It was a chilly but surprisingly pleasant October night in Jhalawar, a quaint little town. It was quite late at night. In the chillness of the silence, the whole town seemed asleep. The only corner where a handful were up and about, was the Jhalawar Railway Station. One could hear faint music playing from a black, ancient and dilapidated radio at the ‘Lazawab tea stall’. The owner was seated around a few people and chatting his time away while dipping Parle-G into his tea cup.
A while later, a local bus stopped right outside the station in the parking lot near the tea stall. As the bus stopped, the conductor announced, “Railway station” and a man got off the bus with a small bag in his hand. The bus moved on while the man started walking towards the tea stall.
“Tea,” said the man while placing his tiny bag on the bench with utmost care. The vendor poured him a cup of hot tea from his kettle and asked nonchalantly, “Are you going towards Mandi?” The man nodded. He picked his cup, his bag and headed for the station area. At the ticket counter, he saw a man reclining on a chair, snoring loudly. Knocking on the glass between them, he made himself audible, “Sir! One ticket for Mandi”. The man woke up lazily, yawned for an epoch, scratched his belly and handed out a ticket. “There you go! 58 Rupess,” the sloth said. Collecting the ticket, Kamal asked the ticket agent, “What time will the train arrive? Is it late?” The man behind the glass sarcastically replied, “It will come when it has to. It only stops for two minutes but don’t worry it’s a train, so it will be quite visible”.
After a not so cordial exchange of information with the ticket agent, Kamal sat on the platform bench.
Sipping his tea at a rather desolate platform, Kamal thought to himself, “What a quarter it has been!” Indeed, the last three months had been very rewarding for Kamal. He had sold a good number of policies in the neighbouring towns. He was waiting for the train to reach Mandi, where he would submit all the documents and receive a hefty commission for all the hard work he had put in. Brimming with optimism, he had already started planning on using the extra money to start a new life in Mandi, where he would settle with his family. Reaching for his bag, he took out a file which had all the paperwork and began to arrange the pile. Attentive to the breeze at the station, he reached into his pockets to withdraw his mobile phone and wallet. Using them as paperweights, he began rearranging the papers. With every paper he saw, his flight of fancies gained height. Done with the task, he neatly punched them into a cheap, paperback file and placed it inside the bag. Thereafter, he put his prized bag on the edge of the bench and rested his head on it while laying down to catch a quick nap. As he laid back on the bench, he saw a few dogs barking and engaged in a scrimmage near the stairs. Startled, he placed the bag in his lap. A few minutes later, he rushed for the washroom.
Stepping inside, he found it pitch dark inside. He lit his mobile torch. On exploring the washroom, he found it much like his own past, bereft of any light. Having failed to spot a dry spot to place his bag, he tucked it beneath his right armpit and set the mobile between his jaws. With such a meticulous arrangement in place, he began to pee in a urinal without a pipe. Sensing the droplets crashing on the floor and coming onto his pants and shoes, he gasped in disgust and backed off. It was a costly gasp and the disgust exacerbated. He had dropped his cell phone in the urinal. Grabbing his pants, he cursed himself and shifted to another urinal to relieve the rest inside. He zipped his pants and went back to the scene of crime. Twitching his face, he groped for the device rather carefully. Picking it between his thumb and index finger, he rushed to the wash basin. Two paltry drops came out of the tap before it turned into a Thar, stripped of water. Frustrated, he cursed loudly at his own helplessness.
Once out of the washroom, he spotted a freight train with tons of coal pulling into the platform he sat. He ignored the train and headed for the tea stall to get some water to cleanse himself. To his dismay, the stall was now shut. Steeped in the valleys of self-pity, he heard another train approaching the station. As the whistle blew, he watched the freight train bidding farewell to the train to Mandi that had begun to pull into the platform but the opposite one. And in a flash, he recalled the ticket agent saying, “It only stops for two minutes”. Like a fugitive from police, he dashed for the stairs. As he began his climb, he saw the same pack of dogs, bolting in all ferocity, towards him.
Terrified, he quickened his pace and widened his strides. Nonplussed and frantic, Kamal could feel himself cut through the breeze. Panting in the burden of his belly, he slowed a little and the canine goons caught up. One of them jumped at him but failed to strike. Kamal, with arms flailing, kept running as he screamed for help. By the time he had reached the overbridge, one of the dogs was right beside him. Using his bag to make a preemptive strike, Kamal lifted it to push the dog away. As he did so, the bag accidentally slipped and owing to the breeze, gained momentum in its flight. It had now landed inside the last bogey of the departing freight train.
Despondent, Kamal saw his bag leave packed with all his dreams and hopes.