"…for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
- Matthew 26:52
There is a train every 3 minutes. That’s what they say. At least there is one at the peak hours. The Churchgate station is never empty. Not even at night. You would always find someone. The trains move to and fro, around the clock, except for few hours after midnight, for a short sleep. Outside the station, there is a colorful city that never sleeps.
In the mornings, the office crowd swarms the station. The busy crowd doesn’t have time for anything or anybody. This is a daily routine. Any change in the routine causes unpleasant delays.
The TC stands at a corner with the patience of a vulture. Many won't realize his presence; but he has an eye on everyone. And every now and then he catches the right person without a ticket. Nobody knows how this system works. This doesn't work anywhere else except in Mumbai.
Bit far from the tracks, sits a row of people busy in shoe polishing; they work with a lightning speed. The speed fetches a few more coins. They don’t make much money once the offices start.
At the far end there is a book store before the subway. People buy news papers here. Not the books. There used to be lanes paved with books just outside the Churchgate station on the way to Fountain. But they are all gone now; evacuated by the municipality.
Opposite to the book store there is a railway canteen; that is usually empty. Many prefer to eat outside on the roads. The food on the road is cheap, unhygienic and tasty.
The shop at the exit door sells cold drinks: lemon and colored drinks. The drinks taste divine; else you can add masala, which is again unique to the city.
Our man, new to Mumbai, was having a lemon drink without the masala. This is his first visit.
The large crowd surprised him. He had never seen such a big crowd anywhere. Not even at the yearly village festival. At first he thought, there may be some kind of festival that caused the rush. But it was just the home going crowd after a tired day.
Strangers might have thought he was a sales person. He wore a non formal tie, though it was hot. His face was expressionless. His eyes were very calm. They were observing the nameless trains, identified only by their arrival or departure time. In one hand, he had an office bag; that had some old news papers, couple of files, two pens, a tiny soap box and a crude hand made bomb!
*-------------*----------------*A commotion started outside one of the stationed trains; its departure being announced. The man in the tie finished the drink in a hurry. "Where does this train go?" he asked the vendor.
"Fast train to Virar, where do you want to go?"
Train started moving.
"Destination doesn't really matter," he started running after the train. This nonchalant reply irked the cold drink vendor.
"Then why did you ask mother-" irate words of the vendor trailed behind him.
Train was gaining speed. He ran along; for a moment thought of taking a different train. Right then, some one shot a hand, pulled him inside the train.
"You should not run so close to the train,” said the good Samaritan, “Are you new here?"
"I just got a job," he moved inside to avoid further conversation. He didn't want unnecessary attention. Once inside, he kept his bag on the rack. An old man, with broken glassed spectacles, gave him a courtesy nod. He ignored the old man.
He had travelled hundreds of miles to reach Mumbai. This will be his last visit. He won't come back here anytime in future. After the assignment he will go back to his village; lead an obscure life with no traces of past.
He had met his contact at the interstate bus stop; where the bus from his village had left him.
"How was your journey?"
"Fine," he had said.
"Did you receive the money?"
"You can still return the money and forget the whole thing."
"More than the money I want to do my part for the cause," he had said.
"Well, that is the best thing I have heard in a long time,” said the contact, ”On the assigned day a person from my side will hand over a bag at the train station. The upper flap has a button. A press of the button closes the bag and also completes the electric circuit. The bag will explode in 10 minutes. Is it clear?"
"Once you press the button there is no turning back. The timer is crude. You have approximately 10 minutes. Don't wait long, get as far as possible; any questions?"
“You need to change your attire. You look like a villager. Buy some good cloths, wear a tie and look sharp.”
They walked abreast for a few paces.
"One more thing"
"Don't try anything stupid. We have paid you full in advance, because we know how to retrieve the money if needed. In a worst case, probably nothing will happen to you, but we will kill your whole family including the children."
No one would have dared to talk like this in his village. For a moment he forgot everything: the money and the cause. He suppressed a deep urge to grab the contacts collar and snap his neck. It was not the right time. There is a right time for everything.
A push from the fellow traveler broke his chain of thoughts. Gradually the crowd inside the train increased. Standing so near to the bag made him perspire.
On the ceiling there were various advertising stickers and a railway map. Just above his bag there was an ad of – Baba Bangali. Do you have any problems in life? The ad asked the potential customer. Baba has the solution. Do you have problems in business? Marriage life? Loan? Premature ejaculation? Baba can solve any of your problems. Call Baba Bangali today. Baba is waiting.
*-------------*----------------*His wife had asked about his trip.
“I will return in a week, may be bit more,” he had said.
“Where are you going?”
“That is not your business.” He snapped.
“Who are these new friends of yours?”
“There is something in your mind. You come home late these days. Where do you go?”
“What should I tell the children?”
“Don’t tell them anything.” That put her off. Quietly she went inside the kitchen and sat near the window. Outside her children were playing; her moist eyes blurred their images.
Someone was tugging his shirt sleeve. That cut his thoughts.
“Saab, a railway time table for just 10 rupees,” said the boy. He had a small plastic bag in one hand that had colorful cheap items. The other hand carried an infant.
“I don’t want it,” said our man.
“Not just the time table. You also get a 4 in 1 pen. A pink dairy…”
“Saab, also a pocket torch, and an elastic comb. Five items, for just 10 rupees. You will not get in Chor Bazaar. Even a thief won’t sell you his stolen goods this cheap.”
Our man didn’t budge. The boy let a sigh. It was a rough day. The infant in hand started crying. The boy stopped the sales pitch and started soothing the infant. A Sardarji, who was observing the whole thing, put a coin in the boy’s hand. The boy gave a stern look and returned the coin. “I am not a beggar” he said; and moved to the far corner searching for potential customers.
Two teenage school students sitting near the window were giggling. They were reading a text message on the cell.
Our man peeped across the iron mesh, a lady was cutting vegetables in the adjacent compartment. Two people sitting across the aisle were playing cards on the office suitcase.
At the far end, a group was deeply immersed in Bhajan. The leader of the group, a peon at the court house, chanted the hymns solo. The group intoned the same lines, along the rhythmic clinks of manjira. Aarti on a plate got passed among the devotees. Some offered money, some didn’t; everyone took Prashad.
Our man watched with indifference. What do these people know about the cause? He thought. They just eat, work like a donkey and die, never think about the higher values. Ignorant fools. I was no different, he observed with guilt, till I met my mentors. Now I have a cause: my life has a meaning.
*-------------*----------------*The pungent smell of Bandra creek nauseated him. People squatting along the train tracks for body needs disgusted him. Never ever I will come back to this city. He decided.
The train stopped; couple of ladies got down from the ladies compartment. A eunuch, realizing the crowd at the men’s compartment, climbed the ladies compartment.
“Hey, this is a ladies compartment,” shouted a middle aged social worker with blood-red lipstick.
“I am a lady,” said the eunuch with an understanding wink.
A rag picker with a large sack on his back climbed the men’s compartment. There was no place inside. He hung at the door with one foot on the floor and one in air.
The train moved. Inside the train the crowd was getting restless. After a while, from the crevices of the door, our man saw the amber lights of the incoming station.
The city and the people had tired him. He could not wait longer. This is the time, he decided. He gave a cautious glance around. No one was looking at him. Slowly but sternly he pressed the button of the bag.
Once set the timer, he hurried towards the door. The crowd pushed him in every direction. The train reduced the speed preparing to stop.
A heavily built man stopped him.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I need to get down here.”
“This is Andheri,” said the muscular man.
“You don’t get down at Andheri station from a Virar train.”
The crowd that was indifferent so far suddenly got curious.
“If you want to get down here, then you should take an Andheri or Borivali train. You Andheri people always crowd the Virar train.”
“I am new here.”
“Boss, I am not from Alibagh. I have heard this excuse hundred times. Get down at Borivali and take a return train. This will teach you a lesson.”
Our man tried to push. But the big man pushed him back. A commotion started. Unrelated people grabbed our man. A person who had missed the earlier train gave a sharp knock on his head. A government employee who had missed the promotion punched him in the guts. A thief tried and succeeded in stealing his purse. Our man felt dizzy, unable to control the blows from everywhere finally collapsed.
“Please don’t kill him now,” the old man with broken glassed spectacles appealed the crowd. He had somehow managed himself at the center of the mob.
The train that had less than a minute stop-over started leaving the station. A fat man running along the train tried to enter the moving train. But the rag picker hanging at the door with one hand kicked the fat man away.
“No space, take the next train,” said the rag picker.
“Is this your father’s train?” shouted the fat man.
“Watch your tongue, wild swine.”
“Come down I will show you mother-”
The train had gained speed by this time. Inside people had laid the unconscious person on the bench.
“Pull the chain,” an overweight boy suggested. He was eating a vada-pav.
“Hey Hero, I will give you thrash under your ear,” said the muscular man, “already the train is running late.” That silenced the boy.
The old man sprinkled water on the unconscious person. Slowly he opened eyes. It took him some time to understand the situation. Once sober, he got tensed.
“How long-” he murmured.
“What? Don’t talk, you need rest,” said the kind old man.
“How long I was passed out?” he asked in a hurry.
“Not long, couple of minutes. Don’t worry. Lie down till next station. You will be fine. In all this hurry you forgot your bag. Here, keep it under your head as a pillow.”
Our man tried to resist. But he was week and exhausted.
“Please…” he tried to say something.
“Shhhh!” the kind old man put his finger on his lips, “Don’t say a word.”