“Man Held On Charges Of Raping German Woman”

“Man Held On Charges of Raping German Woman”… might I have met similar fate as her?

I boarded the Rajdhani Express from New Delhi with trepidation that evening, on a RAC (reservation against cancellation) ticket, of a three tier air-conditioned coach. It was one of those rare occasions that I have taken the train, accustomed as I am since my job with an airline very early in life, to the comforts of flying. But lately, since I’ve crossed the age of forty, I find the urge to do some, if not all of those things that come to mind – of which I might have missed. The current cost of flying only adds to that impulse. Thus I found myself squeezing my baggage under and myself on the lower side berth, along with two men – one of whom was about my age and allotted the berth above, the other assumingly below twenty and on the same berth as me, also on a RAC ticket. Both men seemingly from where we were to traverse – Chennai, or thereabouts, as they spoke in Tamil.

The man my age was very pleasant and I learnt he worked for a power company in New Delhi and was going to Chennai, to be home for Christmas which was in two days. The other, the younger man, was travelling with a group of his college friends, perhaps on an excursion or a sports-meet and who were allocated berths throughout the coach, as well as in other compartments. As I tried to make myself comfortable on the berth with the two men, the ticket checker arrived. He was very matter of fact, when he declared that there was no chance I would get a confirmed berth, as all were occupied. He then walked ahead without making eye contact with me, before I could plead my cause – on how was I going to share the berth with a man for the night nearly upon us, it being after 6 pm.

 “Why don’t you go and request the TT to get us a berth before night” I firmly asked of the young man I was presumably destined to spend the night with on the same berth, urgently bending across the elder man, envisaging from the TT’s attitude that he did not consider the problem of a young woman sharing the berth with a male stranger a pressing issue. “He might listen to you.”

The youth looked back at me expressionlessly, but jumped into action and headed to the TT with the elder man urging him to. Chauvinism finds root way before you’re twenty I could not help ponder, much to my chagrin. Then after repeating my instruction to the TT, who this time nodded and said he would try, the young man came back and settled on the berth, his ear-phones plugged to his ears.

 After dinner was served, preceded by a tomato soup and breadsticks, followed by ice-cream, which the three of us consumed balancing on our respective laps, I began to get restless. I was as yet under the impression that as a single lady passenger, I would be allotted a berth for the night and that what an RAC ticket really meant was they would find me a berth once the journey commenced. But the railway’s bearers made me confront the reality that there was no such possibility and I might as well make myself comfortable on my berth. To which in exasperation I replied aloud “then they should not have given me this seat to begin with and I would not be on this train.”

 The man beside me looked at me sympathetically, but he would be sharing his top berth with a friend who also had a RAC ticket and was allocated an adjacent berth, so could not offer me his berth, even if the thought might have crossed his mind.  In front of me was a lady, who had been lying down on the berth ever since I boarded, with her husband sitting alongside and in front were seated two teenaged boys – their sons, and an elderly couple. This lady who had been lying down, and had not eaten anything or spoken a word, was very stout, even though she had a pretty face. One could imagine her having been quite a beauty in her youth if she were slimmer. I could not help thinking that this huge weight that she was carrying must have caused some malaise that she was going to Chennai to have checked by a specialist, as is often with people travelling to Chennai.

 When I was almost resigned to spending the night seated, the man of the upper berth having settled atop with his friend, people around readying their berths with the sheets and blankets we had been given – of which I had luckily been given my entire set, the stout lady took a walk to the washrooms. On her return, she sat down squarely in front of me and looking purposefully at her husband enquired, “How is didi going to sit like this all night? It is just not possible, I could never do it.” Then before her husband had a chance to say anything, even as he nodded sympathetically, she told her sons firmly “Both of you get together on one berth and give aunty one of yours. Otherwise either of you share your berth along with aunty.” She looked at them, as though commanding them to move promptly. The two boys immediately complied along with a nod, as their father shifted their bedding to one berth. Then the lady looked at me casually and said as though I were a member of her family “There didi you take that now.”

 I was so overwhelmed with gratitude I wanted to hug her enormous frame that held her large warm heart. It was almost like her large heart had needed the big body it had been fit into. But all I did was hold her chubby hands in mine and thank her profusely almost choking with the warmth and gratitude I felt towards this messiah, God had sent me, considering I had a whole day’s journey ahead of the long tedious night it might have otherwise been.  I looked at the young man, who I was luckily no longer destined to share the berth with for the night and said, “Why don’t you go up, it will be much easier for you at your age and with your lean frame.”

He first looked at me, then abruptly looked away, and replied, “But I won’t me comfortable on the top berth.”

I looked at the youth and could not help wondering at the mother who would bring up such a chauvinistic disrespectful son, even as I struggled in the dark to make up my berth on the very top, with sheets and blanket which the elder man and his friend who were on the side upper berth held out to me one at a time. From atop my berth, I could view the young man stretch out luxuriously on the berth I had just vacated and plug his ipod’s earphone into his ear, even as he kept its rhythm with his toes jutting out of the blanket. I fell asleep soon after I climbed onto my berth, but not before thanking the mother who had just pressed her teenaged sons into discomfort for the night, in thoughtfulness for a complete stranger.

The next morning, I vacated the borrowed berth early, so that its rightful owner – either of the two boys could sleep well, way into the day. I returned to sharing the berth with the insolent youth, but through the day did not say a word to him, even as the man of the top berth remained on his, working on his laptop. The stout lady slept through most of the day, her husband by her head. It was when we were readying to disembark, with Chennai about a quarter hour away, that the lady got up. On enquiring she told me she was stretched out through the journey and had not eaten, as she suffered from a bad bout of motion sickness and was confident she would be fine once she got off the train.  It was over our brief chat now that I learnt she was from Chandigarh and was going to Chennai on vacation with her family.  I offered to give her my number before we got off the train and asked her to call if she needed any help in Chennai, to which she smilingly replied in Hindi after giving my hand a warm squeeze, even as I looked at her still overwhelmed by her big-heartedness “My husband is with the Indian navy and we have relatives in Chennai. But if God wishes we will meet again someday.”

I have contemplated writing of this experience that has left a deep impact on me, making me glad I undertook this journey for the lessons it imparted on life and humanity. But it is reading this article in The Hindu yesterday, titled “Man Held On Charges of raping German Woman” in the link http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/man-held-on-charges-of-raping-german-woman/article5579501.ece  ….that compels me to word my thoughts now.


As I Traverse


As I Traverse:

Green green green…is all I can see
As I slice through the face of diversity:
Crossing over south to north of India
Of a land enigmatic to say the least.

Tall white birds fly low over lush grass
That twinkles delightfully in the sunlight;
As shimmering rivulets and lakes gush
Below pretty bridges on which tracks run.

Clusters of coloured graves with crucifixes-
Stand embedded on earth amidst palm groves;
As tall, bright, deity engraved temples stand 
Their colourful idols carved large on pink walls.

Amid ceaseless stretches of lush brown fields
Haystacks stand as clusters of village huts;
While on trees amidst them white birds fly –
Over sun-burnt men, women, bent over work.

My eyes glued to the sight from my berth –
Music plays into my ears from a white ipod…
I concede to culture so diverse south to north –
On landscape distinctly changing hue and tone.


PS – I’m scribbling this, sitting on my lower side-berth on the Rajdhani Express, from Chennai to Delhi for the launch of my book ‘Across Borders’ in Dec 2013. I’d wanted to undertake this journey alone for a long time now and it’s been worth it so far – truly amazing, watching the change of topography and culture.