Thursday, November 15, 2007

Land of the Brave!

Nana was living in fear – not fear of death or fear of something major; there was a stretch of train travel in the (infamous) Mumbai suburban train that he loathed – he loathed himself for being afraid. Nana (alias Narayan Iyer s/o Shri. Sivasankaran Iyer, the late priest at the Guruvayoor temple) had been a sheltered son of a very orthodox family down south. He had finished his B.Sc. and after trying for work in and around his native town without much success he landed in the big bad world of Mumbai in search of job – that was in January, nearly 6 months ago. He got one, as a technician in one of the Pharma factories at the suburbs, that paid for his living in a one-room shanty with shared toilet and bath room – more importantly, it helped him to save some money and send it back home to his widowed mother and younger sister.

Nana was scared about Mumbai – he had heard stories about how cold the city could be and how mirthless it is – where people go about doing what they do without bothering about someone’s plight. Coming from a villagish-town it was a huge culture shock for Nana. However, around after the 3rd month he had learned to cope with Mumbai. It certainly did not win him over, but he found ways to co-exist with it – it was symbiotic, he thought remembering his 12th standard biology – he needed Mumbai for the survival of his family and Mumbai needed people like him to remain aloof, cold and ruthless. He was insignificant; but by end of first month it had stopped bothering him to an extent and he knew he was becoming one among them. Even in the local train that took him to and from his job, he found people doing their own thing or on the opposite end of the spectrum sticking to the same group. He tried smiling at someone who seemed regular but couldn’t strike up a conversation due to his limited knowledge of Hindi. He then decided it was better to shut-up and not let people know that he was an outsider without the knowledge of Hindi or Marathi.

But then disaster struck. Someone seemed to take attention of him – in a way that Nana did not foresee or ever want. There was this tough looking man wearing a pyjama-kurta and his two cronies who seemed to find Nana’s nervous quietness funny. Initially, indirectly and then directly – they had started bullying him in one way or the other; more so after they found he was an outsider. Nana tried to switch compartments and avoid them. It worked for a week, but then they found him; the same about missing the train – did work for a while, but then it always came back to the same thing. Once they found him waiting for the train to go, got down and told him in no uncertain terms that he needs to take the train that they are in…

Since then, Nana lived in fear. He talked to someone at work, but didn’t help. He thought of changing his residence so that he doesn’t have to take that suburban train, but just couldn’t afford a place anywhere in the city. He was ashamed of his cowardice and lack of courage to stand up to those bullies; He also hoped that someone would come in his aid and help him out. But none did – its Mumbai and more importantly, it was not a movie.

Today he was returning from work – the July weather, matched his mood – seemed morose and threatened the evening with rain. He did not see the goons yet. He chose a place to sit that had his back turned towards the door with a hope that he would escape notice. The train had stopped in Borivli – out of the corner of his eye he saw the main-goon with his usual smirk and unlit beedi climb on to the train. Nana’s heart sank…

Nana further shrunk in his seat and waited for the inevitable tap on the head and the wicked grin. He didn’t get any – maybe the train was crowded enough for the goon to wade his way back to him, maybe goon had a change of heart, Nana hoped. As Nana waited, he felt a blow to his body, much more than what he had expected – he was stunned for a moment; then he lost his consciousness. When he regained it, he was completely disoriented, there was thick smoke and the compartment was in ruins. They were body lying all around; he heard screaming all around and people scrambling out. He quickly understood that a bomb had gone off and ripped through the compartment; along with the crowd and in the chaos he rushed out. Now outside, Nana’s instinct told him to run for safety, since there were screams that there could be more bombs inside. He found himself unhurt, by God’s grace and he thanked God (“Guruvayoorappa”) quickly and started to walk away – he wanted to be as much far away as possible when the next bomb went off.

For some reason, he turned back one more time – he saw the goon down on the floor, very much bleeding, very much conscious and very much in pain, with a piece of twisted metal over him. For the first time, in the Nana saw there was no bravado in Goon’s eyes, but a pleading and panic. Nana hesitated for a minute, flash of thought around God’s ways ran through his mind; “God’s ways”, it struck him – he climbed back in. He quickly inspected the goon’s condition – he seemed ok – there has been big injury to his arm and it was ripped away, but his legs seemed in good condition; and there was bleeding from the stomach, with a big ugly open wound. Nana told the goon to lie still (not sure if he was heard), tried to wrench the twisted metal away – he couldn’t and muttered aloud about being a vegetarian! He, also assessed that he cannot carry the weight of the goon; he decided to drag the goon under the metal to the door-way by his legs. He told the goon what he was going to do in broken Hindi; At the door-way, he let the goon’s legs dangled out, he pulled the goon to sit-up tilted him on his back and carried him out 20 meters away and dropped him on the ground, as yet another tiny blast went off inside.

Nana looked down at the goon. There was gratitude in those eyes; Not sure if those eyes saw fear in Nana’s eyes. Not today, as Nana turned to see if there was someone else he could help with…

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

good one..but somehow this time the end was very predictable...missed the usual twist :) ...ramesh

Anand said...

A nice one - good observation on human emotions and fears.

Anonymous said...

As usual a good one.. But this is exactly how a non mumbaiite would "see" Bombay. This could have happened anywhere in the world.Bombay is no different from any other place...Mumbaikar is no different from anyone elsewhere.. It/he/she has its/his/her own character, goodness,negative points etc...etc....
by, you know who

EnGeetham aka "My Song!" said...

4Ramesh: Thanks - this one was about inner fears :) - like you said all of us at one time have been the Nana, before and after :)

4Anand: Thanks, exactly my choice of words...

4Anon: You know what I was going to end it this way - "...And Nana had become the typical Mumbaikar!!" - but that would be giving too much credit to Mumbai !! :)