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A Fast Train to Virar...
by Ravi Lobo

Jul 8, 2009

"…for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."

- Matthew 26:52


There is a train every 3 minutes. That’s what they say. At least there is one at the peak hours. The Churchgate station is never empty. Not even at night. You would always find someone. The trains move to and fro, around the clock, except for few hours after midnight, for a short sleep. Outside the station, there is a colorful city that never sleeps. 

In the mornings, the office crowd swarms the station. The busy crowd doesn’t have time for anything or anybody. This is a daily routine. Any change in the routine causes unpleasant delays. 

The TC stands at a corner with the patience of a vulture. Many won't realize his presence; but he has an eye on everyone. And every now and then he catches the right person without a ticket. Nobody knows how this system works. This doesn't work anywhere else except in Mumbai. 

Bit far from the tracks, sits a row of people busy in shoe polishing; they work with a lightning speed. The speed fetches few more coins. They don’t make much money once the offices start. 

At the far end there is a book store before the subway. People buy news papers here. Not the books. There used to be lanes paved with books just outside the Churchgate station on the way to Fountain. But they are all gone now; evacuated by municipality.

Opposite to the book store there is railway canteen; that is usually empty. Many prefer to eat outside on the roads. The food on the road is cheap, unhygienic and tasty. 

The shop at the exit door sells cold drinks: lemon and colored drinks. The drinks taste divine; else you can add masala, which is again unique to the city. 

Our man, new to Mumbai, was having a lemon drink without the masala. This is his first visit.

The large crowd surprised him. He had never seen such a big crowd anywhere. Not even at the yearly village festival. At first he thought, there may be some kind of festival that caused the rush. But it was just the home going crowd after a tired day. 

Strangers might have thought he was a sales person. He wore a non formal tie, though it was hot. His face was expressionless. His eyes were very calm. They were observing the nameless trains, identified only by their arrival or departure time. In one hand, he had an office bag; that had some old news papers, couple of files, two pens, a tiny soap box and a crude hand made bomb! 


*-------------*----------------*

A commotion started outside one of the stationed trains; its departure being announced. The man in the tie finished the drink in a hurry. "Where does this train go?" he asked the vendor. 

"Fast train to Virar, where do you want to go?"

Train started moving.

"Destination doesn't really matter," he started running after the train. This nonchalant reply irked the cold drink vendor.

"Then why did you ask mother-" irate words of the vendor trailed behind him. 

Train was gaining speed. He ran along; for a moment thought of taking a different train. Right then, some one shot a hand, pulled him inside the train.

"You should not run so close to the train,” said the good Samaritan, “Are you new here?"

"I just got a job," he moved inside to avoid further conversation. He didn't want unnecessary attention. Once inside, he kept his bag on the rack. An old man, with broken glassed spectacles, gave him a courtesy nod. He ignored the old man.                           

*-------------*----------------* 

He had travelled hundreds of miles to reach Mumbai. This will be his last visit. He won't come back here anytime in future. After the assignment he will go back to his village; lead an obscure life with no traces of past. 

He had met his contact at the interstate bus stop; where the bus from his village had left him. 

"How was your journey?"

"Fine," he had said.

"Did you receive the money?"

"Yes"

"You can still return the money and forget the whole thing."

"More than the money I want to do my part for the cause," he had said.

"Well, that is the best thing I have heard in a long time,” said the contact, ”On the assigned day a person from my side will hand over a bag at the train station. The upper flap has a button. A press of the button closes the bag and also completes the electric circuit. The bag will explode in 10 minutes. Is it clear?"

"Yes."

"Once you press the button there is no turning back. The timer is crude. You have approximately 10 minutes. Don't wait long, get as far as possible; any questions?"

"No"

“You need to change your attire. You look like a villager. Buy some good cloths, wear a tie and look sharp.”

“Okay”

"Good Luck"

They walked abreast for few paces.

"One more thing"

He waited.

"Don't try anything stupid. We have paid you full in advance, because we know how to retrieve the money if needed. In a worst case, probably nothing will happen to you, but we will kill your whole family including the children."

No one would have dared to talk like this in his village. For a moment he forgot everything: the money and the cause. He suppressed a deep urge to grab the contacts collar and snap his neck. It was not the right time. There is a right time for everything.

*-------------*----------------* 

A push from the fellow traveler broke his chain of thoughts. Gradually the crowd inside the train increased. Standing so near to the bag made him perspire. 

On the ceiling there were various advertising stickers and a railway map. Just above his bag there was an ad of – Baba Bangali. Do you have any problems in life? The ad asked the potential customer. Baba has the solution. Do you have problems in business? Marriage life? Loan? Premature ejaculation? Baba can solve any of your problems. Call Baba Bangali today. Baba is waiting. 

*-------------*----------------*

His wife had asked about his trip.

“I will return in a week, may be bit more,” he had said.

“Where are you going?”

“That is not your business.” He snapped.

“Who are these new friends of yours?”

“No one”

“There is something in your mind. You come home late these days. Where do you go?”

“Nowhere”

“What should I tell the children?”

“Don’t tell them anything.” That put her off. Quietly she went inside the kitchen and sat near the window. Outside her children were playing; her moist eyes blurred their images. 

Someone was tugging his shirt sleeve. That cut his thoughts.

“Saab, a railway time table for just 10 rupees,” said the boy. He had a small plastic bag in one hand that had colorful cheap items. The other hand carried an infant. 

“I don’t want it,” said our man.

“Not just the time table. You also get a 4 in 1 pen. A pink dairy…”

“Go away”

“Saab, also a pocket torch, and an elastic comb. Five items, for just 10 rupees. You will not get in Chor Bazaar. Even a thief won’t sell you his stolen goods this cheap.”

Our man didn’t budge. The boy let a sigh. It was a rough day. The infant in hand started crying. The boy stopped the sales pitch and started soothing the infant. A Sardarji, who was observing the whole thing, put a coin in the boy’s hand. The boy gave a stern look and returned the coin. “I am not a beggar” he said; and moved to the far corner searching for potential customers. 

Two teenage school students sitting near the window were giggling. They were reading a text message on the cell. 

Our man peeped across the iron mesh, a lady was cutting vegetables in the adjacent compartment. Two people sitting across the aisle were playing cards on the office suitcase. 

At the far end, a group was deeply immersed in Bhajan. The leader of the group, a peon at the court house, chanted the hymns solo. The group intoned the same lines, along the rhythmic clinks of manjira. Aarti on a plate got passed among the devotees. Some offered money, some didn’t; everyone took Prashad. 

Our man watched with indifference. What do these people know about the cause? He thought. They just eat, work like a donkey and die, never think about the higher values. Ignorant fools. I was no different, he observed with guilt, till I met my mentors. Now I have a cause: my life has a meaning. 

*-------------*----------------*

The pungent smell of Bandra creek nauseated him. People squatting along the train tracks for body needs disgusted him. Never ever I will come back to this city. He decided. 

The train stopped; couple of ladies got down from the ladies compartment. A eunuch, realizing the crowd at the men’s compartment, climbed the ladies compartment. 

“Hey, this is a ladies compartment,” shouted a middle aged social worker with blood-red lipstick.

“I am lady,” said the eunuch with an understanding wink. 


A rag picker with a large sack on his back climbed the men’s compartment. There was no place inside. He hung at the door with one foot on the floor and one in air. 


The train moved. Inside the train the crowd was getting restless. After a while, from the crevices of the door, our man saw the amber lights of the incoming station. 


The city and the people had tired him. He could not wait longer. This is the time, he decided. He gave a cautious glance around. No one was looking at him. Slowly but sternly he pressed the button of the bag. 


Once set the timer, he hurried towards the door. The crowd pushed him in every direction. The train reduced the speed preparing to stop. 


A heavily built man stopped him.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I need to get down here.”

“This is Andheri,” said the muscular man.

“So?”

“You don’t get down at Andheri station from a Virar train.”

“What?”

The crowd that was indifferent so far suddenly got curious.

“If you want to get down here, then you should take an Andheri or Borivali train. You Andheri people always crowd the Virar train.”

“I am new here.”

“Boss, I am not from Alibagh. I have heard this excuse hundred times. Get down at Borivali and take a return train. This will teach you a lesson.”


Our man tried to push. But the big man pushed him back. A commotion started. Unrelated people grabbed our man. A person who had missed the earlier train gave a sharp knock on his head. A government employee who had missed the promotion punched him in the guts. A thief tried and succeeded in stealing his purse. Our man felt dizzy, unable to control the blows from everywhere finally collapsed. 


“Please don’t kill him now,” the old man with broken glassed spectacles appealed the crowd. He had somehow managed himself at the center of the mob.


The train that had less than a minute stop-over started leaving the station. A fat man running along the train tried to enter the moving train. But the rag picker hanging at the door with one hand kicked the fat man away.

“No space, take the next train,” said the rag picker.

“Is this your father’s train?” shouted the fat man.

“Watch your tongue, wild swine.”

“Come down I will show you mother-”


The train had gained speed by this time. Inside people had laid the unconscious person on the bench.

“Pull the chain,” an overweight boy suggested. He was eating a vada-pav.

“Hey Hero, I will give you thrash under your ear,” said the muscular man, “already the train is running late.” That silenced the boy. 


The old man sprinkled water on the unconscious person. Slowly he opened eyes. It took him some time to understand the situation. Once sober, he got tensed.

“How long-” he murmured.

“What? Don’t talk, you need rest,” said the kind old man.

“How long I was passed out?” he asked in a hurry.

“Not long, couple of minutes. Don’t worry. Lie down till next station. You will be fine. In all this hurry you forgot your bag. Here, keep it under your head as a pillow.”

Our man tried to resist. But he was week and exhausted.

“Please…” he tried to say something.

“Shhhh!” the kind old man put his finger on his lips, “Don’t say a word.” 

Ravi Lobo - Archives:

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Comments on this article
R Patrao, MangaloreTuesday, July 14, 2009
Well narrated Ravi ! Great attention to details !!
Comment on this message     

Abdulkareem, MangaloreMonday, July 13, 2009
Jeffry Archer from Padmanoor, Kinnigoli is in making. It just reminded me of film Aamir where the theme was little different, but still very close. Keep it up, and go ahead Mr. Ravi Lobo.
Comment on this message     

Ganesh.S, Kinnigoly/MuscatSaturday, July 11, 2009
simply superb...
Comment on this message     

Walter Dantis, Kinnigoli/ BahrainSaturday, July 11, 2009
Ravi, your style of narrating the story is very good!! A Jeffry Archer from kinnigoli is in the making!! keep writing
Comment on this message     

ASHOK KUMAR KUNDER, NANDIKUR, MUMBAISaturday, July 11, 2009
VERY GOOD ARTICLE. SEE HOW TUFF IS MUMBAI LIFE
Comment on this message     

Santosh Danthy, Shirva/ BahrainFriday, July 10, 2009
Excellent story..narrated in a very good manner...this story reminded me abt my mumbai days..
Comment on this message     

Antony Crasta, Mangalore/Sydney-AustraliaThursday, July 09, 2009
I travelled in Mumbai local train recently after a lapse of 20 years or so, and to my amazement, I found the conditions have drastically improved from what they used to be in the 1970`s and 1980`s specially now that the oncoming Station`s name is displayed and also announced in advance, it is much easier to get off at your destination. Earlier, being new to Mumbai, I always had to depend upon my co-travellers to identify the Station`s name for me as I could not see a thing outside the compartment because of the over-crowded situation. Also, I noticed that the windows of the compartment are now grilled, adding to the safety of passengers. Well done Indian Railways! I also observed that the Mumbai commutors have a lot of patience and understanding, in spite of the fact they have to endure adverse and difficult travelling conditions, and they were always nice and willing to help me, and thank you all good Mumbai people.
Comment on this message     

Ram Kumar, Tampinies/SingaporeThursday, July 09, 2009
Ravi, I was readng this article with my eyes WIDE open,This is a differnt one from your pen.
Comment on this message     

Chaitra, bangaloreThursday, July 09, 2009
Hi Ravi, A nice story.Narration great...One could exactly picture the scene. One easily becomes a part of the story. But the climax could be anticipated. "This man is going to fall into his own trap" is what I felt right from the beginning..All the very best
Comment on this message     

kabeer, Mangalore / DammamThursday, July 09, 2009

Dear Naveen Mathias, Reema is absolutely right, the bible verses not relevant at all. Yes he took the sword and going to die by sword. Everyone understood this theme. But, what about other innocent people who were in the compartment? The old man, children and the mothers who are preparing repast for their children.

Did they take sword? Why the killer and other innocents have same ending? There were many bomb blasts in India and we failed to resist them. At least let’s defuse it in our thoughts and writings and save precious lives

Comment on this message     

Naveen Mathias, Kinnigoli / DubaiThursday, July 09, 2009
Nice article Ravi.......Superb. Reema D Souza, Udupi....the biblical verse is very much relevant. He used the sword (Bomb) to kill people...and now, he is going to die with it.
Comment on this message     

Sunil, MumbaiThursday, July 09, 2009
This pics remind me those days , the experience of traveling in mumbai local trains.... huh... its unforgetable
Comment on this message     

Satish More, MumbaiThursday, July 09, 2009
Nice article Ravi. Makes me feel nostalgic, reminds me of my college days when mumbai trains were a part of my life
Comment on this message     

Joyer Noronha, Kinnigoli, KinnigoliThursday, July 09, 2009
Ravi, Wow, It has come out very well.
Comment on this message     

stanley, MANIPAL MIT/dohaThursday, July 09, 2009
Wonderful article thtyas a great ida to write about the mumbai Trains , so that the world will know stanley
Comment on this message     

S.Dhooma, MulkiWednesday, July 08, 2009
nicely illustrated...a bombay life..ending is not good.. for virar-churchgate people..only relief place none other than.. a ''winston churchill'' after long journey of one and half hour. peope first run over there. health conscious people even often look one''s weight in weighing machine.. alternate day..by ing one rupee coin..many more...yeah hai jalwa of mumbai people...once come never goes back..
Comment on this message     

Aldrin, Bajpe/NYThursday, July 09, 2009
Another superb story Ravi !! the suspense is exploding in my head !! Very well ended.... Eagerly waiting for the next one
Comment on this message     

A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Great article. I have visited Bombay in 1971 and 1993. I live in a small town in the U.S., almost like a village. I have great upbringing to be a deep believer in God, and as I get old, my trust in God is increasing every day. But I call on God for my personal protection, and pray earnestly not to witness a death on the road, whenever I visit India. Sometimes, when I doubt God, I think about my three days life in Bombay (1971) and two days life in 1973, and do appreciate the blessings of life more every day.
Comment on this message     

Siva avadani, Manipal/DubaiWednesday, July 08, 2009
Shravan Shetty i agree with u the concept is great but narration is week but i read all your articles u r trying to give very good message however you need to mix heart and brain. U R Brilliant
Comment on this message     

Rayan Sequeira, MangaloreWednesday, July 08, 2009
Hey Ravi, Damn angry with you, Comeon, u give such a good start create interest and when in the peak of climax u stop. This though is a good ploy to make a reader think I''m not good at my thoughts and yes i surely lack creative dreaming and since u are the author Its up to you to complete it for me.
Comment on this message     

lakshmi, MiamiWednesday, July 08, 2009
This story is awesome!! the picture you created in our minds is nice and realistic.
Comment on this message     

Sherwin, Kallianpur/DubaiWednesday, July 08, 2009
Dear Ravi u are an excellent narrator. The momentum of the article also started slow and emerged fast like a train.Yes the Virar Fast, I was new in Bombay unknowingly i boarded Virar Fast to Andheri and they took me till Virar. One marati guy also took me to the shop in the platform and paid for a glass of Neera. Sweet memories. However the moral of the story is very touchy. KEEP WRITING
Comment on this message     

CYRIL MASCARENHAS, Mangalore/Mira RoadWednesday, July 08, 2009
VERY GOOD ARTICLE RAVI,I FELT THAT I WAS IN THE VIRAR TRAIN.PLS KEEP IT UP AND WRITE ABOUT ST.AND B.E.S.T. BUSES. CYRIL MASCARENHAS CYRIL MASCARENHAS
Comment on this message     

Arun Kumar, MangaloreWednesday, July 08, 2009
I have never been to Mumbai. After reading this story - My views about Mumbai are clear now. The description about the church gate station in the first few para is absolutely wonderful. Characters though have a very short presence. They are very likable and real. The story is gripping and the ending is fantastic.
Comment on this message     

RONALD IVAN D''SOUZA, PALIMAR/BAHRAINWednesday, July 08, 2009
THIS ARTICLE TOOK ME ALMOST 20 YEARS BACK. I STILL REMEMEBER THOSE DAYS. PAIN AND STRUGLES. GOOD ARTICLE. THANKS DAIJI. JAI HO MUMBAIKARS
Comment on this message     

Hilary Tellis, Kuntalpadi, BahrainWednesday, July 08, 2009
Wonderful write up, It reminds me the blast in Mumbai. It is true that in virar fast train people won''t allow andheri people to get down.
Comment on this message     

Praveen Shetty , Mumbai - Arthur Road Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Yeh Dil,Mushkil, Jeena ya...Zara aske zara bachke yeh Mumbai Mere jaan....
Comment on this message     

Shraavan Shetty, Mangalore , Saudi ArabiaWednesday, July 08, 2009
Hi Ravi, I read all your articles last week. All are pretty fascinating!!! The place where you born and brought up is much familiar to me as my mom is from same place. Sorry to say this article is not up to the mark as the incident you already narrated in one of your article and also seem more fiction. One more thing is… I started reading Madame Bovary!!!!!
Comment on this message     

M.Bhat, MumbaiWednesday, July 08, 2009
Very good article with lots of wits and humour. Mr.Ravi Lobo, you have correctly understood the life of mumbaikars who travel by train to office everyday.
Comment on this message     

Anita, Kinnigoli,USAWednesday, July 08, 2009
Hello Ravi, Good article...liked the way you have included the surprise element! The pace of the article is good, crisp narration. Getting down even at Borivali on a Virar fast is not possible. The ladies (moushies) block the exit. I was allowed to get off after two stations when I had unknowingly taken a Virar fast. Oh! Memories of Bombay.
Comment on this message     

Vilma D''Souza, CanadaWednesday, July 08, 2009
Excellent article. I''ve been there, done that, several years ago. I feel very sorry for the poor men in the picture as well as for all people who have to travel in crowded trains in Mumbai and other cities.
Comment on this message     

Sam, KinnigoliWednesday, July 08, 2009
One word...Superb. beautifull ending.
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Radesh, Vamanjoor/DubaiWednesday, July 08, 2009
Good article Ravi Lobo. This reminds me the days of Mumbai (Bombay) 12 yrs.back, which is never forgetable.
Comment on this message     

Bulsam, MangaloreWednesday, July 08, 2009
Its high time Mumbai had double lines for similtanious double train every 3 minutes during peak hours between Andheri & City.
Comment on this message     

R.bhandarkar., M''loreWednesday, July 08, 2009
U have to experience it to believe it! Brought back lost but tiring memories Ravi! but then Mumbai teaches u like no one else does to live- really fight to live!
Comment on this message     

steevan, sacheripateWednesday, July 08, 2009
VERY GOOD ARTICLE EVRYONE SHOULD THINK ABOUT IT.TO THIS WE COME TO KNOW THE PAIN AND STRUGLES OF THE PEOPLE WHO TRAVEL IN THE TRAIN.
Comment on this message     

wilfred, londonWednesday, July 08, 2009
The article reminded me the painful days of my life in Mumbai in 1985 I wanted to forget but could not
Comment on this message     

R.LEWIS, MANGALORE/BAHRAINWednesday, July 08, 2009
Dear Ravi, Good article from you, I still rememeber those days which I had to travel Vasai to Andheri for work......Thanx
Comment on this message     

Reema D Souza, UduipiWednesday, July 08, 2009
The biblical verse is not relevant to this story.
Comment on this message     

Ashwin , MangaloreWednesday, July 08, 2009
Good one... still remember all these experiences in Virar fast!!!
Comment on this message     

Praveen, Nanthur / DubaiWednesday, July 08, 2009
Very good article.......It reminds my days in Mumbai almost 10 years back.
Comment on this message     

Lawrence D''Mello, Karkala/SydneyWednesday, July 08, 2009
Having lived in Mumbai for several years, sardined trains are an aspect, am happy to miss...here in the western world...even when 2 pax stand in a compartment, they call it crowded !!!
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