The sea of human beings stared and wobbled, as the train chugged into the station. The clock in the station master’s room struck. 1900 hours. The cool evening breeze blew, forcing everyone to wrap their arms and clothes around themselves.
And then, the sea began to pour forth, bursting at the seams. All hell broke loose, with every passing moment. People scrambling to get aboard the train…young mothers scurrying with young ones in tow; families clinging together for fear of losing sight of their loved ones…still jostling ahead, for a foothold’s worth of space-on the platform and the train.
Once on board, a different world on wheels awaited every passenger. No space to stand; leave alone walk to reach your seat. The train was filled cheek by jowl with people wrestling to make way…and get some place to lodge themselves. Scary, for the sheer numbers that were in; unreserved, and they were in; reserved, and they tried to get in; some trying their luck to get in; some cursing theirs for having to let “it” go. The Railway Police Force did not show up…nor did the station authorities. What could they have done? The power of multitudes, is a fear (for the one who fails in his duty) to reckon with!
It was a cold evening in early February this year.
After a lot of shuffling, wrestling, and word mongering did everyone get on to the train. Now, how does one get to the designated seat? How does one move. Well, push came to shove. Lo and behold, everyone managed to fit in.
As the train chugged out of the station, chaos and anxiety was writ large on every passenger’s face. More than half the people onboard travelled without a ticket, unreserved, and with sheer grit, bordering solely on Faith. They had to get off at Allahabad…to take a dip in the holy waters of the Ganges; on the most auspicious day of the year~ Mauni Amavasya. Time it takes to reach there by train from Varanasi? About two and a half hours. Time that train took? Five and a half. All trains ran thus…all passengers inconvenienced: those who missed theirs, ones who got on with Hope of reaching for the holy dip on time, and those who got on to any which way.
While I can’t represent the voice of people aboard that train, I can speak for myself…and spell my thoughts on this out. Here are a few:
My first thought was of utter disdain and anger. How can we let people, who have no business being there, in?!? What a poor facility management. What ruckus. Damn you!
As the train covered a kilometer or two, quarrels and verbal duels rent the air. I tried to steer clear… anger mounting. Huddled into one corner of discomfort, I sat through those five and a half hours; tried telling people to not squat on the floor… or to mind their elbows and luggage loosely tied together in bundles.
After a few kilometers more, I thought, what made these people board a train that they knew would be full of people, who would dislike their presence? Be full of disdain towards them? Furthermore, what made them sit patiently, in one corner, just smiling back to everyone and anyone who was rude to them? My heart went out to them. Not once did they talk back; never did they argue. Yes, they knew they had no business being there, but there they were, riding high on the waves of their Faith; and on Hope, that they will make it.
My conversations with a few revealed they had been journeying for close to two-three days now. They had been afoot for more than 48 hours! Slowly, some passengers stopped spewing venom at them. Perchance they realised what drove this lot.
At 0130 hours when the train arrived at Allahabad, all of them got off the train…as if keen to move to their ‘aim’. The rest of my journey was beset with discomfort…but that did not matter to me. I thought, and some more, of these people I just rubbed shoulders with.
Their Faith and Hope were two factors that aided them. They were the reasons why the people did not shout back, or give in to their fellow passengers’ coaxing. Not, the fact, that they had no business being there. They were just there for a different purpose. Nothing else mattered.
The next day word spread fast that there was a stampede at the railway station. True to their lot, the newspapers threw up pictures that elicited sympathy, fear and pain from the readers. My thoughts went to my co-passengers from the previous day.
A few questions, remain with me: when authorities know it for a fact that this is to happen, why not plan for it in advance? Perhaps the answer lies in the sheer multitudes of our country; perhaps, in the inability and lack of foresight of those in power.
P.S: Am glad this post sees the light of the day. It stayed half-written, for a few days…and how I writhed in disgust towards self. Everything has a time; A Time when it happens…a book half read, a draft half written…a word untold…comes through, eventually.