A hundred rupee note

As he walked down the stairs towards the platform, the hustle that accompanies the sound of the approaching train commenced. While the train hurtled towards its 2 minute stop at Khar, the man dodged a slurry of people going the other way, jumped a couple of steps and running as fast as he could boarded the Virar bound local. It was 5 pm on a moist May evening and as the train left the station, raindrops materialized over the broken windows, washed the dirty exteriors of the train and announced the arrival of monsoon over Maximum city.

It had been a good day so far for the lanky young fellow who had barely managed to find a seat in the train. He was exhausted, yes, but the 100 rupee note that was  now safely tucked inside his jaded brown trousers comforted him. In intervals of every half an hour, ever since he had left the site he found himself checking the presence of that crumpled piece of paper- a colored carbon offshoot that held so many promises. The face belied the regurgitation that occupied his mind while his red swollen eyes  portended a difficult existence. Lines of sweaty advance of age had begun to surface on his visage which was not quite uncommon with people of his social positioning. While his eyes skirted glances as if striving to conceal guilt, an intensity was palpable in his restless demeanor. His hands alternated between his pockets and his dust ridden hairs even as he found himself glancing occasionally to the exit.

Early that morning, when at Andheri he had struggled to assemble 5 bucks for his daily morning dose of vada pav he had a chance encounter with a generous old fellow, who out of empathy or maybe out of remorse had paid for his breakfast cum lunch-so much for a city with no heart, he had wondered. Later, after hours of dusty lifting and scrapings, which he took up 100 days in a year, as he found himself waiting in a serpentine queue that seemed to stretch for miles at end his eyes wondered over to the mustachioed man at the counter who doled out those crisp pieces of paper. It was a long wait till his turn came which gave him plenty of time to visualize himself on that chair behind the wooden counter, wads of  currency in his hands- need of hundreds of peasants on his fingertips. When his turn came, those very  thoughts vanished like Mumbai rains and all but the gleam of the note remained. As he dipped his thumb in blue ink and pressed hard over the sheet with similar prints, his imagination took flight again. Its surprising how swift mind travels. In a span of 30 seconds leading upto the possession of the note 1) he had held the man-at-the-counter at gunpoint while hoisting himself atop the table and pocketing the thick wads,2) he had tricked the man and pocketed two, hundred rupee notes instead of one, 3) he and his treasure had been the only survivors in a bomb blast and 4) he had taken the 100 rupee note and left the site.

But this was his lucky day! In a fit of extreme negligence, the stocky fellow at the counter, bored and sleepy with the red dots of whiskey in his eyes had made the fortunate lapse and handed him not one but two 100 rupee notes. For a moment, he had the unholy thought of pointing out the glaring error and saving the man the ignominy of ridicule during the post-payment accounting, but then his reasoning presided and he pocketed his earmarked belonging, plus the destined manna and made way towards the exit.

As he scurried for a getaway, lest the error got discovered, the chain of thoughts crept back onto his consciousness.1)  He could, on his way home make a brief detour at Santa Cruz where at the Meena Bar in Kalina he could wash away his de-spirited soul with alcohol, or 2) he could head south towards Falkland where the lore of Kalki awaited his presence every single day, or 3) he could buy that 10 foot tarpaulin to stave off the monsoon and save himself the damp beds that accompanied him most of his nights.

He sat down by the pavement, besides a steady stream of buzzing vehicles that came in all sizes but moved with the same pace and grandiosity. He had to make a decision now. Yet, he was unable to confine himself within the sphere of desires that those 100 bucks could satiate. He was melancholic even as he was excited. As he sat there with clasped knees pointing towards the road and hands resting on it, palms down he contemplated and he dreamed.

He was 12 when he had succumbed to the lure of Bombay- the land of many opportunities, they used to say. Driven away by a non existent family and little solace by way of friendship he had mapped his travesty with the neon tinted glaze of masala Bombay. Now, 10 years later as he sat by at the periphery of the frantic activity all around him he found himself in a dilemma.

He looked around him to find some comfort and bide away time. He saw men, like him, resting after a day of intense perspiration, chewing coarse bread, smoking, preparing their bed, rushing and preparing the kids before the next traffic signal. He saw families with tiny vessels, kerosene stoves and straw huts they called home. He observed the vehicles as they flew past him, carrying a motley crowd. Buses filled with shirts and trousers, auto-rickshaws filled with brightly dressed 20-somethings, shining cars with tinted glasses beyond which his eyes could not see.

Across the road, clustered beneath the flyover that provided roof to many a soul he saw, again, a dense packet of souls living against the constant threat of evacuation. His eyes darted, from the old man lying face up, to the children playing with the card-boards to the man sitting in the exact same position as him and looking towards the moving traffic. Their eyes met and drifted apart, each acknowledging the presence. One, with the hundred rupee note and the other without it.

With that, he had made his decision. As he walked towards the station, dodging past the gushing crowd and running towards the other end of the road he had a look of steely resolve in his eyes. He scampered, as if in a trance towards the station. Moving past the man, he moved almost in a jog, determined never to face him again.

As he boarded the train, he was happy again. This was his lucky day after-all.

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7 Comments

  1. now this is called forking an alternative picture out of the ordinary one… you have my extra special accolades just for painting a little something out of MNREGA… now that u mentioned this one’s _edit_able….. lemme make out what I can —

    his age and physical well-being need more expression at the beginning….. “lanky” wasn’t good enough especially when this post breathes through the “struggle for sustenance”…. let him pant here and there; if possible, even hysteric at the sight of a little “law enforcement” or a “work buddy” who also happens to be neighbor and what if the word gets out … coz you know .. women talk ..

    keep him think ‘small’ …. and let him make plans … 🙂
    that’s where the audience gets a bite of “ingenuous preparations”…. you spoil the whole thing with big questions of life like ‘meaning’…..the post takes a hike to stark realism which is never fun for a short-story reading audience… its rarely about that for those who toil all day long through “dusty liftings and scrapings”…. (note: the heartfelt journalistic undertones are much appreciated but not in this context 🙂 )

    1. @dada: thanks for the response! really appreciate tht!
      🙂 agreed on both the character sketch and the “meaning”
      wanted to keep it short..thgh shd not compromise on the imp parts..
      short story does not proclaim definitive messages..its just a window for the reader to glance through..will take ur suggestions when I edit this further! thnks!

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