If the bus journey to Navsari Railway station epitomized the metamorphosis of Bhikhu into a confident young man, ready to take on the world, the ensuing rail journey had more of the adventures to make him bloom into the unwelcoming brazen and cheeky world. The somewhat cocky Jamna maa reveled in the transformation, hiding her fears of what lay in store for him.
The guy Ravji, the reluctant chaperone designated to put the duo at ease, was unsure of novel ways to demonstrate that he cared.
He took his assigned job very seriously to the discomfort of his other co-passengers. His frequent getting up from his seat to check on the comforts of his protege annoyed them.
“What makes you get up frequently and make way through this maze of other passengers lining the passage?”
“Have a heart guys, they are my relatives and traveling for the first time by rail”
“Then request those next to your relatives to exchange your seat with you, huh!”
The thought of sitting close to the aggressive Jamna was unnerving.
“Arey, it is just a matter of few hours, Bhai”
Sure enough, He thought he heard some commotion in the next bunch of seats in the direction of where Jamna and Bhikhu were seated.
“Waah, is this railway your property? Why don’t you close the window securely? The fine particles of unburnt coal are causing nuisance here. My son Bhikhu has been rubbing his eyes ever since we boarded.”
“Check your language, bahen. The window doesn’t close at all. I have been trying to close it for quite some time now. Besides, I find it very suffocating here so the window shall remain open.”
It was an irony of sorts that the hostility levels towards the passengers who boarded the compartment were always high. Jamna maa and Bhikhu had managed to get reasonably comfortable seats for themselves, fighting their way through the maze. Jamna had, in fact, found a cotton bag on the window seat, that customarily signified that the seat was already occupied and that the guy had gone out onto the platform to buy some snacks.
“This won’t do. This is my seat”
“Who gave you the right to keep your seat reserved in this fashion?” Jamna at her aggressive best
“Look bahen. I woke up early and managed to get this seat with great difficulty. Here you come along and simply disregard the cotton bag and occupy my seat without a trace of apology. I need fresh air, get it?” The guy was not be cowed down
“Hey hey hey. Who are you to talk to a lady like that? Hold yourself. You do what you want” and promptly sat close to the cotton bag thereby shifting the guy away from the window
Enter Ravji – ‘Arey Bhai why the hell you are picking up a verbal spat? After all, it is a matter of a few hours. Just relax and enjoy the journey”
The guy shot a glance at the lovely face of Jamna whose pallu had come off from her curvy face.
“Ok Ok. It is Ok. Where are you going anyway?
That is how the initial hostility always turned into the inevitable query. They exchanged the minute details of the purpose of their journey that would be an anathema in other developed parts of the world.
Everyone in the chamber now looked forward to the round of similar exchange at the next station.
Many a time, the co-passengers became great friends during the journey together and even invited each other to their hometowns, exchanging the addresses and contact details!
“Whenever you are in Surat, just tell the bus conductor or anyone else for that matter – “where does Ranchhod live?” and you are sure to find my home!” Ranchhod then looked around to make sure everyone know that he lived in a popular pole of Surat and that there was a sweet shop just directly below his place named “Mahadeva Mitahai Center”
To the uninitiated, there were at least 10 different sweet shops with the same name around Surat.
“Just ask anyone” was the all-pervading catchphrase.
The rest of the journey turned out to be an exercise in total cooperation. An elderly couple from Kathiawad took out bundles of meticulously wrapped theplas from their huge tin boxes and offered to everyone. If someone declined the couple would genuinely look offended. There was this scramble to pay off the tea vendor from the rest of the passengers.
The train chugged on.
“Get ready now for the ‘Vasai Khadi” (Creek); keep the coins ready for offering to the deity” The sweet voice of some lady alerted everyone.
It was customary to throw some loose change of coins into the Vasai Creek – to appease the deity and probably to thank at the same time for bringing them to the end of the journey as the train neared Bombay.
Jamna maa followed the process to the hilt, untying a packet of coins worn around her torso and asked Bhikhu to the ritual along with others, folding her hands and chanting some prayer that no one could hear in the noisy train that rattled through on the old bridge.
Traveling by the old fashioned long-distance train pulled by the steam engine was fun. It gave a much-needed change of a kick to the humdrum existence of hoi polloi, buying unwanted toys for their children, mint from popular stations like Vasai or Palghar, listening to the bhajans rendered by traveling beggars. Often a blind man ( or posing as a blind man) with an out-stretch hand duly supported by his very young daughter who would be belching out well-known bhajans at the top of their voice. No matter how crowded the compartment was everyone would make way for the movement of beggars, traders without complaint. This was the fate of ‘third-class maamulee ‘ hoi polloi that had learned to enjoy little pleasures as they went along. All happy in their own way, managing the uncertainties of their fate.
Arrival at Bombay Central:
The local train finally steamed into the humongous Bombay Central station. Bhikhu just couldn’t help gawking at the size of the station with all the neon lights flickering around.
Jamna too was overawed but didn’t show it on her face. Ravji got down from the train and helped them to alight safely as well. He shooed off a coolie running with the slowing train “Go away, man. We will manage our baggage”
The undeterred Coolie hopped on to the compartment to look for passengers who would need assistance.
The crowds, the fancy shops within the premises of the station, the open restaurant were just too apparent to ignore. Bhikhu was hungry but just did not speak up – after all he had become a man now.
How will they go to Malabar Hill?
Ravji smiled and led them to the gate where a uniformed man approached them and tried to snatch the bags from Jamna and Bhikhu.
“Arey arey, who are you? Why are you snatching our bags? Thief?” Jamna maa challenged the man while Bhikhu tried to snatch the bags back into his hand
“Arey, mataji. Maaf karo mane (please excuse me) Sir had told me to look out for a woman in blazing red saree with her son in tow and you must be Jamna bahen.”
Ravji had a broad smile on his face.
“Jamna ben my brother – the postman- had sent a telegram about your arrival in Bombay! This uniformed man is Dayal Saheb’s personal driver. Now get into the car and I will get going”
Jamna – Bhikhu just couldn’t believe the royal reception arranged by Dayaljee the Solicitor. They were overawed at the large, fancy car whose door was kept open by the smiling driver.
“Joyo Maaaro Bhai ( Did you see my gracious brother Dayal – the big solicitor? How much he respects me “ Jamna and Bhikhu got into the car while Ravji watched in bemusement through the car window.
‘Ae aavje Bhai. Thakorjee taaru bhalu kare” (May God be upon you)
The super-smooth car journey to Malabar hill was fascinating enough. They watched in amazement the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, the paved road leading up to the Malabar hill.
At the Dayal mansion, his wife – Jamna’s bhabhi – let go a long sob and cried over the shoulders of Jamna. Jamna caressed the back of her bhabhi while Bhikhu stood in amazement at the huge mansion in front of him
“Chaal, bhabhi have rahee jaa (Now, please calm down) How is Dayal Bhai? and Amrat?” Jamna comforted her as they went into the mansion.
“They have barely gotten over the tragedy, Jamna. Yesterday was the condolences prayer meeting where big industrialists of Bombay had assembled to offer their condolences.” Bhabhi, with tears in her eyes, went on
“Your brother has gone to meet some people in town will be here soon. Come, refresh yourself. Arey, Bhikhu, you really have become a big boy now? Good, Good. Come in beta”
It took a while for them to get adjusted to the royal setting of the mansion.
To be continued….