Lying on his berth in the Delhi bound train Umesh felt relaxed and happy to be on his way home for the Diwali vacations. He was in the second year of college at one of the most prestigious engineering institutes in Pilani. With his average height, good looks, wavy hair and petite goatee, he was sure that he was nothing less than a style statement in his college.
It was beginning of the festive season and he had been eagerly waiting for celebrating the much awaited Diwali holidays with his family in Ranchi. The mere thought of the exotic delicacies prepared by his mother made his mouth water. He was in the midst of reading his favourite food blog when he became aware, that the train was about to approach Delhi, where he would have to get down for a train change to Ranchi.
When people started taking out their things Umesh realized that he was already too late to do so, considering the bulk of his luggage.
An old lady and his son were in the process dragging out their belongings from under the berth where Umesh had kept his suitcases. The family had piled up their things in such a haphazard manner that it was impossible for anyone to have the slightest movement without toppling over their luggage.
‘What a bother!’ he thought. ‘Will you please hurry up? I too need to take out my things.’ Umesh pleaded.
‘We….are…try….ing,’ the son drawled. He was fat and slow, unable to bend low because of his pot belly. He was trying to pull out a similar pot-bellied red suitcase from underneath the berth. But the bulged pot-belly of the suitcase refused to budge. The man huffed and puffed with effort.
‘Push down the suitcase from the top and flatten it a bit… then pull with all your might,’ yelled his mother. ‘Have I fed you ghee and milk for nothing? Pull Golu, pull.’ encouraged the frail and cranky mother, standing amidst the pile of luggage, adding to the confusion.
Umesh, realised that the train had lost its speed and was about to arrive at the next station. It was the junction where he needed to change his train for Ranchi. Getting down from the upper berth; he quickly pushed down the top of the man’s suitcase and pulled with all his might. All of a sudden, the suitcase came out and he crashed on the grumpy, melancholy looking man behind him.
‘Ouch! A bunch of lunatics seem to have boarded this train.’ He exclaimed in anguish rubbing his chin, where Umesh’s head had banged.
‘I’m… I’m sorry, Sir,’ Umesh apologised, panicking that he would not be able to get down at the next station.
‘Ah! Sorry is an easy word for you lot,’ the stranger fumed. “Do whatever you like and apologize, huh! That’s the usual trick. The enn…tire generation is going to the dogs, right?” he addressed the people in the compartment in general. The entire compartment seemed to agree. Or so it seemed to Umesh at that moment.
“Tha…nt eez soomething I cannnot deny.” agreed an old man in a nasal tone from the next berth.
Umesh gave an uncertain apologetic smile to the man who had got hurt, hoping he would not aggravate the scene further and allow him to take out his belongings.
‘I really didn’t mean to hurt you,” He added in a squeamish voice. The man looked around as if to assert his superiority over the fact that he had won an apology from an upstart generation. Then, in a grave voice he gave the permission to take out the belongings.
“OK.Ok. take out your things carefully and see that you don’t hurt anyone else.” The manner of his permission asserted his position of being in charge, of the welfare of the compartment.
Umesh tensed up as he sensed the train slowing. He was now almost sure, that wouldn’t be able to get his things down on the platform on time.
“Eeek, a rat!” He shouted. Everyone put up their feet instantly, looking bewildered.
The old lady who was giving instructions, had pulled up her feet on the seat behind her making the original occupant, a hefty young man, squash in the corner. The man looked furiously at her, but kept mum for the sake of peace.
As everybody searched for the rat, Umesh pulled out two of his big suitcases and dragged them towards the exit. Two more handbags needed to be taken out before the train stopped. The commotion had distracted most of the travelers who now rushed for the exit.
Umesh kept the suitcases near the exit and made a dash for his other belongings; he went to his berth and grabbed the other two handbags and hanging his laptop bag on his shoulder pushed his way towards the exit. People cursed him as he squeezed by them, stepping on their toes.
Umesh smiled apologetically but stuck on his mission towards his goal…his suitcases near the exit. Two berths from his goal, he encountered an unsurpassable mountain in the form of a big, fat woman with a scowl and a faint moustache.
As Umesh reached behind her she cast a steely look which made him freeze on his feet. There was no way that he could ever get past her with his two handbags and his laptop bag.
The train screeched to a halt and the line in front of him moved. When he reached his suitcases, he found them conveniently pushed to the other side of the exit door with two more enormous ones just before them. There was no way that he could get them if the ones in front were not removed. Some other person must have gone to fetch more luggage, just like he had.
The train had halted at the platform. In a trice Umesh decided to get down and keep his handbags on the platform and come back for the suitcases. He hardly had an option as people were howling and pushing him from behind.
Getting down he kept the handbags and the laptop bag on top of them before rushing to get the suitcases from the train. He waited restlessly as the rest of the passengers jostled down.
As soon as he boarded the train, it started moving. Perplexed, he dragged his suitcases near the door, but by then the train had caught up speed. If he threw the suitcases they would certainly break and moreover; he won’t be able to get down either.
He looked out of the train and saw his handbags and the laptop bag lying on the station like poor orphans. As they faded from his view, Umesh slumped down on one of his suitcases as hopelessness engulfed him.
His only option was to get down at the next station and board another train back to get his belongings…..if they were still there.
The grumpy man on whom he had fallen down – cast him a suspicious glance on his way to the washroom. On his way back he commented, “Well, young fellow. Did you decide to stay back on the train to cause a few more casualties? Or is it that our mundane presence does not suit your highness, therefore you decided to sit on your personal throne?”
“Do not embarrass me with such attention your majesty,’ Umesh retorted, now he too was in an extremely foul mood.
‘Aaactually, I decided to guard the occupants of this prestigious compartment, and therefore I posted my humble self near the door along with my suitcases, which also seem to agree with me on this matter.’ He said patting his suitcase. The man looked a bit startled and proceeded on his way after giving Umesh the sternest look possible.
Umesh felt too miserable to be influenced by Mr. Gloom’s dark glance. That is what he called the man with a bucket of cold water in the form of words.
Umesh had to sit for an entire hour before the train reached the next station. There, he lugged down his suitcase and was about to enquire about the next train when he saw a New Delhi bound train on the opposite platform. In a trice he boarded the train and sat down in an empty seat near the exit.
As he looked out of the window he recalled the things that he had stuffed in the two handbags which were as good as lost. His eyes almost swelled up with tears.
It took another anxious hour to reach the previous station. The thought of his laptop almost moved him to tears. Why the hell did he take it out from his back while getting the suitcases? Everything that was of value to him was in that laptop. Or so it seemed, at that moment. It was a great loss for him. He had worked day and night to write the documents and make presentations. Now everything was gone. Scanned copies of all his important documents were also in his laptop. ‘If it gets in wrong hands, I’m done for.’ He thought, worry creasing his forehead.
The journey seemed never ending, Umesh remembered about the brand new camera and gifts that he had bought for his sister and parents. They cost a lot. Now he would go home empty handed with a virtual bagful of troubles.
As the train approached Delhi, Umesh found himself at the peak of restlessness. Somehow, the world had turned grey and bleak. The bright joy with which he had started the journey had transformed into dark misery.
Umesh readied himself for disembarking from the coach. As he looked out of the door of the train towards the approaching platform, he was surprised to see the station teeming with policemen.
‘It must be another VIP drama,’ said the gentleman behind him.
‘Delhi and its ministers! These corrupt politicians and their self proclaimed importance is a headache for us,’ replied Umesh.
The train was approaching platform number 2 and he had left his belongings in platform number 4, so he would have to go to platform number 4 to search for his handbags. ‘Lady Luck is frowning at you today, Umesh,’ he said to himself as he got down.
A huge crowd had gathered on the over-bridge. People were enthusiastically waiting for the VIP’s arrival. Pushing through the crowd, Umesh made his way towards platform 4. As he jostled down the stairs with his suitcases people swore at him as they got hurt by the suitcases.
Anyhow, he reached the bottom of the stairs, only to be stopped by a policeman cordoning off the platform for commoners.
‘Back off!’ he barked. The bomb squad has arrived. Umesh backed off two steps in terror. Terroristic activities had risen in the capital of late. ‘Now there was no way that he would be able to search for his things.’ Umesh thought. It was better to go to the lost and found and register a report.
All of a sudden, his eyes fell on his handbags and laptop bag kept on the platform. His heart flooded with untold joy as he saw his precious possessions on the platform.
Suddenly a voice from the platform cried out, ‘Sir, he is the man who planted the bombs!’ A porter in a red uniform was pointing behind Umesh. Umesh turned around to see a huge bodybuilder with the most menacing look staring at him.
‘He will take me as a hostage, if I don’t run.’ Thought Umesh as the man put up his hand to catch him. He dogged and escaped into the platform as the crowd rushed up the stairs in terror, to escape through the over bridge.
In a flash, Umesh found himself surrounded by police pointing their revolvers at him. Umesh stood open-mouthed as his legs wobbled. He pointed towards the rough who was about to take him as a hostage.
‘These policemen are dumb heads, who would shoot me while the real terrorist escaped,’ thought Umesh; but, neither his mouth nor his trembling legs responded to his commands.
The stupid policemen kept on pointing their arms towards him while the real terrorist went up the stairs along with the crowd, who wanted to keep a safe distance in case the bombs exploded.
‘Hands up! One false move and we shoot,’ yelled a police officer at him. Everyone was tensed and observing him with suspicious eyes.
Umesh knew better than to protest under the terse circumstances.
He took a deep breath and as he gained control of himself ; he felt a lot calmer.
‘Don’t try any tricks or you’ll repent,’ an officer with a large moustache threatened. Umesh stood as still as possible. If he tried to point towards the actual culprit, who was escaping at that very moment; he might lose his own life.
Without warning, four policemen pounced on him and tied him up tightly. Then one of them started giving him a rapid body massages on the pretext of searching him. Or, so it appeared to Umesh who suddenly started to giggle as the men searched him for dangerous weapons.
‘Stop laughing!’ the officer with the big curled moustache ordered.
They took out his leather wallet, his mobile, handkerchief, a packet of chewing gums and a small pocket knife from his pockets. All these suspicious objects were handed over to the officer wrapped in the handkerchief, after due listing.
‘How dare you laugh? Which terrorist group do you belong to? What is your name? Who else is with you?’ the officer enquired at one go.
Umesh took a deep breath and answered. ‘Sir, the person you were looking for has left through the over bridge. My name is Umesh, I am an engineering student. There is no one with me, and I am travelling alone. I really don’t belong to any terrorist group.’
‘We were looking for you for over two hours.’ ‘Your acts have been captured in CCTV cameras, and we have a witness too. There is no escape for you. So, it is better that you own up and STOP wasting our time,’ threatened the officer almost dragging him towards the stairs.
Umesh cursed his luck. It was surely the unluckiest day in his life. He spotted his suitcases lying near the stairs. ‘Please let me take my suitcases,’ he said pointing towards them.
The police were rooted to the spot. They went back a few steps cautiously keeping an eye on the suitcases. ‘You mean to say that you went back to bring more bombs to blow up the station?’ The entire lot went back a few steps dragging Umesh along with them.
On reaching a safe distance, far away from the suitcases, the officer in command gave orders for the bomb disposal squad to get into action. Soon, two men in spacesuit like garbs rushed towards the suitcases and carried them with utmost care towards the centre of the platform. There Umesh observed his two handbags along with his laptop bag just as he had kept them.
Unfound joy surged through Umesh even as the policemen’s grasp tightened on his arms. ‘What a relief!’ he thought as he watched in amusement the cautious working of the bomb disposal squad.
The first bag was opened and the contents searched, then one by one each bag and suitcase was searched only to find a student’s belongings. Towels, shirts, trousers, jeans, the new camera, some new dresses bought as gifts for his sister and parents; some handy electronic gadgets and accessories, all peeping out of the suitcases and bags. The wrappers of gifts brought for his family were sadly torn open.
‘Nothing here, Sir!’ yelled the duo.
‘What do you mean?’ the officer yelled back looking surprised. ‘You there!’ he addressed the porter who had pointed towards Umesh or somebody behind him. ‘You said that a suspicious looking man kept the things and went away on the train he got down from. You said that he was a terrorist.’
‘I… I… had simply informed you about the bags sir, I never mentioned the word terrorist,’ the porter mumbled; the feeling of heroism had turned into that of extreme doubt within minutes.
The officer made a gesture, and Umesh’s handcuffs were taken off.
‘We’re sorry sir there had been some misunderstanding. Would you please elaborate the reason for keeping your things and going away?’
Umesh told them about his predicament. How he went to get his things and was unable to get down from the train. As the men listened to him, Umesh felt that time stood for an eternity.
“Hmmm,” said the officer with the curled moustache. ‘Fine, fine. A remarkable incident indeed.”
The officer heaved a sigh of relief. “Much ado about nothing, Sir. These days the slightest negligence can cause havoc, so we cannot afford to take things easy,” he said.
‘I do understand your compulsion, Sir,’ agreed Umesh understandingly. As Umesh gathered his things, he heard the announcement for his train arriving in platform number 11.
The officers had checked his student ID card as well as his UID and had them verified over the net.
“Sir, my connecting train is about to arrive, if you give me the permission I will proceed with my journey.” Umesh requested the officials.
The officer in charge looked at him gravely and then broke out in laughter. “Ha-ha! It must have been a terrible journey for you today. What a fright you gave us! Albeit unintentionally. Well you may go and catch your train. Next time make sure you carry as much luggage as it is possible for you to carry at one go,” he bade goodbye to Umesh with a pat on his shoulder and dismissed the crowd with his hands.
Umesh hurried towards platform number 11 as fast as he could, tugging his suitcases with the two handbags loaded atop them. The crowd made way for him as if a VIP was approaching. A perplexed Umesh managed a smile as he trudged along with his load.
Boarding his train, Umesh heaved a sigh of relief. The compartment was almost empty. After keeping his luggage under the bunk. He sat down and closed his eyes. He chose a cubicle which was empty; he needed some privacy and quiet. As he pushed his suitcases and bags underneath the berths, he found that someone else had already put his suitcase under his berth. He wondered how many of them co-travelers would board his berth, would they be bothersome? He really was not in the mood to take anymore nonsense. ‘I wish could travel all alone.’ He thought wistfully. Soon enough the train started moving.
Umesh waited for the owner or owners of the suitcase to emerge. Ten minutes went by, then twenty. ‘Did he miss the train?’ he wondered. The train stopped at the next station. ‘Maybe he’ll arrive now.’ The train started moving, still no one arrived. Strange thoughts crowded his mind as he eyed the abandoned suitcase underneath. ‘Was that a ticking sound? Should I inform the police?’ Umesh dragged his suitcases once more. His heart thumped hard and beads of sweat formed in his forehead. He was sure the ticking sound was coming from the bag underneath, or was it his imagination?