“Write a composition on ‘An hour at the railway station.'”
“What the hell! Again?!”
My interjection was valid, even though it was just in my thoughts; our teachers had probably ran out of ideas about topics to write essays on. I may have been wrong, but any student writing essays on the same subject every year since 3 years would feel the same as I did. I mean, how come something at a damn railway station could possibly be worth writing about? I used to travel from my school in CST to Mumbra every day. I couldn’t control my urge to get on a train after barely 5 minutes, such was the monotony. Trains were only slightly better. Except huge crowds, high decibel quarrels and the never-ending blabber of office-goers (I couldn’t afford a walkman in those days and mobile phones and MP3 players were only objects of fantasy, so I learnt to endure), there was hardly a single thing worthy of being described in words. I would still try to imagine being a youth who had nothing better to do than observing a railway platform.
Fortunately, I do not have to any longer do that. I do travel over a long distance each day (Ambernath to Vikhroli). Railway stations are pretty boring still, apart from some few instances. I ended up writing my first blog post about one such instance. But there was another one which left a far deeper impact on me.
It was the month of Ramadan and like every year, I decided it was better to get off at Mumbra (a station right in the middle of my journey) for evening prayers. It helped me being on schedule and making sure prayers weren’t missed. It is the time of the year when I suddenly become very spiritual and religious. I rarely get so worried about these things otherwise. And I admit, it is a shame. I was standing on the platform one evening, waiting for my usual Badlapur train. Like every day, there was nothing interesting happening and I fiddled with my cellphone. There were 3 trains to halt there before mine arrived, and the first one just came in.
“Kya yeh Badlapur train hai?” (Is this the Badlapur train?)
I looked at the source of the voice. It was a man, a very old man. He must have been in his 80s. I noticed his clothes – he wore a torn-and-stitched-numerous-times kurta-pyjama, with a torn waistcoat on top of it. The only bit of cloth on his frail body that was not restitched was his prayer cap. He had a small beard which seemed to have lost a lot of hair. I noticed he was murmuring something, and paused to inquire once again.
“Badlapur ki train hai?”
“Nahin, baba, Dombivili ki hai” (No, old man, this is a train to Dombivili), I answered.
“Shukriya! Khuda aapko iski Jazaa de!” (Thank You! May God reward you for helping me), he said.
He had a rough voice, may be because he had cold. He coughed intermittently and cleared his throat every few minutes. He carried a little bag on his shoulder, but it did not seem to contain much. He had a cane that helped him balance himself. Between coughs and clearing his throat, he kept murmuring inaudibly. I couldn’t help notice that all this while, he kept looking straight ahead, with his staff helping him stand. I realized he was blind.
I kept the phone in my pocket and I felt it was better to help him find a place to sit. He did not want to, though. “Saara din toh baitha hi rehta hun bheek maangne ke liye…” (I keep sitting the entire day while I beg), he said in his rough voice. I left him alone and watched him from a distance. He kept murmuring, and other people watched him, too. Though he wasn’t begging now, some individuals came forward and offered him alms. I went to him and kept a ten rupee note in his hand. He said ‘Bismillah’ (I begin in the name of God) and took the money and put it in his waistcoat pocket.
The Badlapur train arrived, and I helped him get in through the crowd, all the way inside. I asked a commuter to get up and let the old man sit. He readily obliged. I stood near the old man and tried to absorb the pushes that the old man would get from the crowd. He sat and continued to murmur. After Kalyan (a major station) passed, most of the crowd got off and I got a seat right beside him. For the first time during this entire journey, I looked at him closely. I knew he was very old, but he looked even older now. His face was a maze of wrinkles, his eyes did not exist, and he had no teeth. And he kept murmuring. I tried to listen what it was, and as soon as I did, I was really amazed. The man was praying.
When we reached Ambernath, we spoke properly for the first time. I asked him where he lived, to which he mentioned a very distant part of the town (I cannot clearly remember the name). He told me he lived with his wife and sister in a small hut. He had no children and the children of his sister had thrown her out of the house. Since there was no one else to look after them, the blind old man had to resort to begging. But after every few sentences and some coughing, he would state that God has been kind and he was thankful that he could still pray and earn.
“Khuda ka shukr hai, kuchh na hone se toh behtar hi hai!” (I am thankful to God that this is better than nothing at all), he said, with his smiling face looking into the nothingness in front of him. I helped him board a rickshaw and paid the fare beforehand. That was the least I could do for him. As I bid farewell to the old man, he held my hand and said a small prayer, a prayer I could not hear but feel. My eyes were dampened a bit. I felt sad – Not about this old man having to work at this age in this condition. I was sad about myself. I felt sad about the world.
We keep cribbing about the absence of little things in our lives and behave as if God has been unjust towards us. We pray to God and thank Him only on special occasions. But there are people who never forget Him, who have much less than what we have and are still thankful for whatever little their fate allows them to hold on to. Every idle moment, that man prayed. Despite being old and unable to see, he thanked God for keeping him able enough to feed his old wife and sister. He never complained. I am sure these moments in my life would have made a great composition for my school. It made me believe that may be not an hour, but a few minutes on a railway station or a train are worth living, not just writing about. I never met the old man again and I do not know what he prayed for me. But whatever it was, it made me a better human being.
Thank you, God.