The sparkling eyes of the child made me feel about a sense, a sense of happiness covering a thick unbound layer of pain, helplessness, dis-satisfaction and anger. Anger for having been produced in a world with competency in every breath of life. There was a sudden provocation in my mind, seemed that we all are non marketable products being produced in a manufacturing factory with an expiry date. There were no warranties or guarantees and the spares for the product being expensive than the original price of the product itself. At the same time there was respite for having produced in a factory and been sold to a customer efficient enough to take care of me until it was time I became the successive customer. At that moment I was contradicting myself for the happiness of the good I am today and the bad that I am doing to myself.
It was the festive season of the year with Diwali around the corner. I was on a rail trip to my hometown for the celebrations with gifts in my backpack for the loved ones at home. With much of quarrel followed with repeated requests and apologies I was on my way on a weeklong retreat. Imagination surrounding my thought with the opportunity to taste the homemade food of mom after a grueling 119 days. My taste buds were almost dead and my stomach seemed to be a garbage can. Mal nutrition was sweeping in slowly, I looked like one of those boys in Somalia where leave alone food, even a glass of water was hard to find. No doubt the snap taken by a journalist of one such boy won the national geographic award for the best picture portraying the state of affairs in that country. My tummy was peeping out due to the erratic eating habit of mine topped by the high class international chefs at our guest house in Paradeep.
Being a marine engineer, I was recruited by the ports trust of India and immediately deputed at paradeep. It was a comedy of errors when I was first informed about the posting. Vaguely I remembered of being heard about a place called Paradeep during my school days; reckon it was the geography class. Being a travelling junky I fetched my map and started to browse about the east coast. Initially I thought that Paradeep was actually paradwip and was satisfied to head start my career in a place which was surrounded by water all around. Seriously, that is what is given in the atlas, it an island for the publishers. Staying away from home was not an issue for me and thus I didn’t alter my mindset.
I planned to visit the places of interest in Orissa such as the great Jaganath temple in Puri, the sun temple at Konark, the largest salt water lake in India the Chilka lake and the rural Orissa less travelled and explored by the common man. Photography was an inherited hobby of mine and I utilized the lessons to the best of my skill. The thing with Orissa is that it has huge chunks of iron ore deposits and Paradeep is the focal point for the export of this ore to major countries like china and Russia. Working at the port is like walking around in the Sahara desert with sand storm making life even more miserable. No doubt by the time I am heading back to the guest house my body is painted maroon with the song of ‘Maroon 5’ “I won’t go home without you” at the back of mind.
It was the offset of summer when I joined and the fields around the railway track were barren and dry. Having to reach Paradeep I had to make a transit journey from either Bhubaneshwar or Cuttack. The 30 hour long journey from Bangalore to Bhubaneswar seemed to be an unending journey. It was as if I was on a space mission to mars with a quarter of my life being spent in a space shuttle travelling around meteors and extraterrestrials.
To add to the cerebral dysfunction at that moment our train halted at Vizag with rumors flowing around about a train derailment in the route we were supposed to pass through. It was an opportunity in disguise to me and I quickly made a dash outside the railway station. I suffer from a chronic illness and had to get the medicine desperately. Gasping for breath I had a long stare at the carriageway about the direction in which I had to proceed. At a few hundred meters there was light, a bright light bringing respite to my soul. I hopped onto the pavement and the thought of losing the train at the back of mind; I reached my destination like a sprinter competing against Usain Bolt in the final of Olympic.
“Ek packet badi gold flake dena bhaiya” (one packet large gold flake brother) I muttered to the pan shop vendor. There was no response from the opposite party as I gasped for the polluted carbon monoxide filled atmospheric air. I repeated the sentence twice and then came to senses that it was Andhra Pradesh. Quickly sparing no time I utilized my dumb charades skill and brought a packet of impotency causing, cancer generating tobacco and ran back to the station. As I made my way through the crowd I pondered upon a station master. Enquiring him about the delay in services, I was left with another jaw dropping response. The train was delayed for a full 2 hour.
Killing time was like a no submission wrestling match with the delay now indefinite. After an excruciating 6 hour delay finally our train resumed service with the honking and screeching sound of the engine. Penaltimately I reached Bhubaneswar the following morning with a complete 14 hour beyond schedule.
I had to board the next train to Paradeep at 7:30 am that morning and our train from Bangalore reached Bhubaneswar at 7:00 am. A frenzy search for the train among 10 platforms resulted in me missing the train narrowly. I had to wait another 4 hours at the platform for a passenger train to my destination. However, with a bit of scuffle here and there I reached Paradeep two hours past noon only to find in amusement that there was no freaking platform in Paradeep. I wondered I was stepping into a crevice while alighting from the train; the ground below was some 5 feet away from the footboard of the train. God o mine I was having the worst nightmare of my life.
The following 119 days at Paradeep was a battle of odds and each day I convinced myself that I was the great warrior hector from the movie troy. Initially my perspective about Orissa was that it was an under-developed state but after spending some time with the people out there I felt that it was not the state which is under-developed but rather it was the people residing there. There is an opposition to change. People want to be the same as their ancestors and are reluctant to any sort of revolution. Whatever it is, personally Orissa is a beautiful state to visit and stay. The people of Orissa are extremely friendly and co-operative. At some point of time I even had a notion that it was a girl from Orissa with whom I would tie the holy knot of marriage.
By the time I reached the station at Bhubaneswar there was dense population at the platform.I cursed my fate and thought that at least this time round the train would arrive in time. My fate changed its usual course and smiled upon my miseries. The train arrived within normal deviation timing and there I was on my way back to home, sweet home.
Monsoon was over and its usual path from south west to north east was covered successfully that year. The fields were at their peak with lush green grass all around. The sheer joy of the scenery was splendid and the experience of watching Orissa in a completely different scenario was breath taking. The fields were filled with water everywhere and the mountains covered with thick moss. People practicing pond culture was a new sight as our train paused around the scenic beauty of Orissa.
The serenity all around such as the water logged fields, the huts constructed of mud and coconut leaves, cattle grazing upon the freshly grown grass, breeding season puppies playing around with their mother, thick clouds brushing against mountain top, unique texture and shine of the rocks which is so natural. All these scenes had me rejuvenated from the disastrous life that not only me but almost everybody experience once out of college and into a seat less occupied.
By the time I disembarked upon the platform of Kurda road railway station, the platform was echoing with noises all around. There I was unnoticed and indifferent to everyone else. The air around was fresh with a few pretty girly faces making the atmosphere even more pleasant. I assume it was the crossing point for another train and our express train halted there for a good half hour. With the motivation of having to watch some more pretty faces I loitered along the platform with glimpses of tea vendors selling tobacco at the platform itself. Unable to resist the thought of having to keep a buffer stock I made my way to a vendor and enquired about the price. The prices were exorbitantly leveraged with a clause stating that no loose ones available, only full packet.
I said chuck it; anyway I had some remaining and convinced myself that I’ll push it somehow. As our train began to pull out from the station I resumed my reading streak with Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of poppies’. I guess the only moment of silence during the entire trip was only during the night hours after 11 pm. All day long there were pantry attendants making their rounds with eatables and beverages. The entire episode was a mish mash like that at the ticket counter of a film theatre.
As I was reading there was a short yet determined stature moving along the pathway in our boogie. As the figure moved closer, I recognized that it was a boy without any shirt, crawling along the pathway. The kid must have been around 10-12 years and was pale brown. He was wearing a dark grey trouser which without doubt was not of his size, with a jute rope tied along his waist. Throughout the compartment no one noticed him talking and it was a silent affair all around.
No wonder even I didn’t recognize him speaking as the kid never opened his mouth. Silently he would sweep the floor with his shirt without troubling any other passenger on board and would slowly lift his hand in the direction of each commuter pausing for some time. Some people remunerated the child while some others like me just gave a awkward gesture with the slight tilting of the neck signaling to move forward.
The kid was approaching towards me with a slow yet brisk pace as I lay unmoved in my birth with various thoughts swirling like that of the rainbow; different colors yet distinctive ones. The kid was expressionless probably gathered and experienced in the profession he was. I imagined what would be the probable number of such children all throughout. For the first time I felt weak at math without any conclusive value being arrived at. The kid upon reaching our cabin initially gave a wild stare at me and then followed his routine to clean the floor. I was taken aback with my usual reasoning ability queing my mind with questions to which I had no answers. Why did the kid stare at me? What is the kid trying to say or communicate? What is the kid depressed about? Why is he not speaking to anyone? What is he more worried about, life or death? Does he have parents if not then who are his guardians? Family, home?
I was bewildered by the fact that the boy was emotionless, he undoubtedly was focused in whatever he pursued. Probably he could have been far better had he to be born in a family more supportive. As he cleaned the floor there were passengers hushing him forward as he finally approached me. I was sympathetic but at the same time I was helpless. I guess all that the boy expected from a hard day’s work was a good meal at the end of day. I had to see what the kid was seeing. I wanted to freeze the moment and for a moment wished to experience what it would be like had I to be the same. I wouldn’t have dared to lead a life so excruciatingly painful each moment, each hour, each day.
As we exchanged glances there was nothing I could have done to help him be it temporary or permanent. He waved his hand for a couple of times and in a moment of desperation moved ahead to the next compartment. I was left aghast with seemingly unending queries and counter queries, for at that moment I was pushing myself a bit close to the edge of cliff.
By dusk the feeling was vary and the whole episode was fading away like I was some kind of amnesia patient. I didn’t want to stress myself and hence went back to continue reading till it was time for bed. Following morning I reached Bangalore to a warm reception by mom and sister at the station. Felt as if I had returned from the great world war. I had a splendid Diwali back home with sweets made by mom. All the time somewhere at the corner of heart and mind I had a concern for the boy whom I couldn’t have helped. I had to decipher the cause for concern but I pledged to do it once I returned to duty. There was a slight deviation in my otherwise varying thought process.
After a couple of weeks of returning to work I was finally finding my way to the hidden clue to the concern. It was not money, not help nor was it sympathy that the boy was asking. It was pure HOPE that the boy asked. It was that hope which carried him forward each time when some one chucked him. A hope which had transformed him to be more deterministic in life. A small boy having nothing, no home to stay, no friends to play, no school for basic education but he had just one tiny thing magnified to the core of it. On the other hand, we being so self sufficient lack that tiny bit of hope to achieve what we really desire to become. The same opportunity provided to the boy would have proved wonders. This is what we all are lacking today, the hope to move forward and the determination to conquer the unconquered. For the boy it could have been by the fumbles and tumbles he had to witness at a so very young age, it was more out of need and compulsion rather than experience.
If it is not for others, at least have it for you, it’s like self help. Ambitions and aspirations are two different things but when clubbed with the word HOPE they both assume the same course of travel with enhanced performance of the product.