There was no sign of the train. It wasn’t surprising, considering it’s been little more than just fifteen minutes since we were waiting at the station. The lights dimmed for a moment and then we were suddenly plunged into darkness, waiting literally for the light from the end of the tunnel. In that few seconds, one could sense the uneasy panic as the whispers reached a crescendo.
” Barate, barate, power barate” said the voice cutting through the murmurs as the lights came on suddenly . I looked around to see if someone was addressing me and also wondered around the same time if it was the efficiency of the electricity department or the infrastructure in that little station that brought the lights back .”Genset idhe,” he said as if he was reading my thoughts.
The dim light revealed a aging bald man with diamond studs in his ears. Sitting on the bench and speaking to no one in particular, he had that smug look about him . I looked around and realized that his little audience was indeed paying attention to him.
There was the great Indian family, replete with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and even a toddler . The mother looked agitated, rocking her little one, while the latter looked curiously out of her little bundle of clothes that wrapped her. There was a litter of baggages, strewn around, the tacky prints on the innumerous bags giving them a distinct Indianness – a flavour the urban folks will not relate to.And as soon as the power came back, they were all talking to each other at the same time. The mother paced around the platform desperately trying to rock her baby to sleep, who was wide eyed and wide awake, taking in the chaos .
I was in Hospet waiting for the train from Hubli to arrive, to take me back to Bangalore. There were just two platforms here and I was standing in the first platform observing life unfurl around me . I looked at the tracks and wondered how life changed every minute. If the visit to Hampi was to relive a forgotten city and its memories, Daroji took me to the wilderness in the midst of the man made ruins . The tracks would eventually take me back to a concrete jungle when the mechanics of life would continue. But, it was the present that caught my attention. The small vignettes of life here in this little station presented themselves to me . The vendors ,beggars, local passengers, wayfarers, tourists, foreigners and the railway personnel all merged into a colorful amalgam of people waiting for that one train to take them to their respective destinations. They meet for a brief while and then walk down their own paths. The destinations may be the same, but the paths different.
There is something about the people in a small town. The awkwardness with which they carry themselves is juxtaposed with the loud brashness , the curiosity with the boldness,or maybe openness. Probably that is the reason that the urbanites, prejudiced with snobbishness, shy away from them. I often wonder if it is a tinge of fear that makes the city bred avoid them, as if the masks will fall off in public view . I cringe subconsciously at the thought, even as we guise this fear with a snooty air.
“This is real India..youve been to Hampi ?” Our man was holding forth to a small group of foreigners who looked completely lost in this circus.They were loud too in their appearance with their massive backpacks, wide rimmed hats, camera equipments and travel gear. The locals gathered around them, but maintained a polite distance . The tourists looked tired and the girl wondered loudly if there would be a further delay.They were probably being tired of being stared at , as though they were curios, as the locals watched every movement of theirs and hung on to every word they said. Our man slowly walked away to his group , translating his brief interlude with the foreigners.
Another local hero emerged. Younger and conversant in English, he seemed to be wanting to bridge the gap between the foreigners and the locals. He was the typical “Our boy who made it big,” surrounded by his circle of friends who probably aspired to be like him . Chatting up with the foreigners, he had learnt about their nationalities, their travel plans and their next destination as well. ” Ah Kochi would be another 12 hours from Bangalore by train..and where are you staying in Bangalore ? ” He was playing the local guide to the hilt to the tourists and was the hero to his circle who was by now hanging on to every word he said. The waiting had thawed the ice and conversations flowed freely. The chai wala arrived and cups were floated around. The magazine vendor landed on the scene as well trying to make a quick buck .The vendors probably rejoiced in the delay as they teased the passengers’ patience and converted them into buyers.
Elsewhere lights of a different kind beckoned the bored passengers. An entire lot of women arrived from nowhere with a group of children with cool drinks and lays . And they made their way to the weighing machine which was glittering with lights. For a moment, it was a wave of nostalgia that swept me. As children, we cousins used to persuade our parents to take us to the weighing machine. The lure was simple. It wasnt so much the statistics on the weighing scale that bothered us, but that little piece of fortune that showed on a simple card. I heard the peals of laughter from the group and was tempted to step outside my city bred avtaar and try my luck again. As nostalgia faded, I realized that not much has changed. Neither the obsession with weight, nor the craving for a prediction. We all live on hope and a prayer -only technologies and contraptions change.
A sudden rush of feet and the station master was accosted by the wait listed, berthless and ticketless passengers. The party broke up as everyone thronged around him. “Was the train in sight ?” A distant light on the track gathered momentum. Suddenly the energies and the emotions on Platform No 1 underwent a change. The jostling began, a bit of a push and a rush , a sense of urgency as feet moved towards the tracks and necks craned to get a better view. The great Indian family was busy with their luggages , the tourists strapped their backpacks. The patience had given way to impatience as the hum grew louder and the engine came into view , but it chugged past as passengers realized there were no bogies behind it.
Post the anticlimax the scene rewound itself as the waiting game started all over again. A couple of dogs entered the fray, wagging their tails . The toddler suddenly wailed in her mother’s arms. The murmurs grew. The chai wala persuaded me to buy another cup of sweetened tea. A train whizzed past in the second platform . I sipped another cup and waited