The tale of a stranger…

This is an anecdote from my life, a few years ago.

It was a pleasant Sunday. The sky was azure. I was on a bus to the railway station, to catch a train to Quilon where my maternal grandparents lived. It was a casual visit I conducted once a while when I missed grandma’s hand made pickles and scrumptious banana chips.
As I alighted from the bus, I noticed an elderly woman selling freshly plucked flowers, she was settling herself on the dusty roadside for the days business; occasionally spraying water on the flowers so that they lasts a little longer in the scathing summer.
I walked past the melee of people headed for their various destinations, their faces displaying absolute ennui towards the boring drab day to day chores. Some faces showed faint signs of relief as they were returning home after a gruelling night shift. I presume.

As I settled down on one of the window seats in the train that is to carry me to my destination, I ordered for tea from the chaiwala. Holding the steaming cup by it’s brim, I nimbly glanced at my fellow companions for the next 2 hours of my journey. A few lady passengers engaged in their usual gossip mongering, acknowledged my arrival and we exchanged a few pleasantries. An old man possibly in his late 60’s, seated right opposite me seemed engrossed in the book in his hand. Two students who sat across me ranted on how hectic their life was, not realising that they were going through the best phase in their life.

As I sipped my tea, I glanced through the opposite platform, it was not as crowded as the one I was in. There were a few people milling about the tea stall. A few aged woman sat on the concrete benches affixed onto the ground. A little girl was frolicking around bouncing her multi-coloured ball.

It was after a few seconds, I noticed a man, coiled up in a corner of one of the many steel pillars on the platform. He was barely dressed, in rags, with his unkempt hair and shabby appearance, he was altogether quite a sorry sight. He looked starved and debilitated. His head bent between his knees as though in shame.
The seemingly garrulous old woman shot baleful looks at the man, some even spewed spiteful remarks blatantly expressing their disapproval of the man’s dingy appearance and disposition. He seemed unperturbed by the loathsome remarks. Even from the distance, I could see his gaze was transfixed on something in the direction of the tea stall.

The tea stall looked highly welcoming with its bright coloured snack packets and biscuits arranged tactfully to attract children and adult alike. The array of beautifully arranged flavoured milk have often left me drooling. The irresistible odour of the freshly brewed coffee and the spicy crunchy Punjabi samosas that would tempt the most jaded appetites, none seemed to budge him.
Annoyed by the man’s disturbing gaze, the mother grabbed her child by the arm, berated her to be seated next to her. Everyone, including the owner of the tea stall gave him scornful looks. The woman clutched their purses and bags to ensure that any attempt of theft was parried. Some adjusted their saris as if to hide the already hidden.

For a second there, even my eyes were riveted on the lackadaisical man.

Suddenly, to the relief of all the passengers, the mother and the child, the train arrived on the platform, with its puffing and cooing and hooting, completely obstructing my view of the platform and its occupants. For a long five minutes, I sat their impatiently ruminating as to what would have transpired in that platform, if the gauntlet man had pounced on the woman after all.
Once the majestic train was gone, the scene had changed, as if the stage was rearranged to bring the story to a climax. The man was still there. On noticing the empty platform, he pounced at the opportunity, went ahead and seemed to be pleading with the owner of the stall. After a few seconds of negotiating, the man was seen opening the dustbin, he grabbed a few crumbs of discarded food and half eaten samosas.

A pang of guilt possessed me. How judgemental have we become?

All that the man wanted was a few crumbs of wasted food to satisfy his hunger, that was the only thought that lingered in his mind all the while. His only aim was the bits and pieces of food that was discarded by the more fortunate who could afford to waste a few pennies if the snacks failed to tickle their demanding taste buds.

The man relished his meal, probably his only meal of the day.
My train began to move slowly, it was about to start its ride. I looked at the man for one last time, he was hurriedly savouring the remains. The train began to gain momentum, and I was losing sight of the man. With a heavy heart, I reclaimed my posture with my chin cupped in my right hand. In about a few minutes this man would be out of my sight, but never out of my mind. He left a dent in my heart, an aching throbbing dent….


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