(A short story based on a true event)
(Names changed to maintain privacy)
Krishna had instructed her very specifically over the phone, “do not get down at Dadar, but at VT.” The two railway stations were 30 kms apart from each other in Bombay – the financial capital of India. For the 19-year-old eloping with her 2-year-old toddler to meet her new found love, the instruction was unimportant. She had acknowledged the instruction many a times, but did not bother to pay acute attention. All that she wanted was to reach Bombay like a scalded cat and start a new life.
Nalini asked her father to go with her as the thought of travelling so far away from home to a new city with her 2-year-old daughter was nerve-wracking. She hailed from an underprivileged family so her parents did not have any problems with her decision to flee from her husband to join someone else, as long as she and her daughter would not be a burden on them. And also, the son-in-law to be, Krishna was a government employee doing quite well for himself. Mr. Pillai had gauged that Krishna might help his family in many ways from getting his other 4 daughters to get married or getting his unemployed sons a job or even just financial help. The very thought made him happy, though it need not be true. ‘Jayanthi Janata’ arrived at Dadar, Nalini, the baby and Mr. Pillai alighted the train. Mr. Pillai confirmed with few people if it was Bombay, and the fellow passengers assured him that it was.
Nalini had adjudged Krishna quite accurately when she was dating him. He was meticulous, he was caring, he was focused, and he would never lie or cheat her. Not spotting him at the station to pick her up as promised did not bother or disturb her. She did not have the courage to doubt her judgment now, in such a situation. She fled from her present husband taking her 2-year-old with her and now she could not find the man in the vicinity who had promised to take care of her and father her child born to another man. She trusted him and hence was unperturbed.
They had arrived at 8 a.m. Their stomachs began rumbling as the clock struck 1. Trains came and went, people boarded and alighted but no sign of Krishna. Nalini kept staring blankly at Trikaya, not taking her eyes off her, not for a second. She was overly possessive of her. Nalini was 17 when she lost her first baby in a small accident because of her carelessness – one of the reasons why bitterness had creeped in her present married life.
“Can you try his phone number once again?” requested Nalini to her father. “I have tried 3 times already, and none is picking up the call,” replied a worried Mr. Pillai. “I will try one last time for your sake,” he added and collected few coins from Nalini and trudged towards the PCO (Public Call Office) that was quite far from the railway station.
It was 2 pm already, and Nalini was slowly losing her hope. She wasn’t feeling sad or weeping but was a little clueless about – what next? Going back to her hometown was the only option she had, but she was very firm on her decision to not go back to her husband-whom she has left behind for good. Her parents would not take her and her daughter in, they already had too many dependents. The thoughts about how she would have to manage her life from hereon on her own were becoming heavier with each passing minute.
The train back to their native place was scheduled to leave at 4.30 pm and it would take another 2 nights of train journey to reach the destination where they had started from just 2 days ago. Mr Pillai gazed at Nalini, with a ‘what now?’ look. They did not have enough money to book a hotel in the new city. And even if they did, what could they do? All that they had was Krishna’s office phone number and nothing else. They did not know the local language nor English. And so, after much thought, Nalini said, “ok Appa, go and book the train tickets – we shall go back.” Mr. Pillai, got up and reconfirmed to make sure it was not his decision but her’s. He looked at her blankly and apologised, “I am sorry Nalini, I don’t have cash on me to buy the tickets – are you carrying enough cash?” Nalini went numb, as she was not carrying much money either. Not in her wildest of dreams did she ever think that she will have to return on the same day she landed with so much of hope to meet the love of her life.
She removed her gold ring and handed it over to her father, and said, “take this, sell if off and we should have enough money to go back.” Mr. Pillai reluctantly took the gold ring from his daughter, and walked away to get some money.
‘Jayanthi Janatha’ is already on the platform for its return journey and by norm it will stop at Dadar station for 15 minutes before departure. Mr. Pillai who went to sell the ring is not to be seen, and the seats in the unreserved compartment was filling fast. Carrying Trikaya in one hand and her tiny bag with minimal clothes in another Nalini’s mind was wavering. Should she wait for her father to come with the tickets, or get into the train anyway and take a seat? She looks around for her father for a while, and gets into the train. Looking at her plight a gentleman offers her his window seat. She takes the seat thanking him and just then looking at the crowd Trikaya starts to cry profusely. Trying to pacify the baby, Nalini looks out of the window expecting her father to come soon but there is no of him.
“How many times did I tell you to get down at VT and not Dadar?” Yells Krishna from the platform. Nalini looks out of the window and there is an instant smile on her face. She immediately gets up, lifts Trikaya, takes her bag and gets down from the train. Krishna takes her bag and carries Trikaya, and Trikaya stops crying instantly. “My father had gone to get tickets, and he isn’t back yet,” says Nalini almost choking. Krishna puts his arm around her and says, “don’t worry we will find him. He should be back.”
Mr. Pillai reaches the unreserved compartment part of the train huffing and puffing peeping into every window to find if Nalini was already seated in. Spotting Krishna standing beside his favourite daughter, he is completely relieved and says, “the queue was awfully long hence got delayed.” “Now we don’t need the tickets, it was a hasty decision to have sold your gold ring for this,” he exclaimed.
Krishna mumbles into Nalini’s ears, “did you sell the gold ring I gifted you on your birthday?” “Yes, I am sorry. I didn’t have any other choice,” replied a lovestruck Nalini gazing into his eyes. Just when Mr. Pillai is about to tear the tickets, Krishna asks him to wait, “don’t do that yet. We can still cancel the ticket before the train leaves, and we can get a refund.”
Krishna asks Nalini to sit on the nearby bench with Trikaya and her bag and says, “you guys don’t move from here till we come back.” “Come Mr. Pillai, let us go” And both of them leave the place hurriedly. Nalini folds a one rupee note and opens it – a habit she had since her childhood. Whenever she is stressed or happy or thinking or feels relief – she always would fold and open a currency note.
Krishna is running fast, while Mr. Pillai is trying to keep pace with him. Mr. Pillai at the age of 55 was clueless, why Krishna needed his presence to cancel the tickets – he could have done this on his own he mumbled gasping for breath.
Krishna breaks the queue, requests everyone else to allow him to move ahead in the queue as the train would leave in the next 3 minutes. “Please cancel the tickets,” Krishna requests the man in the counter. The lazy attendant looks at the clock, and asks his colleague, “has ‘Jayanthi Janata’ left already?” “Not sure, need to check,” the colleague replies. He takes the tickets from Krishna, checks the tickets for another minute. Not that the money will make any difference to Krishna, but he was habituated to being prudent. ‘Jayanthi Janata’ is delayed by 15 minutes’ – there is an announcement, and both Krishna and Mr. Pillai feel a sense of relief. Krishna gets a refund of 90% of the ticket fare, and is happy about his achievement.
Putting the cash into his wallet, Krishna tells Mr. Pillai, “Let us go.” Mr. Pillai turns towards the station, while Krishna stops him holding his hand “we shall go to meet Nalini later. Before that let us go to the shop where you sold the ring. It is particularly important for me.” “Come on,” Krishna adds.
Krishna walks hurriedly towards the exit of the railway station while Mr. Pillai slows down and is disinterested to join Krishna. “Is there anything wrong Mr. Pillai?” asks Krishna. Mr. Pillai sits down on the nearby pavement and says, “I am sorry Krishna.” “Why, what happened Mr. Pillai?” asks Krishna.
“I didn’t sell the ring yet. It is with me,” says Mr. Pillai. “But then you said you sold the ring to buy the tickets?” asks a bewildered Krishna. “Yes, I did. Because I wasn’t sure you will come,” replies Mr. Pillai as he takes out his hand kerchief in which he had safely tied the gold ring. “I had the money but I lied to Nalini” Mr. Pillai adds.
Krishna pulls out his wallet, hands over some cash and takes the ring from Mr. Pillai, clueless all the while about why would a father try to cheat his own young 19-year-old daughter? He was overwhelmed at the arrival of his lady love and hence doesn’t spend much time pondering on this strange behaviour of his to be father-in-law.
They both rush back to Nalini. “What took you so long? Were you able to cancel the tickets?” Asks Nalini exhausted from the waiting and the stress she went through all day. “Yes, of course,” replies Krishna. He takes Nalini’s right hand and slides the gold ring onto her ring finger. “Wow, how did you get that back?” asks a curious Nalini. “Ask your father,” says Krishna. Mr. Pillai’s face goes pale for a moment. “Thankfully, your father remembered the direction to the shop even in this new city,” says Krishna. “And the pawn broker was a good man. He returned the ring at the same price your father had sold to him without any drama,” Krishna added, as he carried the baby on one hand and hugging Nalini with the other. Mr. Pillai carries the bag and all three of them walk towards the exit while the ‘Jayanthi Janata’ whistles her way out of Dadar railway station.