While waiting at the platform 9 of Varanasi Cantonment station I reviewed my situation. 11P.M. and here I was on a windy night, when the train I had to catch departs 1 in the morning; hoping to find a boy I had no business with, braving the bone chilling winds with nothing but a cotton shirt; wet with the unexpected rain which had suddenly poured on unsuspecting people roaming on the portion of the platform which did not have a shed. I was among them. Now half an hour later the winds were taking a toll on my cold prone self. But I knew if I had to find him, it has to be in the open, unshielded from the elements, that\u2019s how he would like to describe himself.
A week ago, at 2 in the morning it was raining. The train had reached its final destination, late by a couple of hours but still well ahead of its redrawn schedule. I stepped on to the same platform. It was slippery and the rains weren\u2019t helping either. The family of five who had journeyed with me from Delhi had decided to stay at the station overnight or wait out the rains. I did not have to worry about that, just a call and the office cab will be there to pick me up. Not that I hadn\u2019t tried to get in touch with them earlier to inform about my early arrival, but the signal reception in the moving train wasn\u2019t great. But there should not be any problem now that I was on the platform. I dialed my office. To my horror a sweet feminine voice told me that I did not have minimum balance to make a call. NO. It can\u2019t be; not unless all the calls I had made from aboard the train had connected with both sides being inaudible to each other. That was a probability. Not a problem, there had to be a public phone at the station. I found one not far from where I was standing. I took out a rupee coin. Just then the man from the adjacent tea stall sat up from his reclined posture smiled and said, \u201cChaalu nahin hai Saab, barsaat mein line bigad gai hai, chai
Shaking off the thoughts from my mind, I wondered how many cups of tea this phone had helped him to sell and answered in the affirmative. Didn\u2019t know if it was the weather or the weariness but the tea tasted better and cheaper at Rs. 2. I bought a packet of biscuits and found a bench nearby and sat down to think what to do next. The rains had intensified and their roaring sound had well
left behind Tagore\u2019s mild tapur tupur. Just then a skinny boy in white shirt and blue knickers walked towards me and smiled. He was drenched and carried something in his right hand. Although his frail figure made him appear much younger but he must have been at least 12. I dragged my bag towards myself to make room, in case he wanted to sit down. He did and smiled at me once again. Now I HAD to ask him and he did say yes to a cup of tea. We sat down together and shared the biscuits. He told me that he sold datuns. We talked for almost half an hour during which he told me about his tree climbing skills and that only village people buy his datuns and complain of over charging. In my turn I told him about some of my childhood incidents and my recent trip to Australia which brought on the subject of foreigners whom he had, on more than one occasion, been able to sell the datun for Rs. 10 a piece and seemed pretty much proud of the fact. Just then an SMS from my service provider enlightened me about their latest recharge options; I took a deep sigh at my helplessness. Before I could curse them, the man of my journey- mate family came. We exchanged pleasantries. He needed my phone for a moment. Bas relatives ko
remarks. I could have straightaway told him about the balance in my phone and outgoing incapacity but he had seen me dialing ferociously on the train so I thought it better to let him see it himself.
\u2018I don\u2019t have ba\u2026.\u2019 I was about to complete my sentence when I saw the screen showing Rs. 56 to my account, confused I gave him the phone. He made his call and returned the phone. I knew from the smiling face of the boy that I had an awkward look on my face. I had heard of such mistakes on the part of service providers but it was the first time this had happened to me
The train was now on the platform but it won\u2019t be before half an hour that it moves. My luggage was on board. I was fast losing any hopes of meeting the boy. I got a cup of tea and helped myself to some biscuits. Maybe he\u2019ll appear this time too. He did not.
I was going to my aunt on a regular visit. Her home was an hour of smooth drive from my workplace. But this time around, the traffic was heavier than usual and moving slowly till it came to a stop. Had it not been for the pleasant cloudy weather, I would have been shouting at the
people ahead me. It was a habit I picked up in Delhi and found it quite useful there. It was then that I spotted him making his way through the maze of vehicles stranded in the traffic. At first, I only felt I had seen him. Where? When? I could not recollect. Then, he saw me too and smiled. That was it. I knew that smile and smiled back. This probably prompted him to come up to me. \u201cAage checking ho rahi hai, police gaadiyan rok rahi hai isisliye jam laga hai\u201d, he told me. I would not have reacted to the unsolicited information, but something in the back of my mind told me to be worried. \u201cKya main andar baithoon?\u201d That was a daring question. I would have turned him away, but the sheer courage on his part to be able to ask me the question prevented me from doing so. I opened the door for him. I tried hard to figure out why I was having that \u2018turn back and run away\u2019 feeling. I was pushing my mind to remember something, but what? The boy was making it more difficult. \u201cMera ghar yahan se thoda aage hai, main to paidal hi chala jata par phir aap dikh gaye\u201d. What did he think of me? A cabby, a do-gooder or a friend. I desisted from further thinking and gave him my ears. \u201cAbhi paint kharidne aya tha par rang khatm ho gaya. Ghar ka darwaaza rang rahen hain,
lived, with his uncle, a weaver by profession, and a younger brother. The brother used to go to school till very recently, but had to discontinue after the death of their aunt and cousin which had destabilized the uncle mentally. He could not remember well and had frequent short term memory losses and cried almost all the time. The boys used to lock him up whenever they ventured out for his own safety. Poor fellow.
The traffic started to move slowly now. This was relieving. I had some packing to do and wanted this particular visit to be short and quick. That was the reason I used my brother\u2019s new car instead of my old warhorse Maruti 800 which had been giving me odd troubles lately. Now I remembered, I had taken my driving license out of the M800 and placed it on the table so that I don\u2019t forget to take it with me in the new car. I distinctly remember seeing it on the table when I fastened my shoelaces but had no memory of picking it up. The check post was just two cars away and there was no question of turning back now. A hawaldar came round, looked at me apparently oblivious to Smshaad\u2019s presence and asked for the car\u2019s papers. Just for the sake that I do not say \u2018I don\u2019t have it\u2019 plainly; I put my hand in the dashboard locker and produced the car\u2019s papers.
To my utter amazement, there within the folds of papers was my driving license. I did not know how it got there. He casually inspected them and returned them to me. Whatever happened to my \u2018remembering distinctly\u2019, I just put it all aside and gave out a silent sigh of relief. \u201cShayad
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