Monday, November 21, 2016

8.29 Local Beckons

It’s already 8.27 ante meridian.
Parking his scooter at the disheveled parking-lot of Mambalam station, he was heedlessly rushing like his every usual day, but without missing any of his automated routines. Probably a psychologist would term them as OCDs (obsessive compulsive disorders), but he cared a hoot of what others think of him, leave alone the psychologists. Skipping any of those die-hard habits, he believed, would make his day miserable.
He shook the handle of his scooter twice to ensure it was securely locked and fastened his helmet to the bracket; troubled the handle once again before hurrying towards the station with his sling bag clung to his shoulder. As he crossed the Ganesha temple, he got out of the slip-on shoes, stood over them for a moment with his knees slightly bent forward and knocked his head thrice with his knuckles muttering something like a prayer; dropped a generous two rupee coin into the usual dented bowl of the usual leper squatting in the usual place; customarily covered his nostrils as he speeded through the urinal stink and increased his pace as he neared the flight of stairs. The siren of the distant train comforted him that he was in time.
Start of the day was not anything like this. At 630 in the morning, Parandaman was much more a relaxed person. He would squat on the small thinnai of his house and spread The Hindu in front and take the news and his filter coffee in alternate gulps. But it would gradually gain momentum and when he came out of his bath reciting the slokas, passed down through the generation, he would already be multi-tasking with dressing up, stuffing his bag with his paraphernalia like paper, tiffin box etc at the same time muttering his morning prayers. The sprint would peak at the breakfast table and he’d gush in whatever was on the plate. ‘Why this head-butchering urgency? Heaven is not going to fall, if you miss the 8.29’, his wife’s admonition to slow him down would only irritate him, but he would not retort. His irritation would show up when he kick-started his scooter which frequently refused to button-start.
Two years back he used to be more stress-free. He was not very fussy about taking this 8.29 local to Beach station where he would switch another train to get to his office. Things changed, when a small unassuming gadget appeared at his front office. This little inanimate creature reminded him of the old Tamil maxim which roughly translates as ‘don’t under-estimate the power of the murthy (idol) by its size’. This biometric reader impartially and religiously recorded the time of entry and exit of every employee. Initially he didn’t take it too seriously, but one fine day, it started triggering innocuous mails of his entry and exit timings- with cc to his boss. He could not ignore it anymore. Initially this had put undue pressure on him and now has got used to that hurry as a way of life.
Climbing up a flight of forty steps made him pant and he halted for a while after going up, as though looking out for the ‘Fast’ train, while trying to control his gasp. Then he alighted on platform no 1 jit (just in time) as the 8.29 arrived at the platform at 8.33.
The relief of having got into the train faded away when he lost the lone vacant seat to a senior citizen who overtook him. He occupied a corner comfortable enough to stand and hold his newspaper. He pulled out the newspaper from his bag and folded it fourfold and started going on from where he left. He used this also as a strategy to create an elbow room from the co-commuters who would soon occupy every inch of the floor-space.
The conversation happening near him drew his attention and he gave keener ear to it while he kept on the pretense of reading.
‘I can’t believe it, I saw him in our coach two days back’.
‘But who can predict this yaar? no one is born with the expiry date. And such things do not come announcing; he was in a hurry to his office. But he never knew that he was actually in a hurry to leave forever.’
‘What actually happened?’
‘He was hit and thrown off by the 9.10 local as he was crossing the track to take the Velachery train on the other platform.’
‘He was really a very nice guy’.
‘Poor fellow, he had such a caring wife. She couldn’t control her grief. It seems she’d tell him almost every day not to be in such a maddening hurry. Who knows? May be she had this premonition’.
Parandaman couldn’t hear any more. He was full of emotions -all sympathy for his wife and himself too. He felt how badly he had been treating his wife. It was after all, the care she had for him that she showed as anger. How many days has he really cared to appreciate her for the nice dishes she so-painstakingly prepares. He couldn’t think of a single day, he even spoke to her some nice words. He felt cruel about himself. These thoughts were churning in him even during the day and he decided to should change himself - from Tomorrow.

The day had worn on and gave in to the next day. Parandaman was back at the breakfast table. He looked at his watch. Oh, no, it’s already time for the 8.29 local.