Coming down on the escalator, I saw the whirlpools of the human heads mingling and dis-joining. They looked threatening. I had a sinking feeling I would drown and disappear without a trace.
As I touched ground, I saw myriads of people hurtling in different directions, as if the devil was snapping at their heels. I stood confused and nervous — which level to go to, which train to catch and from which platform. Maps are Greek to me; the signages and the names of terminals sliding on the forehead of the trains do not help as they mention only terminals and not particular stations.
I asked a young man with plugged ears, his head nodding rhythmically. Unplugging one ear he raised his eyebrows.
“Rohini West?” I asked.
“Over there,” he raised his hand and was on his way with the plug restored to its place.
Not any wiser I tentatively walked in the indicated direction.
Then I asked a person who looked a regular. He said, “Yellow Line first. Then change at Kashmere Gate.”
Yellow Line? Where, the train coming from which direction? And what terminal would include Rohini West?
I grew panicky.
Suddenly a soft, silky hand slid into mine. I turned. A delicate looking, pretty girl, about twenty two, clad in shalwaar kameez, was smiling at me. Another of my hallucinations? I suffer from Delusional Disorder.
Years ago, I had consulted a Psychiatrist.
“Anybody on your mother’s or father’s side had this condition?” asked the bushy eye-browed, Dr. Bowmick.
“Did you ever suffer from epilepsy?”
“Hmm …Are you a guzzler?” he asked with a wink.”
“I am allergic to the smell of liquor,” I smiled back
“Then the only cause is the side effect of some medicine.”
“Oh … yes … I am a hypochondriac and pill-popper.”
“Right that explains it.”
“Is it curable?”
“Not fully, but it won’t hamper your mental abilities,” he said and prescribed medication.
“Take the medicines for two years every day. Without fail. Never miss. Then I’ll assess and give you the minimal maintenance doze.”
I squeezed her hand to check out if she was real.
“Where do you want to go Uncle ji?”
I felt embarrassed at what I had done and gave her a moronic smile.
“Fine. Let’s go.”
While going up the escalator, she continued to hold my hand.
At the platform, a train glissaded in and I moved. She held me back. “Not this one.”
“Travelling by Metro for the first time?” she asked.
“No, Beti, Have done it three to four times. But the rigmarole of trains, platforms, yellow line, blue line, red line and what have you puzzles me”
Another train. “Get in Uncle ji.”
Two seniors occupied the reserved seats. She asked a young fellow on a general seat, “Bhaiyya, give your seat to Uncle ji.”
I was surprised. So soft and delicate looking, but her voice authoritative and firm!
The boy instantly obeyed. She kept standing in front of me. “Kashmere Gate is only four stations away,” she said.
As we were walking towards an escalator at Kashmere Gate to catch the onward connection, one of the two Romeos hurled a tease, “Arre, are we dead? You had to choose this buddha?” Both smiled lasciviously.
Forgetting my age, I shot back, “You’ll be dead for sure, if I lay my hands on you!”
“Ignore them, Uncle ji. This is nothing. Much worse happens to us in the trains and buses.”
“And you ignore all that?”
“Most of the time. Once in a while I teach a fellow an unforgettable lesson. I have learnt Judo Karate from the Police. But one can’t pick up fights every now and then.”
We went up and up interminably on the escalator. A guy hurried up on the moving escalator and pushed me. Good that she was holding my hand. I fell almost over her, but she steadied me.
“Ruffian!” she screamed.
Finally, we did reach the platform which was a terrible chaos — a number of queues and many potential intruders hovering around each queue. Only the ladies’ queue was orderly.
“Now from here on I know the way. You stand in the ladies’ queue. Or else you will be pushed around in the general compartment. And you may not get a seat.”
“No issues. I can stand.”
We were pushed in by the force from behind. The bogey was packed like sardines. People shoving into each other; someone was breathing foul air into my neck; toes were being trampled on, tempers were frayed.
“Are you blind?” someone shouted irascibly.
She kept in front of me and slowly edged towards the senior citizens’ seats. Two boys were in deep slumber, heads bent. Of course, they were shamming.
She commanded, “Get up. These are reserved seats.”
They did not stir.
“Come on, vacate or I take a pic and complain against you.” She had taken out her phone.
Both jumped up and we sat together.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
She grew serious. “Rajeev Gandhi Cancer Hospital.” The mention of this hospital unnerves anybody.
“Oh! Who is ill?”
“My friend’s father.”
“May he get well soon!”
I told her my name and that I retired as a Professor of English. I lived in Three Leaves Housing Society in Sector 9.
“I am Ajalaa.”
“What does it mean?”
“The Earth,” she smiled.
“You are like the mother earth. Supportive and giving!”
We reached Rohini West. “Okay, Uncle ji. I will go down on the right.”
I stood overwhelmed! “Stay happy, Ajalaa, my child. May all the good things happen to you and yours!” I said raising both hands in blessing.
Our Housing Society is not far from the Metro Station. I walked home happy and cheerful.
I shared the whole story with my wife, Sulochana excitedly, as is my wont.
She listened with a detached calm.
As I changed into kurta pyjamas, I realized my purse was missing.
“You have been a fool all your life,” Sulochana sneered. “She did it when you fell on her. Maybe the pusher and she were in cahoots.”
I felt crestfallen and cursed myself.
But after a month, she appeared at our door with a box of sweets.
Both of us were stunned.
I told Ajalaa everything.
“Oh, did you report to the police?”
“It is cumbersome. Visiting a police station repeatedly is not easy for me.”
She left instantly, without a word. Five days passed. No news of her.
Every time, the bell rang, I would go to the door. “Stop it. She is never going to come back,” Sulochana said.
“Don’t be silly. She needn’t have come in the first place.”
On the sixth day, she came with a cop.
“Please check if everything is intact,” said the cop.
I did. “Yes, it is?”
“But how did you catch him?”
“Thank you so much.”
The cop looked at Ajalaa. “Your niece is a smart girl. She is on the list of our bravehearts,” he said and left.
“Sorry, Beta, I did not even ask you the occasion for the sweets that day,” I said shamefacedly.
“No issues, Uncle ji. My father has been discharged. The doctor says. ‘He is reasonably fine, but will need periodical checkups.’”
“You said he was your friend’s father.”
She smiled. “Besides I got a job in a Software company.”
“All because of your blessings.”
For once I had got a chance to smirk.
Dr. Subhash Chandra retired as Professor of English from Delhi University. He has published four books of criticism, several research articles as well as short stories in Indian and foreign journals. His latest collection of stories ‘ Not just another story’ has been published in January 2017 by LiFi Publications New Delhi.