Saturday, 13 August 2011



“Sow the seeds of good deeds as you travel . God feeds you with the fruits they bear on your journey back home.” 

Sounds just like one of the lines the teacher made it your daily chore to write on the blackboard, right ?  You did it  to impress upon the rest of the class that you were the chosen one, the teachers pet. Or, just to get your hands on the box full of chalks , Or you either bribed the ones with good handwriting or bullied them into doing it for you. In a nutshell it was just something you had to do whether you wanted to or not. Inculcating good values, building a good character were things as silly and unheard of then as a window seat on a 8.45 Churchgate fast on a Monday morning from Borivli is today. I know, it’s a far-fetched  comparison but show me a man who says he scored just such a seat on just such a train on just such a day, solely because of his good values and spotless character, and you are welcome to join me in my “ Liar, Liar, Pants on fire” jig.

It was on just such a day, and on just such a train that I was reminded of my opening line.  
Mind you , I am not much of a do-gooder, cross my heart and hope to die. More good has been done to me than my having done any. This little incident too is one of many such where I was at the receiving end of a good deed.

When the crowd positions itself to catch this above-mentioned train, the commuters bridge is the best perch to watch the spectacle from. It’s a scene straight out of Braveheart or some such period war movie. Usually the train is almost full of people taking a backward detour from Malad and Kandivli en route to Churchgate. The crowd throws the first salvo even as the train gets halfway into the station. Survival of the fittest is the law of every jungle and this human jungle is no exception. The fittest and the strongest are on the both the sides here, i.e. the inside as well as the outside of the train. In the wild frenzy that would put any ring of WWF to shame,  lasting about 12 seconds, within which the commuters wanting to get off at Borivli make their escape and those wanting to get on the train charge in like stampeding bulls . The ones who get off successfully go through the seemingly automated motions of patting  their hair back in place, patting  their pockets to make sure their wallets and cellphones are safe, and off they go to their next adventure of the day. The lucky ones who got on the train wrestle and jostle their way to the fourth seat which really is  half a seat. Mission accomplished, they now firmly entrench themselves as “insiders” and get ready to fight and push back the “outsiders” who are still trying to get in. Amidst a lot of war-cries, expletives and even some fisticuffs , a few losers try to get their way out of the compartment. These are either the weaker ones,  or just new to the ways of this city. They either have to beg and plead their way out before the train starts or be prepared to get off wherever they can, whenever they can.

Blessed are those who are not required to run against time to punch a silly card even if they have to get punched silly along the way. Thanks to all my stars, saints  and guardian angels I am in a profession where I don’t need to be a part of this everyday battle. I pretty much decide my own working hours and travel only when the peak hour is long past over, if at all. But no matter how powerful , comfortable and snug a lion is in his own den, even he can’t avoid forever,  a showdown with a pack of hyenas inspired by their own survival instincts. Likewise, to accommodate a client , I too am required every once in a long while to make a foray into Borivli station at the ungodly hour of 8.45 am. Last Monday was one such day I had an incometax case hearing scheduled at Churchgate. I had been feeling a bit under the weather and feverish the night before but an adjournment was impossible. I reached the platform without any major mishaps, with even the bridges and staircases choc-a-block with people in a hurry . So much so that you would think every train was the last train to Churchgate and that there was no tomorrow.

I gathered enough courage to get in a crouching position not too unlike a goalkeeper as he gets ready to leap either way facing a penalty. Arms outstretched, muscles taut, knees bent just so I could coil up and spring at the first reachable door, as the train slowly made its way into the station. All this preparation would have been most impressive, even effective had I been the only party present on the platform. The reality was far from it as nothing less than a million people took similar stances all around me, their  sole collective target being the train coming closer and closer. I chose exactly this moment to lose my nerve and chicken out. All of a sudden there was a certain coolness about the feet with the realization that I was not as young as I once was and not nearly as fit either. Panic stricken, I started to back off without a shred of  concern about standing up an incometax commissioner waiting for me. I was about 4 seconds too late to realize that it was too late to back off. The decision to catch that train or not was taken out of my hands by the marauding public and before I could say abracadabra I found myself inside the compartment. The onrushing crowd flung me about like a rag doll. Twisting, turning and generally being brutally manhandled by the rampaging  multitude I felt the term “being pushed around” was about to get a whole new meaning. For those few seconds it felt like being in a stone-crusher, getting spin-dried in a washing machine and being fed to a shredder all at once. As my life flashed before my eyes, I was pretty sure I was either going to be torn to pieces , or suffocation was going to claim me. Whichever way it went, I knew it was hear, in this sardine-pack that I was going to breath my last.

But in what seemed like an eternity but actually in a few seconds that I found myself pushed into the sitting area which too  was already overflowing but where you could be   stationery as against being in the eye of a hurricane near the doors. Clothes as crumpled as my spirit, hair as fashionably in disarray as no punk rocker  can boast of , ribs hurting so bad it was an effort to just breath, I found myself panting like a dog on a hot afternoon. Catching the breath was the only first aid I could give myself in the given circumstances. A window seat would  be just  what the doctor would have insisted upon but of course it was neither  a month of Sundays nor could I see any pigs flying outside the window. Head still spinning, reeling like a drunk I desperately looked around for a fourth seat. A saree clad lady got up from the nearest fourth seat and I was immediately convinced that God had to be a female. Because if He were to be a male, his species had all but mauled me to death just seconds ago.

As I was about to eagerly but gratefully grab the fourth seat , she said “ Kyon sir , kaise ho ? Pehchana kya mere ko ?” and the sound of her voice stopped me in my tracks, for it was a male voice  . But of course it was one of our infamous Mumbai eunuchs.  

I looked at her as I sat down , happy to take all of my 65 kgs off my feet and feeling all of my 45 years. Underneath all that garish , caked on make-up was a face time hadn’t been too kind to but familiar all the same. 

“ Prabha ? Kaisi ho ? I asked.
“ Achhi hoon Sir. Aap theek ho na ?   Paani piyoge ?

She told me she had spotted me as I was getting worked over by the crowd, had enough sense to understand that I was completely and hopelessly out of my element and needed a bit of help. She pulled out a small  water-bottle and offered it to me, assuring me she had just picked it up from the canteen and was unopened, lest I was worried about hygiene.

The people around us were watching this scene with expressions that varied from amused to wary , from sly to indifferent. I took the bottle after some hesitation and cursed myself quietly for examining the seal before opening it. A couple of swigs made me feel as fine as only water can make you feel when you really need it. I thanked her but she just shrugged it off saying its only human to help another human, and I was , after all,  a friend. I know that although  being a friend to a eunuch is not the worst crime in the world, its also not anything you shout from the rooftops either. But having just had a helping hand stretched out at me , at the time when I needed it the most, my petty-mindedness and silly vanity made me want to crawl under the seat.  I mean here was someone who was almost an outcast, someone right at the bottom of the rungs of our   society, who had helped me as naturally as any human being would another, and , here I was, an educated , cultured man of the world who was worried about what people might think of our connection. The fact that I had done nothing noteworthy for Prabha  to have conferred her friendship on me made me feel even more small. Quite on the contrary, it was another  act of compassion on Prabha’s part that had started our acquaintance 6 years ago.

It was an exceptionally hot June . Monsoon was on its way and was due any day. I had left for work in the morning without an umbrella as if to tease the rain-gods into opening up and pouring down. Coming back home,  I took an auto from Borivli to Dahisar Checknaka, from where I had to take another auto because of city limits. Just when I was about to reach the checknaka it started drizzling and by the time it was time to switch  the autos, it had grown into a fairly healthy downpour. As a rule I love getting drenched in the first rains every year but that day I was caught with my newly bought leather shoes and belt and didn’t want to ruin them if I could help it. I paid the auto-man and requested him to let me hang about in his auto for a while in the hope that the rain would subside and I would salvage both my precious hide and the shining leather. After 10 minutes , with no sign of a let up from the skies, I started looking out for anybody with an umbrella. The idea was to pinch a shelter for a distance of about 60 yards and hop in the first auto I saw. Another 5 minutes and even my auto-man started getting restless wanting to cash in with so many rain-struck people willing  to be taken for a ride.
Then I saw her and identified her immediately for the eunuch that she was . But she was the only one around with an umbrella , and with the rain still working away steadily, she was my only hope to help me stay dry . I beckoned her and asked her if she would be kind enough to escort me under her umbrella to the connecting auto. She gave me a wide smile, nodded in that pseudo-feminine manner that only eunuchs can and said yes, she would be happy to be of help. No big deal , its only human to help other humans , she said and escorted me to the connecting auto. I hopped in, thanked her, asked her name and offered her a tenner as a token of my appreciation of her kindness. She politely declined it and said she was happy to be of help and in fact felt honored to be considered worthy of helping out a gentleman in need.

We parted. She , feeling a glow of having shown kindness to a stranger, and I the gentleman, feeling humbled at finding benevolence from an unlikely  source.

We met quite often after that at the same spot where she would do her business. We would  exchange pleasantries and sometimes a little baksheesh from me in exchange of her ritual of patting my head and gesticulating a routine of warding off evil eye.

My style of work gradually changed with time and I started working more and more from home. Prabha obviously faded away into the past and from my memory too.

This is where the flashback ends. We are in the train again. Prabha gets off at Goregaon with a cheery wave to me and a couple of resounding claps for the crowd to make way for her. I am already thinking about my crumpled clothes and the impending hearing with the Commissioner.  

I had told you upfront I am not much of a do-gooder , at least not a very conscious one in any case. So, you can say I just got plain lucky with Prabha on both the occasions and ended up reaping fruits of the seeds I did not really sow. I hope Prabha keeps well enough not to ever require any help from me .But just in case she does , I also hope I have in me whatever it takes to do a service to her in a manner as unassuming as hers was on both the occasions.

Lets go back to my opening line now, shall we ? To me it still sounds like just one of the lines the teacher made it your daily chore to write on the blackboard .

By the way, how about discussing the gender of God ?   



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