The sizzling sun rose through the veil of the serene morning sky bathing the grey envelope with golden brush vanquishing the chunks of scattered clouds that armed like rebels. It was the wrath of the massive and ruthless red sphere of fire that perished the segregated army of darkness.
The top of the dark red, tall and rigid structure read “BARRACKPORE” and the letters continued to enlarge as I approached. As I alighted from the auto-rickshaw, the dazzling sun involuntarily raised my right hand to the forehead providing my eyes a temporary shade. The traffic at Barrackpore had always been in shambles. The traffic signals, the honking of horns, the rush of vehicles and everything seemed futile to the busy as well as not-too-busy pedestrians. I crossed the road and jaywalked to the grand entrance of the Barrackpore Railway Station where the hands on the enormous clock struck 9.
The cacophony of noises at the Barrackpore station had always irked me. I could hear the screeching of the tyres as each car drove in, dropped passengers and raced past. I paused there and glanced at everything that surrounded me. My eyes got fixed on the impoverished families the generations of whom grew up there and expanded their hierarchy, surrendering their livelihood at the mercy of the passer-by. The lenient men would offer them a penny while the rest ignored them completely. Their face sank by poverty, eyes and jaws protruded as if they tried to tell a tale of their plight and agony and their disheveled bodies of skin-and-bone looked pathetic. Men, women and children sprawled on the filthy floor and snored deep in their dreams as if their last night’s sleep had been stolen. Some women strolled around in tattered clothes as they couldn’t afford to buy a new one and some dressed shabbily. The infants lay naked mostly and the children wore rags. A child in the distance frolicked with a discarded, flattened plastic water –bottle. He smashed the bottle repeatedly against the floor and enjoyed watching the rebound that had put a smile across his bleak face. Flies and other insects swirled around the food they devoured, undeterred by the presence of the pathogens. The stray dogs lunged at them when they ate and snarled that scared the children but, the elders shooed them away. I stood there numb looking at the frail bodies and their ordeals. They had been hexed. They had been living a life in hell.
The upper half of my body was drenched in perspiration that wore me out and stained parts of my shirt white. I trudged to the platform. Multiple fans hung on the wall separated by wide gaps. The dirt and the cobweb on the stainless steel that caged the blades of the fan multiplied for years. The fans were inclined at an angle such that the breeze would flow down to the passengers that stood in the range comforting them. I looked down and saw tiny circles and ellipses, distorted shapes of white spots in discrete quantities that lay scattered and pasted across the platform. Instantly, I knew what those were – the undigested products of pigeons which they release in the evening and at night. Barrackpore station had been a home to innumerable pigeons that had inhabited there for centuries. Then, there came a man wearing a dilapidated look who swept the dust aside that flew into the air and vanished.
I gazed at the opposite platform. Most of the middle-aged office goers read the vernacular newspaper while some preferred the English daily. The newspaper drew attention of men of varied ages. They came closer to the reader, carefully lifted a page or two to the extent that it did not divert the attention of the person to whom the paper originally belonged and they gleaned.
I paid attention to the motion of the three youths each of whom carried a bag on his shoulder as they came to a stop abruptly. One of them took out a pack of cigarettes from the left pocket of his trousers while the other took out a lighter, lit it and held the flame close to the cigarette. He dragged in the smoke fashionably with pride that filtered his lungs as the two of them watched in wonder. He encouraged the other two to do the same and they obliged. I chuckled at the scene and muttered, “Nice team work guys!” They laughed and chatted until something caught their attention! An appealing and sensuous young lady with confident strides of a corporate woman was walking toward them. She wore a tight-fitted scarlet blouse and blue denims that were faded at her thighs. She let her hair loose which got tangled by the wind that swept through the passage. She ran her fingers through her hair to look perfect. She was fair and appeared slightly taller than average. She wore a heavy makeup that made her glow. Her cheeks had the soft pink touch and her eyes looked impalpable. Her lips were painted with a cherry red lip gloss that parted with a smile. She was a raving beauty. She was aware of the unnecessary stares she drew but, it seemed that she enjoyed it. Jaws of some men dropped to the floor and their eyes sprang out in astonishment. The three boys stood there in stunned disbelief as she walked past them ruminating every inch of her movement with intentions they better knew of. Their eyes rested upon her till she disappeared in the crowd.
Across a bench that was footsteps away from where I stood, were seated a pair of lovers fondling with each other’s hands. The girl made requests to withdraw her delicate hands that were being caressed. She was afraid and shy of getting noticed in the public but, the boy insisted and she agreed. Then, the two palms became one and the warmth between them flew to me and created a void. I swallowed the thought. Minutes later, a young boy and a girl walked toward me clasping each other’s hands, swung them in rhythm and hummed a tune that I didn’t recognize. The emptiness only grew larger. The words tumbled out of my mouth with a note of consolation, “My time would come too…. and I won’t be alone for eternity……..”
The loud speakers at the station screamed the arrival of the train that I had long been waiting for. It was announced that it’d arrive at the opposite platform. I climbed up the stairs of over-bridge that rose from the right. I strode along the length of the fence once I got up and turned to the stairs that descended to the platform. I hurried my steps down and joined the melee. I waited there flanked by impatient and atrocious beasts. The sound of the approaching train alerted my ears and I raised both of my hands slight, bent them a little at the elbow and crouched to take a giant leap preparing myself for a venture.
As I bustled my way through the fierce mob to jump inside the train, something happened! It was fast.... too fast to realize! I rushed inside, stumbled and took a seat. Something on my forehand caught my attention. I felt as if something sharp had scratched my hand. As I looked down with curiosity so as to satisfy myself, I, then, realized what just had happened. Blood was gushing out from the laceration that had appeared in no time and that the abrasion was irresistible. It felt as if a dagger had been plunged and dragged through my hand tearing the muscles apart leaving them wide open. I was helpless, I could do nothing as the train was about to leave in minutes. I placed my palm round the cut clasping it tight and the blood clotted on its own. My voice dropped to a whisper and I asked myself, "How did this happen?" Then, I began recreating the scenes of the last one gruesome minute in my mind and arrived at the conclusion. I had realized everything.... from beginning to end! It was exactly what had happened during the course of entering the train and finding myself a seat that occurred like the flash of lightening. I lingered over the thought of our history and wondered what our forefathers did which is exactly the same as someone either being a poor planner or does things before thinking. We've been burdened with the overwhelming population. The explosive population is one of the major concerns of our nation and has been an obstacle in the steady all round development. And, what happened to me was the consequence of our misfortune that can never be repaired.....
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