Life in a humid city


— Sivasudhan R



I recall a particularly busy day when I had to give a short talk on my ongoing research work at the institute. The night before, I burnt the midnight oil during some last minute attempts to make an interesting story out of a hopeless data set. I did manage to weave out a story which I bravely dreamt would make the cover page of a double-figure impact-factor journal.

Rediscovering the love for fresh morning air shouldn’t be strange for a person who has synchronized his bathing schedule with the moon’s calendar. As a result, I found myself precariously placed near the footboard of the local train I boarded at the nearest station. I anchored myself to the pole near the door, taking in every bit of the crisp air, punctuated with short spells of odour emanating from heaps of garbage lining the railway tracks.

Every teenager would have his own rulebook on how to be an alpha male. Throughout school life, I was left to umpire games as neither groups were interested in picking me for their teams. The experience left me with no choice but to define an act of getting down at every train station and boarding a running train as an exemplary display of my heroic masculinity. Despite the fact that there was no audience, the ‘act’ continued periodically at every local station until an RPF constable spotted me. I couldn’t avoid his call in a sparsely populated station. He enquired about my ticket. I flashed my season ticket along with the brand new ID card from a central research institute. He browsed through the details and started walking towards his office. I got puzzled and screamed, each scream resonating with the cautionary honking of the departing train.

“Sir, my train is about to leave and I have got to go,” I pleaded. He calmly replied, “Let the train go, my little boy. We have something to discuss about.”

I raised my voice further and tried to reason that I did not have time for all that and had a research meeting to address. To which he smiled in that same stoic manner and said, “Sure, you do.”

In the middle of this kerfuffle, a group of around thirty people ranging from software professionals to a drunk rickshaw guy — gathered around me. The RPF constable reported to his higher official, “Sir, I caught a student travelling on the footboard of a train and blocking the way for other commuters.”

I got furious and screamed louder against the constable for conjuring up an event portraying me as the criminal. The inspector wasn’t convinced and reinforced the fact that he had full faith in the constable’s integrity.

I didn’t of course have a convincing answer for the inspector. The inspector started calling other ‘criminals’ to file a FIR. As I was the latest addition to this enterprising list, I was called at the last.

“Look. We have enough cases for people travelling on footboard, so the judge might take nasty decisions if I file your case against the same. Considering your studentship at a central institute, we may have to rephrase your case if you don’t want to end up in jail,” the inspector explained.

I was shocked to know that I will be taken to the court, and the pictures of handcuffs and news reporters started flashing across my eyes. I pinched myself to come back to reality and quickly agreed to his conditions. The inspector took my signature on a blank paper.

I couldn’t imagine myself in a position where I would be pushed into a police van and driven off to the court like a common criminal. But then the inspector had a better plan. He decided to take us in the local train. It can’t get any better than getting escorted by police in a busy station. A child came closer to me. Her mother sensed an impending danger on her child and quickly pulled her back. To make matters worse, she converted this into a teaching moment and started explaining to her daughter about how bad people look like. The daughter gave me a scary look similar to the one I had historically reserved for villains of my childhood days.

It is during that time I had the privilege of boarding a women’s compartment with police escorting us on either end. I could see fear in the eyes of the female passengers. The day could not get any better: I received a call from my professor at the institute enquiring my whereabouts. I cooked up a slightly respectable excuse and convinced him that I would not be able to make it for the meeting.

Finally, we reached the court and there came the constable’s threatening words, “You boy. Don’t try arguing against the case, it can only make it worse. If you refuse to accept, then the case would get extended to the next session and you may have to stay in jail till then.”

There were so many surprises for the day. However, the biggest surprise came in the form of the case under which I was arrested. I nodded my head to the cautionary warning of the constable.

I was called to appear in the victim box and the clerk read out the complaints, “He was found peeing at the railway ticket counter even after two warnings.” I was appalled.

The hon’ble justice of the court gave a judgemental look at my Louis Philippe shirt and the Wildcraft bag I was carrying. The judge asked me “Did you pee near the ticket counter?”. I closed my eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and nodded in the affirmative. Immediately she read out, “As the victim feels guilty about the crime, he shall be penalised with the minimum amount.” She also warned me not to repeat this again.

And this, my friend, is how I missed my research talk.

P.S. Of course this is fiction and I was not the person!

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