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Train to Charni Road Station

Avani Ghangurde

I am the worst person in the world. I shouldn’t even be alive narrating the same old story year after year. I can’t help it. The events of that day still torment me immensely. Some said it wasn’t my fault, however my brain and heart refused to acknowledge that. My son and daughter-in-law had solely put the blame on me. They never said much about the incident, but I know they don’t treat me as part of the family anymore. I can see the hatred in their eyes. Even though I live with them, I know they despise me for what I have done. And why should they not? They have every right to do so.

Many a times, I contemplated taking my life. But I realised that I am an 80-year-old coward. It also dawned upon me soon enough that my purpose in life is to relive those painful memories which seem to appear out of nowhere in a fraction of a second as soon as I shut my eyes.

This is the end of my journaling years, after all, what do I have to write about? The only words I shall pen every year is the tragedy that took place on December 12, 1997. The rest of the journal will forever remain empty, as empty as my life is today for I loathe myself after what happened exactly 15 years ago…

‘Stop making excuses, you must go to school, Manas!’ yelled Ananya, my daughter-in-law from the kitchen while preparing breakfast. She had barely looked up from the stove for she has been up on her toes since dawn preparing an array of dishes before dashing off to work.

My quiet and obedient grandson, Manas, pouted, dutifully put his head down and began playing with his fork. I instantly knew that his bright blue eyes like that of a crystal clear ocean filled with large drops of tears are about to trickle down his face any minute. Like any 8 year-old, he thought his demands were small and could easily be full-filled. But clearly Anaya was not to be messed around with today. I still couldn’t help but try and negotiate a bargain of some kind for the sake of my one and only grandson.

‘What is the harm in missing school one day today, Ananya?’
She popped out of the kitchen and gave a glare, enough to make me wince and bite my tongue.
‘Dad, don’t you interfere! Just help me get Manas ready and please drop him to school, like always. I am getting late,’ she replied, shuffling out of the room.

And that settled it, Manas was going to go to school. I really should have listened to my daughter-in-law. If only I could have predicted the future.
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The sun was gleaming brightly by the time we stepped out of the house, the chill nip in the December air long gone. Even if the birds had been chirping, one hardly had the time to stop and admire its beauty thanks to the hustle-bustle of city life grappling its denizens.

‘Today, we are not going to school. Promise me you won’t tell your mother,’ awaiting his squeal of delight, I peeked a glance at Manas as he is waddling by my side on the footpath, firmly holding my left hand. We were headed towards Bandra Station.
‘Yes yes yes! Mummy will not know. Where are we going, but?’ he asked, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

I gave him a tantalizing smile and looked straight ahead, my jet black eyes playfully glittering yet refusing to give a single clue. I kept a straight face, merely nodded, deciding not to answer right away. Ever since Manas had begun enjoying infotainment shows on the television, he had been rather fascinated by machines and technology. So, since quite some time I had been planning to take him to the printing press where I had worked for the past 30 years. Although I was long since retired, today, coincidently, I had some work with the current manager who was known to be strict and uptight. Almost shyly I had asked him if I could bring along my grandson for the visit. I was sure to hear a grunt but was pleasantly surprised when he gave me an affirmation, over the phone. I was ecstatic as I knew Manas would love to see the inside of a printing press and would also enjoy spending quality time with me- his favourite grandfather.
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The station was buzzing with office goers, hurriedly making their way to their respective destinations. Everyone was dressed alike and seemed to only have one goal in mind- beating time to reach their work place. I grabbed Manas’s hand tightly and purchased two first class tickets to Charni Road station. We waited for the train to arrive and comfortably managed to get in. We squeezed ourselves between a young boy of about 12 and a middle-aged lady draped in a purple silk saree, sitting by the window.

‘I wanted the window seat,’ said Manas sadly and I gave his hair a ruffle.
The lady must have heard Manas for she immediately gave me a smile and gestured for my grandkid to sit at her place. She then took the seat enface mine and I thanked her for her kindness. Manas was now sharing the window with a girl about his age, and the two almost instantly start chatting as if they have known each other from childhood and not since the past five minutes. As the locomotive chugged forward, I felt myself tire as my eyes started becoming heavy from yesterday’s lack of sleep. Mrs. Deshpande’s son had been playing the music way too loud after 12 am, yet again causing me to have a restless night. So, I decided to make the most of the train ride and get my forty winks for the rest of the half an hour journey.

Almost 30 minutes later, the panting of the train and the rumble of the wheels gave way to a sudden jerk. I had barely fully opened my eyes when I saw the familiar station slipping by through the doors, on the opposite side. Without even looking around properly, I grabbed a hand and jolted us both out of the slow moving train. I gathered myself and breathed a sigh of relief, happy that I hadn’t missed the Charni Road station. While my mind was totally focused on descending from the train, I hadn’t really paid attention to my little companion, who all the while was trying to remove his hand away from me, shouting something in his native language. I looked down to my side and the sight horrified me, shaking me to my very core. In a hurry, I had dragged out the boy who was sitting on my right instead of Manas who was on the left.

Perhaps Manas had been too busy looking out at the marvelous sights through the window or chatting with his new friend that he hadn’t bothered to look around. Or maybe he did and was trying to grasp my attention. Did the other passengers not help him? I wondered. My mind was perplexed with a million questions.

'I have to reach the station master’s office and alert the officers there,' I told myself. But suddenly I was gripped with a throbbing pain in my head. I couldn’t seem to move even an inch, my feet felt like lead- so heavy. Contrary to my feet, I was aware that my hands were trembling and there were beads of sweat forming on my forehead. I must have terrified the onlookers for a few rushed to my aid as I collapsed on the platform.
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I partially opened my eyes to see a pretty oval-shaped face smiling down at me. She called me grandfather and advised me to rest for the day. She then handed me over some pills and left the room. Minutes later, I pushed myself up on the bed, taking a look at the surroundings and my hospital gown. Then suddenly I remember that I needed to find my Manas.

'I must escape from here somehow, because these people won’t allow me to leave on my own.' 'They will call my son, Rakesh. How can I tell him what happened. No! I must get out of here,' I convinced myself.

I quickly changed into my regular clothes and sneaked out of the room, despite feeling light headed. I noticed that the elevator was all the way across the other end of the corridor whereas the emergency exit was only two rooms away towards my right. I no longer cared about not being strong enough to descend the five floors. I could only see my grandson who needed my help. Keeping my head down, I tiptoed towards the staircase, thankfully avoiding running into the nurses in the corridor or the receptionists at the desk. Once out of the hospital, I went to the station and narrated my ordeal the authorities.

That was all I could do. That day, I sat on a bench at the platform, watching life go by, while mine remained at a standstill, angry at the smiling faces passing by.

I never was able to find Manas. Numerous attempts by the police force, eventually by Rakesh and Ananya also had proved to be futile. We had lost the boy, changing my relationship with my family forever. I never expected them to forgive me. I will get punished for my sins, that I was sure of. But I guess the gods had some different plans.
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One day, on my 81st birthday, I woke up from my afternoon siesta, a little late than usual. The sun had just settled down and my small room had suddenly gone dark. I was fumbling for the lights for I wanted to rummage through my journal and punish myself by reading and re-experiencing those dark memories. This had become somewhat of a daily routine by now- me and my journal all alone, cozied up in my room. I flipped through the nearly empty diary to that day and realised that the pages had been torn out from the book. Just then I turned around and I came across Rakesh standing at the door, tears glistening his eyes. I saw the pages he was holding close to his chest. And I know those are the same old pages that I had written on, all those years ago when Manas was lost on the train. With grave difficulty, I limped towards my son, but halted halfway as I saw him tearing those pages and even scrunching them in his fists. He said nothing but instead rushed towards me, embracing me tightly… for the first time in 15 years.

I was unable to control my own emotions, overwhelmed by this unexpected warmth and affection, one that I so desired all this while. As I hugged him back, I noticed Ananya too had placed her hand on her husband’s shoulder, smiling through her tears. I had finally been forgiven. And now I could truly forgive myself.


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