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Earliest Memories - Part 18 - All Aboard the Train and The End

Popularity 3Viewed 764 times 2015-1-8 09:44 |Personal category:StoryTeller|System category:Life| All, Aboard, the, Train, and

Aboard The Train!!

The pregnant mother in the ‘Ladies’ line got to purchase tickets earlier than those in the general line. Women have long had a separate, preferential line in the Indian queue system. It was dark in the evening before their train was announced on a certain platform. The father went away briefly to help fill some reports about the incident with the taxi driver and his friends. He returned.

Looking at the obviously pregnant mother and her little children, they even got some preference in climbing on to the train. There was a mad rush and most seats were occupied by the time the family of the little boy reached the correct platform. But looking at them and the mother, the people made way and let them sit. There were very few children on the train. Some were there with the families of those that worked on the train and cooked for others.

The family of the little boy still carried their luggage on their lap, or under their seat or feet. In fact the children and mother got to sit near the window.  She put her luggage as a cushioning back rest. The one item they could not keep – the radio, was put on a thin ledge near the ceiling, on a narrow luggage platform.  It was the only space on which normally no one could fit. It was so narrow that none but a tiny child could fit in it, but no one would want to put a child up so high without any suitable restraint or padding.

There were people sitting everywhere, jam packed, More than twice the number of seats (more of benches really). I suppose the British marked the seating and spacing according to their idea of size and comfort for a big boned, fleshy, ‘average’ European body, when designing the Indian railways. The skinny, thin, small average Indian body is much smaller and their idea of private space is even normally non-existent. So, five or six people would easily sit squashed next to each other on a seat meant for three. Many sat on aisles. The top rack for luggage was also used for people. Most carried their luggage with them or sat on them. People sat in the aisles. Many men climbed on to the top when space inside ran out.

There were food stalls operating on the platform. Music was blaring interrupted often by news. The people in the carriage let the family spend some time together by giving the mother and children some space near the window. They could adjust their positions later. An older couple and a group of young labourers, returning to their home states offered to help care for the little boy, his sister and mother when they heard that they were leaving without their father.

They knew it was quite possible these could have been their last meeting alive. Everyone seemed to value human feelings more now. They seemed to value human life too above material luxuries.  They were however very possessive about materials essentials for survival.

The father stood outside the barred window of the train. The little boy and girl held his hand and played with him. The mother sat facing them.

Suddenly, there was news on the radio that the Indian army had captured a large group of Pakistani soldiers in busloads, without firing a shot. A big cheer broke out in the platform. There was also news of Indian soldiers being captured and loss of life on both sides. There were reports of towns that fell to the enemy on both sides. There were reports of tank battles with various tallies of damage and destruction.

A group of soldiers were milling around the platform, listening to the news. When they heard the report of the capture of busloads of Pakistani soldiers, apparently, by some of their own regiment, they were jubilant! They drank, sang, shouted and danced. They brought out sweets and distributed them on to anyone around. Onlookers joined in too. It seemed that the war had unleashed a torrent of human feelings. People laughed and cried, celebrated and mourned, one after another, sometimes one along with another. They would not be like this normally.

 He remembered: One young soldier among them went to the food stall and bought a tinned box of chocolates and biscuits. He was quite drunk. He came up to the window through which the mother of the little boy was looking out. He came up to her near the window. He stood next to the boy’s father. Tears streamed down his face.
He turned to the mother and offered her the box of chocolates and biscuits.

“Behen (Sister)! Yeh le lo (Take this!). Aaj main bahut khush hoon (I am very happy today). Bahut khush. Mere bhaion ne bahut bahaduri se kaam kiya hai (my brothers have acted with great courage).

The mother was shocked at this and pulled back with fear and shock showing in her eyes and expression. However the young man did not do anything else. He just had a pleading look and kept saying, “Behen! Behen! Ye Maa aur bacchon ko do (Sister, give this mother and the children). Sab ko kehena main duty ke baad jaldi lautunga (Tell them I will return  soon after my tour of duty.)”

 The mother of the little boy looked at the father. He told her gently, “Accept it. He really does mean well and no harm. You will hurt him deeply if you refuse.”

The mother accepted the box offered through the bars. The little boy and his sister looked at it eagerly. The box was opened immediately and its contents distributed around to the all.  The soldier waved to them and went away to join his group, as a couple of his mates came up to help him. They were less drunk. The mother liked the beautiful and colourful tin box very much. She put it away in her hand luggage. It later became a valued family treasure.

The father of the little boy said to the mother, “It appears you remind him of his own sister. He is drunk and thinks you are his own sister. It looks like he has been through a lot. It happens sometimes.”

All Aboard!!

There were many soldiers and military personnel traveling. Railway police and supervisors went around making space for people by throwing out any excess or unnecessary baggage or luggage on to the platform. They started their rounds from one of the train to the other.

Suddenly, the whistle blew. There was a waving of coloured shielded lanterns as signal. The engine bellowed and with a creak and shudder started to move slowly, literally inching its way.

The family was at the back of the platform. The father waved and started to walk along the window. The little boy suddenly realised the father was not boarding the train. His face fell and he shouted, “Appa, Appa, come on. Mummy, Appa is left behind!”

“Yes, dear, say bye to him. Wave to him. Smile for him,” she said almost choking up herself. The little girl waved dutifully. The father continued to reassure the son, “I will see you in Delhi or your grandparents’ house soon. Don’t worry. Take care!”

The train still crawled. Everyone who had some loved one behind shouted farewells.

 He remembered: The railway police came over to their carriage and inspected the people and luggage. They spotted the big package with the radio up on the top shelf.

“Whose is it? They demanded.

Someone pointed to the little boy’s mother. By the time she turned, one policeman had already removed it and went to the door next to them and tossed it out on to the platform.

It was remarkable how fast a pregnant, ill woman could jump out of her seat and reach the door with all those people in the way. Her family still recounts this incident.

“Our radio!!” she screamed, “My children’s radio!! They love it so! Please let us take just that one.”

Before anyone could stop her she was out on the platform and ran up to the wrapped radio.

The little boy was now upset to see both his parents on the platform and the train moving away. He started to cry. His sister consoled him.

The father bounded up to the mother, picked her up in one hand and the radio on the other. He was a very tall, long legged man. In a few bounds, he seemed to drag the mother and the radio and was soon at the door of the train that was so overladen that it was still crawling at the rate of roughly an inch every second. With a mighty effort, he helped the mother back in through the door and as she went in, he requested the railway police to allow her to carry the radio, but they put it under the sink next to the toilet near the door.

The father jumped off the running train that was crawling along. Soon he appeared, walking briskly next to the window near his son.  Soon he had to break into a run. He waved goodbye and the little boy kept looking at his fading image with sadness.

The people in the carriage who saw this sheer act of madness or foolish courage somehow understood the love this woman had for her children’s radio. They let it be. Who knew if they would all make it alive to their destinations? Who knew what would happen to this mass of humanity on this train?

 

Epilogue

The little boy, his sister and mother made it safely to Delhi. The trip took three days. The train travelled mostly at night. They then stayed with their friends in Delhi for a week before heading down south to their hometown. The father was still up north until the war was over.  Just as the hostilities were concluded, he was granted leave to go and visit his family. He hurried down south. The mother gave birth to a healthy little boy soon afterwards. They soon moved to a different town where the father was posted.

The family in Amritsar made it through the war with a lot of difficulties. The old great-grandfather passed away peacefully on night during the war. The friend of the family who fixed their radio was killed in a bombing raid, soon after the family had left Amritsar. He had died at his desk, on duty in that special house. He had literally saved the lives of the little boy and his family! Harpreet and Munni fulfilled their destiny and were married a few years later.

Now, in addition to memories, there is a beautiful confectionery tin and an old valve radio set that the family will never part with!

~~ THE END ~~

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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