Saturday, August 18, 2012

Memoirs of a sleepless traveller

I have a particularly mixed record of sleeping during train journeys. In some fortunate journeys, I fall asleep instantaneously. Almost as soon as I put my head onto the pillow. But not so in most journeys. During these journeys its a constant battle between sleep and just tossing and turning restlessly in the rather smallish bed you find in Indian railways. This particular journey that I am recounting was one such battle. It was three AM and sleep thus far was successful in evading me. The more I longed for sleep the more it ran away from me. Like a wily temptress. For some obscure reason I always think of sleep as a feminine entity. Perhaps, due to the unpredictable nature the better sex commonly possesses.

I finally gave up longing for sleep and decided to venture out to the station that had just arrived. It was a chilly night and I had an irresistible urge to purchase a steaming hot cup of tea that was being sold in the station.The tea was excellent but whatever semblance of hope for sleep I had were dashed. The tea had made me wide awake. Instead of going back to my allocated bed I decided to sit near the entrance of the coach. When the train would start, a gush of windy fresh air would strike my face.Its quite a pleasant experience especially if you are in a reflective mood deep into the night.But it seemed I was not the only one with the same idea. The person who was sharing my cabin in the train was already seated there. I sat next to him, slightly irritated because I was looking forward to some solitude and reflection.

"So you are not able to sleep as well" He asked me cordially

"Yes. Sleep has been elusive tonight. You are Manjunath if I remember correctly" I replied. We had already exchanged pleasantries and made small talk in the evening. I wanted to test whether I could remember his name. I generally have a bad time recognizing faces and remembering names. So I preferred to sort out the issue at the onset rather than get corrected later on.

"Yes. My name is Manjunath. Sleep has not been kind to me either. So I thought I might as well get some fresh air"

"You look especially tired. When was the last time you had some good sleep. Because it looks like you could do with some"

"Hehe. I would love some sleep. I haven't slept a wink the last 4 days to be honest"

"No wonder you look so tired. What's bothering you if I may ask". I have generally noticed that people do not mind if you are intrusive in a train journey. So I felt it was a perfectly legitimate thing to ask.

"Well, there are things of the past that bothers you. You know something that keeps haunting you"

"You mean something of the past that you regret now". There is something about train journeys that makes you talk. In one instance, a person had revealed to me his darkest and most intimate secrets. Maybe its the fact that you may never meet the stranger again and that makes people tell stuff to strangers that they would never dare to tell anyone they know.

"Exactly. You have the right word. Its regret"

"Regret? What sort of regret?" I was kind of piqued. These sort of things make me really curious.

"You know, general things" he said vaguely. He was suddenly becoming uncomfortable. As if realizing that I am a complete stranger rather than a confidante. I did not want to pester him but my curiosity was getting the better of me

"Even I have regrets" I replied "Had I studied harder for the entrance exam I would have secured a better college". I hoped me stating my regret would tempt him to reciprocate

"I do not mean any offense but I advise you to not lose sleep over that. It is a bit childish If I may use the word. Is that all you regret about?" He asked me in an obviously envious tone

"It may seem childish to you but it is something I regret. What about you. What's your regret?"

"The thing I regret happened a long time back. Around 6 years ago. When I was around your age"

"Back when you used to worry about exams" I said tongue-in-cheek

"Yes. Those were the golden days when I had still not grown-up. I had gone to visit a friend in a neighbouring town. I remember we had gone to see a movie that evening. While we were coming back we witnessed a bunch of people with swords and sticks in their hands going after a man carrying a child. It was a mob. The mob was chanting religious slogans continuously and in front of our eyes they managed to catch up with the man they were chasing"

He began to hesitate at this point. This time I was not keen on goading him to talk. Even I remained silent. I had half a mind to terminate the conversation and go back to my bed. While the other half was resisting the temptation and wanted to hear the whole story. Before I could decide he got over his hesitation and began again.

"What I saw next was unbelievable. The mob caught up with the person and in their frenzy started brutally assaulting the person with their swords. And they did not spare the child as well. It was a little girl. Both were being butchered. Their cries were like scared chickens shrieking during their deaths. Luckily, as it was dark, me and my friend were not noticed. After around 10 minutes, the mob started walking away from the scene. Me and my friend were shaking heavily during the carnage. But once everyone left we came out of hiding and approached the man and the child. The man was writhing in pain. He was not dead yet but we could see he would not survive. He had been viciously slaughtered. Inspite of the pain the man was pointing towards the kid. His daughter. As if pleading to us to save the kid. The girl was bleeding as well but not as much as her father. I asked my friend 'We should take the girl to the hospital. I think she may still survive' My friend thought for a while and then  replied 'But they started it 2 weeks back when they had slaughtered one of us. Why should we spare these idiots. Its better we leave'. And do you know what I replied"

"What?" I asked

"I said 'You are right. Lets leave at once. The idiots need to be taught a lesson'. And I left that little child, that little girl lying there in the pool of blood. I just left her. Heartlessly. Mercilessly. Mindlessly. I even conveniently forgot about it and successfully removed from my mind all traces of guilt that I should have felt. Until a few days back. A few days ago a little girl was born to me. To remind me of my sins.

And he started sobbing thereafter. A grown up man sobbing in front of a stranger. My mind had become blank after listening to his narrative. I put my hands on his shoulders and tried to console him. He withdrew his shoulder and wearily retreated to his bed trying hard to control his sobs.

A couple of hours later his station had arrived. Before leaving, he came towards me, nodded his head and gave me a slight grin. With that silent goodbye, he unloaded his luggage and climbed down into the platform of the station.


4 comments:

  1. its a very haunting story smiran...

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  2. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...................................................................................................

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  3. Not bad.. The statement you made about the elusive sleep during a train journey was impressive.

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