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Aaditya and Me by Aditya Joshi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Beggar

Disclaimer: Pure work of fiction

It was 4.00pm - the time when the Mumbai local trains just begin to get full. This is the time when the lazy ones like me love to commute - for this is the latest that you can expect a seat when you are boarding the train at an intermediate station.

The train coach shook left and right as the train moved like a graceful snake taking smooth turns. The compartment of the train that I was sitting in was empty. By Mumbai standards, it means that the seats were all taken but there was no one standing in the corridors.

I was at the seat farthest from the window - the one closest to the corridor. I was oblivious to everything around me as I read this new novel I had bought. To my left sat an elderly gentleman who was flipping through the pages of the afternoon tabloid. Many others in the compartment silently looked at a college-going couple coochie-cooing on the seat at the window. A group of female teachers sat on the seats to my left as they talked about the degrading standard of students in school.

The train halted at Bhandup* as a group of college students boarded the train. A tiny, frail figure followed them. He was hardly three feet tall. His shoulder blades protruded as he walked with a hunched gait. He wore a t-shirt which must have been bright yellow at some point of time - for it was too dull to be of any colour now.

His lips were thick black. His hands were dark and had white patches - probably of a vitamin deficiency. He had overgrown hair that had gone completely out of shape. He was walking barefoot on the dirty floor of the train.

He touched people's knees. When someone would glare back at him, he would frown, place a hand over his barely-there tummy and make gestures asking for food.

Most of them paid no attention - they looked at him through their specs and went back to what they were doing.

The college students who were standing in the corridor kept pointing at each other, "Yeh saahab hai... in se lo!" He moved ahead - he was experienced enough to know that they wouldn't offer him any alms.

The romantic couple saw him - the girl twitched her eyebrows, the boy drew the girl closer to himself. Looks like he just needed a reason.

The group of teachers sighed and looked at each other as he enthusiastically continued the gestures he was trained to do. A teacher reached out for her purse and placed a five-rupee coin on his tiny palm.

He now went to the starched-white-shirt-clad men who offered him a ten-rupee note. He knew they would. He proudly folded the note and kept it in the backpocket of his torn shorts.

Once he had moved along the corridor of the entire compartment, he stood at the door holding it by the handle. His over-sized t-shirt inflated like a tiny parachute as it filled with air. A streak of smile appeared on his pale face.

By then, the train had reached the next station. The little beggar got down from the side where there was no platform. He jumped on the rails, climbed the platform on the other side.

He would now take a train back to Bhandup - where he started from.

He would keep shuttling to and fro between the two stations for the rest of the evening.

(Bhandup is a suburban railway station on the central line.)

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