Monday, February 19, 2007

the train to banaras

I was wide awake at three o-clock when the train stopped at Mirzapur, a small town station before Banaras. Sitting on a RAC seat (Reservation After Cancellation, where two people sit on one berth, normally on that one birth one person can sleep since all such trains travel overnight) with my uncle, who was half crouched in a vain attempt to sleep swaddled in a kambal. I was not in a much comfortable position either to sleep either because I was not having any thing substantial to cover me and save me from the incessant chilly air sneaking through the nooks and corner of the window and door of the badly designed and old sleeper class Indian Railway compartment. It was a dead winter night of late January and I had to board this Mahanagri Express from Victoria Terminus in Bombay to attend the cremation of my Grandmother at a very short notice. Needless to say that she was somebody for whom i can't bother about my own convenience and try to get a better mode of travel. Anyway the place i was traveling to was the one place where comforts of live and luxury is last thing on mind of those bohemian Banarasis. And what better way to go there but the ubiquitous Indian railway? where even in reserved second class so many people get crammed up without complaint, though all of them pay more than the price of valid ticket to get in. Its the idea of not worrying about ones own convenience that make valid ticket holders also to accommodate people who do not have valid ticket. For i have seen only a city dweller resent the idea if anyone request him to share his seat in train but a small towner and a villager will never never do that, he will always give the place. I travelled all across the country to to Environment Impact Assessment for one year and i saw this thing everywhere from south to east to north and west. Its amazing to see such resilience among people for each other.
And later on when i mused the i idea of Moksha, i came to understand the reason behind this acceptance of a fellow traveler. In Hinduism most people know that they are visiting this life in body or on this planet for short period of say 60-70 years and then they will move on to embrace the everlasting peach with the Brahma and that why they do not bother about the comforts of life, then what is for them an hours or a days journey? Nothing.

I was uneasy and cold, and had a very serious book as a companion on which I was not able to concentrate. I always felt that summer is a better season than monsoon or winter. For one is always busy saving himself from chill in winter and water and dampness in monsoon but in summer, one can bear heat with much ease without panting like a dog. There is other reason too. In a country like India if one looks from a poor man’s point of view, during winter and monsoon one has to spend money and resources to save himself from cold air and rain. While in summer one only has to shed whatever ragged cloth one is wearing to be comfortable.

I was occupied in my own mental rambling when somebody shouted at her. I turned and saw the most miserable sight. There was this old lady, scantily clad with just one layer of old faded sari on her frail bony body, with crumpled skin hanging from every corner and edge of her body and blisters in her hands and feet. She had melancholic look on her face as if she was perpetually perturbed by the severity of her fate but without any such shed, which might say that she was experiencing any hardship. This is because, I did not see her anxious or troubled in least degree by being shouted at in such extreme cold at 3 O’clock in the morning, carrying three huge (three by four feet) sacks of disposable eating plates patravlli; almost bigger than her own height, in crowded reserved compartment, probably without ticket. Watching her I felt as if I have been seeing her in such suffering for so long that I can see the whole history of creation of unfortunate people like her, their incompatibility with the society, there existence; not even measured on the smallest scale of the life in which we live but all the same dependent of their labor in same degree as we depend on nature to provide us resources.
I was intently watching her, pondering on her situation and ashamed of being part of the society which can allow such a condition to exist and force people like her live this kind of life. I was thinking what makes her go on living this life at her age? Is it because she is unaware of the alternate facets and comforts of modern life,?,…or does her life becomes irrelevant because of these facts…..? Is she living an inferior life just because she is being compared and is not taken subjectively? Or does she really feel this way about herself? She may not ponder about any other kind of life just because of the absence of experience of any other kind of life. And is she really missing something? Probably she is not being reminded directly of other kind of life by any one since the people with whom she deals are only one economic stratum above compared to her own life. And for them she is not a sight of the human misery but another one who is engaged in the business of struggle to make ends meet. What if she comes in contact with someone who is several layers above her in economic condition? Will then she feel something?

Somebody complaints that she is blocking the way to the bathroom, although many people were sleeping in the narrow ally near the toilet. The constable whose voice I heard shout at her, started abusing her since to him it was a matter of another case in the myriad incidents in a train where everyone is reduced to inconsequential object and event. He shouted at her poking those huge sacks with his baton, citing the amount of inconvenience she gave to the people in reserved compartment.

She took all this very calmly there was no reaction in her sad unmoving eyes and on the face, already covered with as many lines as the stilt root one sees on the old Banyan tree. She moved her bag around to one corner and stood again looking at the policeman and then to nothing in particular. I saw only few people noticing her and that too with the most nauseating and pathological expression on their faces. As if they were cursing her because, she being so miserable and coming in their path, was causing moral consternation in them and thus tempering the fine sheen of civility that causes people like her to exist. Her blank stare fixed nowhere in space, told me that she has been traveling like this all her life, in summer and monsoon too without complaining and she knew full well that she can conduct her business like this, only if she neglects everyone as everyone, and even god has neglected her.

Though traveling in India and seeing slums of Bombay I had seen many kind of deprivations I had not seen anything like this. I wondered if I would ever be comfortable eating on those patravlli plates when I go to my native place and attend any ceremony.
PS: is she nihilist? or odes she prove that nihilist are right? or still further am i looking at this whole situation from a nihilist's point of view?
for i am nihilist.