Skip to main content

A quick tale 198

Brindavan Express

There’s something wrong with her, I thought to myself as the elderly woman strode past me for the tenth time in the last five minutes. I watched her as she walked down the length of our train carriage. She reached the far end, turned around and started to come back. She must be 60 or 70, cannot tell for sure. She was one of those people who seemed to have been old for a really long time. Tight grey curls that had escaped the tiny grasp of a pony tail framed her evenly lined face. She wore a bright green saree and a matching blouse and appeared well-cared for. She was the kind of woman you would expect to bore you with details of her senior bank manager-son, her government-employee daughter-in-law, 16-year old grandson Rahul or Ajay who was studying hard to get in to a professional degree course and her 12-year old grand-daughter who had just become ‘a woman’. Except she did none of these. Her eyes looked vacant and she kept mumbling furiously as she marched up and down the train carriage purposefully.

Brindavan Express leaves Chennai at 7 am on weekday and stops at several small towns before reaching Bangalore just past noon. It’s favoured by city-dwellers who work in small outposts. Today was no exception and our carriage was packed with office-goers on their way to work. And they all seemed determined to ignore the oddly-behaved elderly woman in their midst. After watching her for another 20 minutes or so, and noticing no change in her behaviour, I decided to do something. Amma! I called out to her. She walked on by without registering my call. I followed her as I tried to get her attention. I was right behind her and when we reached the end of the carriage, she turned around and came face-to-face with me. She looked straight past me. Are you with someone, amma?, I asked. She didn’t seem to hear me. Amma? I repeated. Is your family with you? Son? Daughter? Somebody? She reacted with the same vacant expression. And I noticed something akin to panic flit past her eyes. I was keen to avoid a showdown so I let her pass.

By now, I had the attention of the entire carriage. Did anyone see her come with somebody? I asked out aloud. A few heads shook no. I went around asking the same question. And no one had seen her being accompanied by family. I spent the next half-an-hour walking along the train asking others if they were missing an elderly co-passenger. I returned to my carriage with a plan. I found out that the next big station was Katpadi Junction. I’m going to hand her over to the station master, I said out aloud to those in my carriage, and he should be able to do the needful. No one seemed to care what happened to her. They busied themselves with magazines, happy to have her taken off their hands.

At Katpadi, I alighted first and gently helped her get off the train. She didn’t resist and held on tightly to me like a child in a fairground. The station master’s office was a dark room with a fan whirring noisily somewhere in the ceiling. I explained the situation to him and he listened to me patiently. They had another case like this last month at Vyasarpadi, he told me, the family didn’t want to take care of the old man any more, so they let him wander. But what can we do? Anyway, leave her here. The lady constable has gone for her lunch break. Once she comes back, I’ll ask her to do something.

I was told that they would arrange for the old woman to be taken to Chennai where they would lodge a complaint in the missing people’s registry. If no one came forward to claim her in 30 days, she would be sent to some mental-health institution. I looked up at her still clinging to me like a little girl. I’m sorry, Amma, I said to her quietly, I cannot take care of you any more. This is probably better for you than living with us.

I heard the train whistle going up. I prised her fingers open and freed my arm. I started to run without turning back. Tears were flowing freely as I boarded the train. We should reach Bangalore in 3 hours’ time.

Comments

yezdi said…
I always wonder why why most of the good writing so damn sad....good post though
A4ISMS said…
Ammani,
Recently, there was news here That 4 daughters had gone to court to evict their mother out of the house they had inherited on their dad's death...Said she scolded them and interfered with their lives... I was appalled.... This is how people repay their parents...
Ammu said…
Hi Ammani,

Ammani ,is what we used to call my elder sis...she left us 3 years back.

This post was great.
s said…
that was one stunning QT!!
zeno said…
a good twist, as usual :)
Mona said…
I cant believe it - Do u mean 2 say it is true???
I always used 2 imagine tat old people r left in places like old-age homes but not on street & trains... I am shocked. No other act can demean human race worst than this
rads said…
o lord, that was cruel.
Excellently writtten as always.
Pri said…
i've never been good with predicting endings which is why i enjoyed this a lot. someone needs to start making short films with your stories.
Jay said…
Truly heartwrenching!
Mona said…
btb is this a story or a real incident??
Shyam said…
Ah jeez, Ammani... this QT was awful (beautifully written in a leaves-you-feeling-desolate way). I did not, did NOT expect the ending. Stories like this - real or otherwise - always make me feel like gathering together all the abandoned old folks and taking them home :(
SS said…
So sad and so frightening. Broke my heart.
~nm said…
Seems like words out of a novel.

I wonder what happened to her? But it surely was such a generous gesture on your part to try and help her! You deserve one 'noble/concerned citizen' award!
Zee said…
i hope someone claims her....some relative...some good soul in her family...
Zee said…
oh it was fiction is it???
Anonymous said…
Mam..
I travel frequently by Brindavan Express and I am shocked to see that old people are treated in this fashion of being deserted after having dedicated their lives for their children and their comforts.
A word of appreciation for you for writing this story.
Keep up the good writing mam
Vani said…
Given this is a true incident, I can't think of too many thoughtful people who would have actually cared enough to want to do the best for the old lady. It would be better though, if you could follow up with the Katpadi station master as to what actually happened. For all we know, she may have been deported on yet another strange train on yet another endless trip.
Salutations though, to you. May your tribe increase.
Alien said…
You brought a tear to my eyes...

Popular posts from this blog

Guest blog by Chinna Ammani

Here’s an interesting write-up by Chinna Ammani on stereotypical portrayals in Indian adverts. The opinion expressed is strong and the language uncompromising. Read at your own peril!-a

The Aiyaiyo Syndrome

These days I do what is called as a shooting supervision. When ads are filmed (with lip sync) in Tamizh, my job is to teach models their lines and rehearse with them. Most of them are from Mumbai and are non-Tamilians. So when they have to do a line in Tamil, for example "Adanaaladan Dettol ubayogikaren" (And that's why I use Dettol) , they invariably say "Aadanaladaanu naanu Detttaalu ubayogikkareanu" (Something hideous). Their exaggerated delivery of our supposed accent is all thanks to Hindi actor Mehmood. My blood pressure rises and I yell "DO NOT DO A MEHMOOD HERE. WE DO NOT SPEAK LIKE THAT".

Though their voice is dubbed later with a Tamil voice-over, I ensure that they pronounce it the non-Mehmood way. Mehmood has done this major damage to us So…

Bio-data

Married for 31 years, 2 months and 17 days
Six cups coffee a day, brewed everyday of marriage
Three meals a day,
At least two dishes cooked, each meal-time
One snack for every Sunday
Big basket of clothes ironed every Tuesday
Average 18 items of clothing washed per day
Three children
1 miscarriage
One mother-in-law suffered
900 sq metre of floor space mopped, once a day
One caesarean endured
3 chicken poxes, 2 measles, 2 fractures, 8 diarrhoeas, depression, conjunctivitis every summer, 1 tonsilitis and countless common colds and flues
1 job held for 29 years
6 hours slept every night
Sex tolerated every 2nd week
Religious rituals everyone of them, carried out
Not one of them, believed in
Lived 52 years and some
Died exhausted

Overheard, “At least she had the satisfaction of having lived for her family”


http://jikku.blogspot.com/2005/02/quick-tale-3.html#c111042815438237631

The Saturday Poem

Found this in yesterday's paper. Again, I wish I'd written it.

-a

Now and Then

"Now that I'm fifty-seven",
My mother used to say,
"Why should I waste a minute?
Why should I waste a day

Doing the things I ought to
Simply because I should?
Now that I'm fifty-seven
I'm done with that for good."

But now and then I'd catch her
Trapped in some thankless chore
Just as she might have been at
Fifty-three or fifty-four

And I would say to her
(And I have to bite my tongue)
That if you mean to learn a skill
It's well worth starting young

And so, to make sure I'm in time
For fifty, I've begun
To do exactly as I please
Now that I'm thirty-one.

-Sophie Hannah

Lost in Post

To a little boy

It cannot be easy being you. A follow-up act to your more devilishly charming, flamboyant older brother. Before you were born, I was convinced that no child could ever take the special place your brother had come to occupy in my life. I used to argue with your father you would always be a second-born. A runner-up. A bridesmaid (or a best-man, as you turned out to be). That you could never be the prized, cherished, celebrated apple of my eye that my firstborn child was. But how easily you tore down my flimsy little conviction. The minute I saw you, I knew I was gone. What was worse, I succumbed willingly.

My fears that you would be overshadowed by your brother have proven unfounded. Over the past year, you have come into your own as a person. Your brother demands and challenges our love and attention. You, on the other hand, are much more accepting of our distractions with him. It is almost as if you understand that he is used to being the star of the show for much of his…

I ask, you write

Okay, here's the idea. I ask you a question and you write a short story explaining it. Let me give you an example.

What happened when young Padmavathi was drawing water from the well to wash her clothes, early one Margazhi morning?

Annon's story

One morning when Padmavathi was drawing water from the well, she found Pettai Rowdy # 1 Govindarajulu inside the bucket! She dropped it at once and Govindarajulu went down and down and hit the bottom of the well with a Nung sound. His upper and lower teeth fused together and since then he has been fed intravenously. Pettai Rowdy # 2, Ragothaman Iyengar, who suggested this to Govindarajulu, now rules the roost.

After marrying Padmavathi, he is inviting all of you to a water drawing ceremony at the new well they dug in their house.

Jai Ragothaman Iyengar! Jai Padmavathi! Come one, Come all!

-

Here's a question for you.

What happened that made young Meenakshi change her mind about the parrot green saree she had originally chosen and go for a …

Being Bullied

It is anti-bullying week here in the UK and listening to some of the stories, I was reminded of the time when I was bullied. Unlike many of those that endured cruel taunts and jibes at schools and colleges, I was bullied at work. I was in my mid-twenties and working at what was considered a cool  TV station. I was reporting to a woman called Natasha (Nats, I hope you google your name and land on this page). For the duration that I worked there she made my life an absolute wreck.

It was pathetic to see colleagues bow and scrape to her authority. There were a few who stood their ground and memorably, one who walked away. But most of us suffered and I, in particular, was singled out for casual cruelty.

If you ask me what exactly she had done, I would be unable to point out any one incident. But there were throw away remarks intended to hurt, there would be instances of humiliation targeted at me. Sadly, back then I did not have the life experience that would have allowed me to articulat…

Memories of food - Milkmaid

There are few things that taste as good in real life as they do in nostalgia. Reminiscing about food somehow has the strange effect of cancelling out such pointless concerns as calorie counts and hygiene issues that often plague real life savouring experiences. However, there are a couple of exceptions that almost always taste as good in real life as they do when dreaming about them in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon budget presentation. One of them is masal vadai. There has never been an occasion when the experience of sinking my teeth into one has been anything other than exceptionally joyous. The second exception to this rule is condensed milk. Or to give it its brand-turned-generic name – Milkmaid.

Growing up, we rarely had any tinned food. Milkmaid was perhaps the only ingredient that came in a tin. And the opening of one such tin was a ceremony deserving of its own Olympics. First, there would be a crowbar with large piece of smooth stone on one end and a stubborn tin on the …

Clerihew - A Competition

A Clerihew is a whimsical biographical 4-line poem. Its rhyme structure is AABB and is often quite contrived. Like this one made up by the eponymous Mr Clerihew Himself.



Sir Christopher Wren Said, "I am going to dine with some men. If anyone calls Say I am designing St. Paul's."
And here's one I made up earlier.

If Anna Hazare were a cook Who wrote a recipe book, It would be empty for pages And suggest you fast for ages.

So that's your challenge. Come up with a Clerihew about anyone you please. And post your entry in the comment box. I'll give it a couple of weeks and then announce a winner. Off you go!

Guest Blog from Chinna Ammani

It's awards time and after extensive consultation with the industry experts, beloved Chinna Ammani and her jury of one (including herself) has come up with the first ever blog awards for the Tamil TV industry. A word of caution, if you don't watch Tamil TV, skip this one. But if you do, behold! Here come the Ammies!!



Best actors: Vijai Aadiraj and Chetan for their excessive over acting.

Best actresses: Devayani, Suganya and the Sati Savithris of Indiya Tollaikaatchi

Best dressed award:
1. All the வில்லிs with a thilagam as tall as LIC (not Narasimhan, the building) and ஜகஜக பட்டுப் புடவை walking down in பயங்கர வெயில் in their பங்களா lawn (only lawn because shooting INSIDE பங்களா is expensive, you see)
2. All lawyers perpetually in black coats and white collars. Even while at home. Even if you woke them up at midnight!

Best நானும் இருக்கேன், நானும் இருக்கேன் industry-இல் award : LIC Narasimhan

Best dialogue - jointly awarded to "சிறுக்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்க்கீஈஈஇ..." and …

Memories of food - Milk Biscuits

(image courtesy - www.adelanwar.com)
I am ten years old and being sent away to spend my summer holidays with an aunt in Bombay. Somewhere in my luggage are 5 or 6 packets of Britania Milk Biscuits. My aunt has specifically requested for them. Milk Bikis are not yet available in Bombay and somehow Parle G is not quite the same. It's a long train journey and it takes all my will power to keep from me raiding the bag. But by the time we reach Pune, I can no longer resist the call of Milk Bikis. To hell with it, I think to myself, I'll just tell her the railway rats got it. I grab the bag I know contains the packets and plunge my hand into it. But inside I find a smaller cloth bag. And this one has its mouth sewn shut. The witch! I dare not rip the bag open because that would be a step too far. Instead I sulk to a corner seat and hope that I will at least get some crumbs. It's been two days since we arrived. The biscuits have disappeared into the kitchen. But I have a good ide…