It was the usual evening for me. I boarded the metro train from Yamuna bank Station , post flexing every possible muscle, wrestling with the passengers who were busy in de-boarding and boarding. Although, I am game for ‘fall in the queue’ mentality and taking the risk of standing in front of Delhi crowd is not my cup of lemon juice, but I guess that day everyone was determined to see me home ON TIME.
Post getting in, as most of the Delhi Metro commuters does as a ritual; I also took out my earphones and plugged the jack into the mobile phone to sooth my already fried nerves. It was The Beatles track ‘Why my guitar gently weeps’…
“Wow!! what a song, I would definitely enroll myself to guitar classes this fall” I vowed to myself. The metro picked up slowly and I was about to retire to the music, when this scene caught my attention.
Some commuters encircled a particular part of the metro train and were discussing something with each-other. The crowd was constantly swelling up in that very section as the time is passing by.
“Why these people are crowding that corner, I shall check out who is sitting there and what this fuzz is all about” and to quench my curiosity, I joined the party.
The fuzz turned out to be a BOY. This boy would be around 11 – 12 years of age, got a thin body-frame , was wearing big specs and somehow managed to get a hairline fracture to his spinal cord. He was wearing this off-white jacket made up of plaster of paris, from neck to waistline and there were clear signs of suffocation on his face, not because of the armor but due to the unnecessary attention he was drawing. However, he was not alone in the situation and was accompanied by his Grandpa.
The old-man was trying hard to answer every question, remark, suggestion or pity tossed by the crowd and he looked determined to guard his lad from all. The crowd kept on accumulating and now there were tons of flying remarks, questions and suggestions for the boy.
The boy was staring hard at his hands, trying to avoid the attention. Grandpa went on shielding his beloved from the stupid stark comments … and the boy kept on staring at his hands, silently praying for this journey & horror to end.
There is this famous Hindi dialogue that ‘crowd does not have faces’ … however to tell you honestly, I was able to make out quite a few, that day. Those faces and their expressions of awe, pity and sympathy “… ohh it is terrible what happened to him, poor child …”
Now, I was trying to get out from there, as myself felt disgusted …why, I do not know. While turning back I saw this man, standing right at the edge of the accumulated crowd, silently looking at the boy. He was part of the crowd.. like me, but there was something different about him. It looked like he was studying the boy, paying attention to every detail of his movement. The usual expressions of the crowd was missing from his face. And then, he started moving in the direction of the boy, passing every passenger and every flying communication.
“Next station is Shadhara” the official metro announcement went off. Suddenly there was lot of movement in the crowd. The boy is no more of interest to them as they started packing their stuff and thoughts, and now were moving in the direction of the door. For the first time the boy looked up, confused with this sudden happening.
“What is your name”? The man asked with husky voice, who was standing next to the boy, now . “Shitij”.. a prompt response came from Grandpa. He greeted Grandpa and then turned back to the kid “ hmmm..Shitij, it means horizon, right?.. You know, you look like a warrior my friend and your armor fits you, perfectly. Are you out here to protect us from the bad guys?” Grandpa gave a smile but the boy was still staring at his hands.
The man started conversing with the Grandpa. It was a general discussion on how metro has eased lives of daily commuters. I noticed that it was the Grandpa talking for most part of the conversation and the man was giving inputs in between to keep him going.
“Sometime from now, this fellow would also ask the usual probing questions, seeking what happened” I thought to myself but those questions never came. Shitij was quiet all this time, however was lending out an ear to the conversations Grandpa was having with this man.
Now what this man was able to do is to engage the Grandpa in a general conversation, and this very conversation is of little interest to the crowd. This was evident by the crowd which was getting thinner by every passing minute. I was still standing in a corner mesmerized by the change of scene, when the metro announcement broke again..“This is the last metro station; this train will not go any further”.
We all started to get our-self assembled for the outside world… but not Shitij. He was looking straight in the eyes of this man. The train slowly changed tracks as the station arrived. There were fewer passengers on the station and I was relieved with the fact that no one would push us inside again, taking us for another ride.
The gates stood open in a jiffy and grandpa asked Shitij to get up. He got up slowly, thinking. The man de-boarded the train first and stood in front of the gate to make way for the boy. Shitij stepped out slowly and carefully, and the grandpa followed him.
The man bid farewell to Grandpa and as he turned towards Shitij to say goodbye, there was a small hand asking for a handshake. Both shook hands with respect gleaming in their eyes and the mournful pity was nowhere to be seen, which overwhelmed all of us for past so many minutes.
‘THANKS’ … for the first time Shitij spoke and there was a faint smile on his face.