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 A GOOD THIEF
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Posted on 09-20-11 11:48 AM     Reply [Subscribe]
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Disclaimer: This post is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Also, the purpose of this post is not meant to ridicule people of certain country, region or class.


A GOOD THIEF

As I forced my way to board into a ‘passenger booth’, a term that signifies unreserved compartment in the trains in India, I cursed myself for my inability to reserve a sleeping berth well ahead of time. Traveling in India had always been a challenge, and in addition, if it is an unreserved compartment, it was a battle in itself. Besides the sporadic whiff of foul smell reeking out of the small toilet which was probably not cleaned for decades, moist armpits of travelers made the heavily crammed compartment even more malodorous. As if it were not enough, the misery was further intensified by the dissonance caused by passengers. I had my Sony walkman turned on, at a maximum volume, to safeguard my ears from the clamor. Even then, I could not help but hear their decibels.

I looked around helplessly, making an attempt not to breathe and trying to locate a seating spot to no avail. Then I realized I had all eyes on me. I stood breathless. I checked to my relief that my wallet was still snug tightly in my jean’s front pocket. Then out of desperation and with a sudden primal skill of survival, I did something unexpected, I winked at a teenager who had his gaze fixed at me. He instantly looked away, and then I looked at few other passengers, directly into their eyes, an indication to establish a fact that I very well had a nerve to travel in the passenger booth. Soon all of them looked away.

It was a ten hour journey, and standing on my feet hauling a thirty-pound trek backpack was not the way I wanted to reach Patna. My term exams had ended well before the summer vacations commenced, and I was forced to return my already booked ticket to swap with an unreserved one. It was mid May and the mercury had already reached its apex, it added more fuel to my already spiteful journey.

I saw him smiling as our eyes locked. He was a frail six foot tall figure with thin moustache and scruffy hair. He wore a pair of dark trousers well tapered at the bottom and a crumpled plaid shirt which cried for an immediate laundry need.

Seated along the corner of the long wooden seat that was made for four but sat six, he asked politely. “Where are you traveling?”

“Uh… Patna”, I replied, half unsure if I really wanted to talk to him, I had my walkman turned off to save the soon depleting battery. One of my father’s self created maxim that held true for most of his travels in India was ‘never talk to a fellow passenger in the state of Bihar – half of them are crooked, the other half get into your nerves.’

“Do you think you could reach there standing all night?” he asked curiously.

“I don’t, but I do not have an alternative anyway.” I smiled back.

“Here babu, you can have my seat. I am used to traveling on these trains” he put his small bag on the ground and sat on it.

In India, the term ‘babu’ is used to addressed those people who looked a little wealth-personified than the rest of the others. Even with my bourgeois dress code, I found myself surprisingly well attired than any other person in that miserable compartment.

“Are you sure?” I reluctantly acquired his seat. I was bemused yet gratified for his generosity wondering briefly if he had an ulterior motive behind his kindness. However, the existing conditions forced me to parry off all my cynical thoughts and find a place to rest my rear end.

Gopal Misra, he would tell me his name later, was a senior in high school in Jamshedpur, where his family currently lived. That night he was traveling to visit his grandparents in Mokama, a small town few stops ahead of Patna. His summer holidays had started a few days ago, and he wanted to make the most out of it by visiting relatives, who he said, would not be able to see for the rest of the year.

“Do you want some khaini babu?” he offered a little amount of chewing tobacco blended with limestone paste and was held between his fingertips.
I refused, but offered him a cigarette instead.

“I smoke cigarette sometimes in privacy, my father would throw a fit if he knew I smoked.” He took a deep drag from his cigarette and looked like he pined to smoke for ages.

I remembered my own father as he said those words. He also would have brought down the house had he discovered I was a smoker. But the odds of he unearthing that fact were close to none since he was a chain smoker himself and considered the smell of burning cigarette all over the house was his very own.

“The train stops at Asansol for fifteen minutes, you can eat dinner there if you want to, I am not sure if you’d like it though.” He added.

We both disembarked after the train finally came to rest at Asansol. Although I had traveled to Patna before on the same train, I never got off my berth to dine outside. The fables of unsolicited occupancy in any empty seats were so legendary; I always guarded sleeping berth as if it were a hidden treasure. This time it was different, Gopal had placed his dirty kerchief in my seating spot to keep off lurking occupants, something I never believed worked.

Under a faint lantern light and seated in a wobbly wooden bench; we ate “pao bhaji”, a plate of spicy chick pea curry cooked with onion, garlic and cilantros served with couple of buns. Gopal insisted on paying after we finished our meal, but quietly conceded when I refused. The meal had cost less than twenty rupees and I had enough money to feed thirty more.

“Can I listen to your cassette player babu?” Gopal requested as I turned on my walkman once again. The train had just left Asansol and I was still surprised that no one had occupied my seat during our absence.

“I do not have any Hindi cassettes but one, but I am sure you’d enjoy it”. I said as I reached inside my bag to find a tape of recent Hindi flick ‘Bombay’. It was a prize I won in a table tennis tournament in my school.

Gopal rocked his head back and forth and almost swayed his upper-body as he tuned into the Beats of A.R Rahman, the music director in that movie. I never seen anyone so ecstatic listening to a walkman. Occasionally he would sing the chorus line aloud, unaware he was singing to everyone’s aggravation.

I closed my eyes trying my best to befriend occasional jolts and the screeching sounds of the wheels while Gopal planned to “Hamma Hamma” (song’s chorus) all night long. The person seated next who leaned on my shoulder was now snoring loud, as if it were the only thing left to keep me awake. His cheap tobacco infested breath was directly aimed at my nostrils. I turned my face around and counted the light poles visible through the train window. They passed swiftly as the train accelerated. Soon I went to sleep.

“My bag is missing”, I heard a woman scream in my slumber. I slowly opened my eyes and took a second to focus my vision.

“Did you see my bag? My bag is missing.” The woman screamed again.

It was already six am in the morning and the sun had just crept into our compartment which now seemed brighter The person sitting next was still sleeping on my shoulder. It had started to hurt now. I shrugged and jerked him awake. He looked at me angrily; but then turned to the other side as he saw me ready to throw a punch at him.

“Where is my bag?” the woman was frantic now, scavenging through everyone’s luggage.

“I think I saw a young guy get off the train in Mokama carrying two bags, one was blue” An elderly woman, perhaps awake throughout the night spoke after a minute long of thought, “Was it yours?”

“Yes it was mine! Oh god I have been robbed.” She started crying hysterically.

“Wait a second, Mokama?” I questioned the old woman as she nodded. And in a flash, just like that, it all came to me. It took only a fraction of second to comprehend what transpired in between.


“Gopal? No way!” I heard myself mumbling as I reached for my pocket; almost sure my wallet was gone.


To my surprise the wallet was still there, still snug tight. Perhaps Gopal was not able to take it out. Somewhat relieved at the discovery, I then looked around for my Sony Walkman. It was not to be seen anywhere. Gopal had walked away with it. Fortunately, my bag, which was possibly too heavy to be carried on Gopal’s fragile back, lied where it originally was. It was in an awkward position, with one half sticking out under the seat; I let out a sigh of relief and was thankful it was still there.

The remaining half hour of my journey continued in devising an apt story about the lost walkman. It was a fancy Sony walkman gifted by my aunts in California, something I simply could not afford to lose. While I was disgusted by the fact that I had been hoodwinked, I simply could not help but admire Gopal’s ability to disguise his slyness. He seemed so innocent, yet so deceitful.

The train station in Patna was worse as compared to Jamshedpur. Porters ran in frenzy, so did travelers and they both mercilessly spat betel juice all over. I was first greeted by few porters, then beggars and then street hawkers, everyone with a hidden agenda to deceive me one way or another. As I walked gingerly dodging everyone who confronted me, I was unsure if I really wanted to board another train to Raxaul. I sat down on an empty wooden chair at a local tea stall and ordered a cup of tea and was forced to listen to a lewd Bhojpuri song blaring out of an old speaker. I missed my walkman even more; the earphones could have at least muffled the ears.

The next train to Mujaffarpur was at 10 am, and I had three hours to spend in between. Mujaffarpur was four hours away from Patna, and upon reaching there, I would again have to board a local train at 3 pm to Raxaul and then a night coach to Kathmandu from Birgunj. The idea of boarding two more trains made me sick. I was almost sure I’d have to deal with more Gopals there. I finished my overly sweetened tea with difficulty and headed out to tour the remaining part of the station. Unable to generate enough courage to enter the public restroom that oozed ammonia like smell relentlessly, I somehow managed to urinate alongside an empty railway track few hundred yards away from the station.

The next ordeal was brushing the teeth. But since I did not have toothpaste and was not purchasing a new one for that mere purpose, brushing teeth was far from reality. However, I remembered there was a pack of gum inside the bag which I had purchased, but did not open.

As I unzipped my bag, the first thing I witnessed was a piece of paper that looked like an old newspaper. The paper had turned yellow, a scribbled “thank–you” was written on it. My heart stopped as I took the newspaper out, it was just not an old newspaper, there was something wrapped inside it. My fingers trembled as I unfolded the paper…..

…….only to find my walkman intact.

 
Last edited: 22-Sep-11 08:19 AM

 
Posted on 09-20-11 2:19 PM     [Snapshot: 223]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Nice clean read, after a while.. thanks and well done for the superb narration. 
 
Posted on 09-20-11 3:11 PM     [Snapshot: 312]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Needless to say a nice treat on a gloomy day. Enjoyed my train ride with a bunch of munchkins! ; )

 
Posted on 09-20-11 3:41 PM     [Snapshot: 375]     Reply [Subscribe]
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You are very welcome perfectionist, but after I post my stories here, I always feel I could have done much better.  Also, I have issues with the flow and closure. Wish I could make it more succinct, and more dramatic towards the end.

Grace, thank you. It is sunny where I currently live. Makes me wonder where you are.
 
Posted on 09-20-11 3:59 PM     [Snapshot: 406]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Your narration is very well done, felt like I was actually making the journey..maybe from Siliguri.
I like the punch at the end, I just wished it was even stronger.
Hope to read more from you.
 
Posted on 09-20-11 4:30 PM     [Snapshot: 467]     Reply [Subscribe]
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 really had fun reading.....nicely written...been to india once and been thru same suffering...
Last edited: 20-Sep-11 04:31 PM

 
Posted on 09-20-11 11:01 PM     [Snapshot: 722]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Want to read more from you though I wanted more punch in the ending though. Excellent read neverthless
 
Posted on 09-21-11 1:34 AM     [Snapshot: 796]     Reply [Subscribe]
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 Superb. The closure could've been a tad stronger though. 

Outta utter curiosity, what's your major if I may ask? 

 
Posted on 09-21-11 8:53 AM     [Snapshot: 893]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Stiffler,

I was eagerly waiting for your comment. Yes, the closure was not strong enough. Wish I had spent a little more time narrating the last paragraph. Thank you for reading.

Jethobatho,

Not only in India, but at most places in South Asia where luxury is a far cry when it comes to majority of  public transportation, there is similar challenge. I still remember my trip from Birtamod to Pashupatinagar several years ago, it was more brutal. Appreciate you for your kind words.

Hareeb,

I had once spoken to a creativer writing major in one of the better schools here in US. She mentioned it takes her days and even weeks to write the closing paragraph. And considering I wasn't anywhere closer to being a writer like her, I guess I just need to live with what I have written. But yes, I shall try to spend more time on the closures than I have done before. Thanks for reading, it means a lot for a novice writer like me.

Footyfan,

Appreciate you reading my gibberish. I was an engineering major, but I did not graduate from RIT Jamshedpur if that is what you were asking.

Suvash from facebook,

Thank you. But I am not well travelled, or else I would have made up a journal.


 
Posted on 09-21-11 9:00 AM     [Snapshot: 912]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Posted on 09-21-11 11:52 AM     [Snapshot: 1011]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Apreciate that serial.
 
Posted on 09-21-11 12:49 PM     [Snapshot: 1047]     Reply [Subscribe]
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 Hi beehove_me, 
All you writings beehove me to write something back, your expression is admirable, your stories present a crisp and vivid image of characters and situation that jumps right out of the screen and into my mind. My only complain is that very few things happen in your stories as if they were a few pages torn out of your novel. You have the total freedom of depicting a story in the entire or in just a few scences, but something tells me that the former would help you flourish more as a writer and earn more loyal readers like me. 
And don't call yourself a novice, because if that's the case then I won't even have a word to describe my apprenticeship. 
 
Posted on 09-21-11 2:33 PM     [Snapshot: 1115]     Reply [Subscribe]
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 I wasn't implying that you went to school in India (based on your writing). I was merely curious to see whether you were a literature major. That's all. . 
 
Posted on 09-22-11 7:59 AM     [Snapshot: 1318]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Jay_Z,

Where art thou all this time? I was eagerly waiting for your response. And as usual, many thanks for your encouraging words. I am certainly a novice, there is no doubt about that, but I have qualms when you depict yourself as an ordinary reader or a writer for that matter. You have always browbeaten my writing and provided necessary inputs , it requires fair amount of skill and wisdom to do that, especially when most do not care to read such posts.

Speaking of writing an epic, I wish I had time like few others who live by sajha. Also, writing a long story requires time and patience, and also, it has more room for errors - therefore I choose a shortcut, much to readers like youself's aggravation. I must admit I did write a short autobiography about myself, which mainly hovered around my confused teenage, but it has too much of a personal detail to be shared in sajha.

Footyfan,

Oh how I wish. After several years working in a technical arena, I now have seriously started contemplating that maybe I'd want to go back to school with a creative writing major, but then there are other vital commitments I need to address before I indulge myself in entertaining my choice. While I say this, I have been living with a constant regret throughout this year for not been able to make writing as my profession. Wish back home they had better infrastructures for literature majors.
 
Posted on 09-22-11 9:35 AM     [Snapshot: 1394]     Reply [Subscribe]
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your narration is so detailed that I feel like sitting next to you watching it unfold.... beautiful!

 
Posted on 09-22-11 9:55 AM     [Snapshot: 1417]     Reply [Subscribe]
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Nakkali Keti,

Thank you! It encourages me to write more when people like you insert the words so kind. But I wish I were a little careful with spelling mistakes and a few pitiful grammar. I do not know when was the last time i saw you in sajha last, has the hibernation finally ended?
 


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