Jun 22, 2012

A man in uniform

There was a huge crowd at the Gandhi Mandapam bus stop when I reached. 21G, the Tambaram bound bus didn't arrive for the past half an hour, I gathered from a stranger who was waiting to board the same bus.

Knowing that the next few buses would be filled to the brim, I decided to wait and thought about various ways to kill my time. At a corner of the bus stop, I noticed a soup seller who was doing good business, thanks to the overwhelming crowd. I walked to the mobile soup shop and found a slate on which the soup seller had written the varieties that were on offer for that day.

"Vegetable soup, Plantain pith soup, Mushroom soup. Each for Rs. 10 only", the notice said. I ordered a plantain pith soup for myself and observed the seller. He appeared to be in his late thirties, with a thick mustache and curly hairs which had just started to gray. He took my order with a smile on his face, picked up a plastic cup, stirred the soup in a steel pot and filled the cup till it was nearly full. He then peppered the top and dressed it with corn flakes.

"Good evening Sir!", the soup seller addressed a man in uniform while he was serving my soup. "Plantain pith soup is on the menu, Sir. Would you like to have a cup today?", he asked. The man in uniform approved the offer with a nod.

By the time the man in uniform parked his bike nearby and walked to the mobile shop, the soup seller had kept the soup ready for him. "Parcel a cup of vegetable soup", he ordered while he was still savoring the plantain pith soup.

"Will men in uniform have a commanding voice even when they are off duty?", I wondered.

After having the soup, the man in uniform collected the parcel, took his bike and fled. When I was about to ask the soup maker "Did he pay his bill?", he muttered under his breath, "these type of people should be stoned to death in public", venting out his anger.

"Last week, he charged me Rs. 400 for skipping a signal! I even showed him all the documents I had, you know?", a stranger who had ordered a soup joined the row. The stranger finished his soup, threw the plastic cup in a fenced area, paid his bill and left. I overlooked the pile of used plastic cups to find a notice board that says "Thiyagigal Manimandapam", a memorial for freedom fighters.

I paid my bill and was about to leave when I asked the soup seller, "Why didn't you ask him to pay his bill?"

"He will ask me to leave this place", he said in a casual tone.

When I asked him why, he replied, "I don't have a permit to run my shop here!".

Jun 18, 2012

The Waiting Hall

The time was 10 P.M when I arrived at the Bengaluru city junction. The auto in which I came dropped me near the entrance leading to a staircase. With not much luggage to carry, I swiftly climbed the steps to reach the platform number 1. The Kaveri express in which I had made my booking was scheduled to arrive only at 11.45 P.M! After mentally noting down the platform number in which the Kaveri express would arrive, I walked towards the second class passengers waiting hall.

The second class passengers waiting-hall was a class below compared to a similar hall for the ones who had made their bookings to travel in air-conditioned coaches. While AC passengers waiting-hall was maintained nearly spotlessly clean, the second class passengers waiting-hall welcomed me with a pile of dirt! The pile, as the room keeper would explain to me later, was tossed by fellow passengers despite having a dustbin inside!

I entered my ticket details in a ledger maintained by the room keeper, walked into the room, managed to find a decent spot and had a seat. Behind me, a fellow passenger was sleeping by combining 3 chairs together that formed a bed-like arrangement.

As I sat down and started reading a book, a girl in her early twenties entered the waiting hall. She glanced around the hall trying to make a judgment whether to stay or leave. Not finding enough of female companions around, she turned to leave the place when she heard the room keeper saying "Please take the next room, madam. It's the waiting hall for women passengers". She thanked him and left the room.

Announcements were made for various trains that were either originating or passing through the city junction, which kept a steady flow of passengers in and out of the waiting hall. An elderly couple, who had made their booking in a train that would depart the next day morning made their way through the waiting-hall and found an empty spot behind the last row of chairs.

By the time they reached the spot, the old lady was tired that she was gasping to breathe. They must have walked a long distance, I thought, or maybe it was the staircase that worn them out!

The old man found an empty chair on the last row and sat, while the old lady was sweeping the floor with an old newspaper that she kept folded in her bag. Satisfied with sweeping, she spread the newspaper in the shape of a mattress, took out a folded blanket from her bag and laid on top of it. She then pulled out what seems like one of her own saree from the bag and placed it on top substituting for a pillow.

While I thought she was going to sleep on the bed she had just prepared, I heard a voice yelling at her, "Why are you taking so long to prepare a bed?"

"Its ready my dear", she replied softly, panting a little.

The elderly man got up from his seat, walked towards the comfortable bed his wife had just made, lied down and slept, all the while complaining about the delay in making it. The old lady sat next to him, fanned him for a while, got up and walked towards the chair that her husband occupied a while ago.

"Train number 16221, Mysore to Chennai via Bengaluru, Kaveri express will arrive shortly on platform number 5", the announcement said.