believe. It isn’t your fault though, for you are living in a modern age. You are at liberty to trust the newspaper and cast dubious glances on a short story or a novel. That’s why I say better open that day’s newspaper – 12th August, 1974.
* * * *
The fury of the rain doesn’t cease; the doors are closed; the smoke is choking and time stands still. ‘Why did I come out of my home on a day like this?’ Three persons thought at the same time. Two of them also thought, ‘What’s there at home after all? It’s one or the other trouble always brewing there. It’s only that it is of a different magnitude. Haa … haa … those long, unceasing sermons of wives almost over everything — the boring advice. Out of home, at least …’
Their wives always deliver long sermons. Well, all wives like delivering sermons these days. There are, of course, good wives and bad wives; but these days bad wives are scarce; only the lucky ones have them. Who is that lucky person, anyway? Etc…etc. This continuous standing …! The legs ache. The legs can ache; no doubt about it. But I don’t believe if you say that the legs ache because of standing. No one will ever believe you; don’t tell a lie; go to a doctor and have your tongue treated; then your head; and then your legs. If your legs ache by sitting, tell me. Of course, I won’t be of any help, but I shall at least believe you , for everyone contracts leg ache by sitting — by sitting and by lying down ; and when we are sitting or lying, we feel we are standing or walking.
This misfortune, this day … whose imprecation …?
Whose wretched face … this morning ….?
It’s two in the afternoon. For at least two hours the train has been lying over the bridge. A well-dressed person, looking around, says in a beggarly voice to a beggar-like person, ‘Would you mind giving me a cigarette? I finished all I had half an hour ago.’ The beggar-like person brings out a pack of Char Minar and, offering it to the well-dressed person, says, ‘sure’. The other person doesn’t smoke Char Minar. He smokes Capstan; and that too he smokes half cigarette and throws away the remaining half. After ten minutes, he lights another Capstan. (Everyone knows this fact; that is why I dare tell you). But now, being afraid that the Char Minar will not last long, (perhaps he is afraid of begging again; he must have thought of sparing himself of this misery) he draws on the cigarette thinking that it isn’t a cigarette, but his own life that is shortening . In the haze of the smoke, the red diamond set in his ring glitters like an embre.
Bombay will be inundated today —
Hasn’t it already —
It will be —
Cann’t we get down? -There is water under the bridge. If your foot slips, you are gone … for ever —
So what —
If it’s so, why take the trouble of getting down and be drowned; the water it — self will rise and drown you. You have only to wait —
Etc; etc. —
It’s better to die drowning, whether suffering or otherwise; its better for me; for everyone; if you can’t find life safe, it is better to get lost —
Etc; etc. —
The queue outside the rationing office on Monday. The queue outside the electric supply office on Tuesday. It’s at the Cinema House on Wednesday. (Shrimati had ordered,’Don’t forget to buy tickets’); the queue outside the income-tax office on Thursday (The Income-tax Officer had issued a notice); On Friday, it’s for changing the milk card at the centre. Queues and queues. The name of Bombay should be changed to ‘Queue.’ And, where there is no queue, there is a crowd. The queue and the crowd. The name of Bombay should be changed to ‘Queue-Crowd.’ Perhaps it isn’t possible, for, a man who had come from Calcutta only that day, said that the same trouble was there, too. Queue-Crowd-everywhere. Okay, then all cities should be named after ‘Queue-Crowd;’ but then again, the villages are rapidly expanding and turning into small towns, and the small towns to big towns. After sometime India should be named as ‘Queue-Crowd.’ The other countries are also infested with the same malady. The name of the whole world should be ‘Queue-Crowd’. There isn’t any other name for the world and the word ‘World’ doesn’t really seem to be an appropriate name. This means that this gap can be filled sometime in the future.
Is that a new transistor you have bought —
It’s absolutely new. Haven’t bought it —
Got it in the lottery —
It’s a gift from my wife’s friend —
(Blind. No, not blind; the liar. Not his wife’s friend, but the husband of his wife’s friend must have given her that gift; and the husband of his wife’s
friend, displaying the watch on his wrist, must be saying to someone that the watch was a gift given by a friend; in fact his friend’s wife must have given him that gift).
How to pass time? Why don’t you switch on the transistor?-
No programme on the air —
Minister’s talk —
Is it there —
Yes, it’s there — It was announced in the paper yesterday —
(Now you will surely switch on the transistor. To sleep with other women and allow your wife to sleep with other men and not to take interest in politics… you cann’t do without these).
Thank you so much —
Thank you for switching on the transistor —
Oh! This wretched day —
(The gentleman kept the radio on for full half an hour).
Will you kindly shut off that transistor —
It eats into my ears –
Kindly shut it off —
Then, all saw a man, crimson all over with rage and his fist clenched; he was shouting, ‘Bastard! You are giving me headache. Shut off that babbling box.’
Published in the ‘Indian Literature’ Vol 187 by Sahitya Akademi