Crossroads

The train pulled out from the crowded platform with its characteristic flair. A chunk of swooning and crowing along the curved platform, and it was out of sight, out of play. Or so thought the little boy who had tucked himself in the smelly confines of the lavatory in the unreserved compartment. Madhav’s sudden rapture and subsequent escape from his family was not so abrupt however. It had been building up since he had set his eyes on this decrepit train. He had never bothered to know the final destination of this train. The only thing he cared about, was that he wanted to go wherever it led him to. Every day over the past 3 years, he sneaked into the train station from the hole in the wall just across the rail lines. In the relative obscurity of the night, he sensed the promise that the dense smoke of the approaching train brought and the sense of loss that pervaded when it escaped around the corner. In its alternating approaches, he saw what others in his village didn’t, a world of opportunities and experiences. 7 years in this world and he was ready to leave and see what was beyond that bend.


The dust rose up to form a gray cloud in that swift crawl of the night. The sun, in its pristine glory of red, encircled the peepal tree in its wake and projected a transcendent shadow onto Malti where she sat gazing at the magical tree. Eyes red with exhaustion and drips of sweat poring out of the beaded forehead, her heart stiffened at the chug chug sound of the approaching train. She was afraid of this approaching machine because it did not merge with the world she was comfortable with. It seemed to her like an encroachment, an unnatural matrimony between nature and man. She had seen her son’s anticipation and sensed his bewilderment when he had grasped for the first time what the sound represented. Since the past few years, his ties with the station had grown to an uncomfortable level. She had told him so, asked him to stop his nocturnal sojourns to watch the only train that stopped on this platform. The trains that whooshed past with abandon comforted her, for they held nothing of her. But the one that crawled to a screeching halt, it felt so much like her kidnappers.


Jeta Ram pulled down the shutters on the train window quickly. The windows that held so much during the day felt to him like an adversary during the night. Fleeing from Mumbai his thoughts were running around in circles on what the future lay ahead for him. He had run into difficulties in no short order at Mumbai and today felt like the right time to say goodbye to a city that had given him so much, and yet, looking back, taken away so much more. What he had gained was, insofar as he was honest, a perspective on looking at things. The mad dog world of Mumbai had been a temporary antidote to the civilized world of agriculture he was more attuned to. A civilized world he had torn away at only 8 years ago. 8 years away from that unfortunate day of misplaced desire, his thoughts flirted with the possibility of the alternate and what it would have done to the precocious 17 year old he was back then. Surely, every broken thing could be fixed?


 

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