The train was pacing down the northern plains while I was reading a book. The horizon had behind itself the sun setting. Every colour of the scenery was complimenting the lush orange of the dying sun. Famous Indian Railways’ tea was on the window sill. Vendors were passing by with overpriced goods accompanied by their annoying way of selling.
Inside the carriage, there are infinite things to distract you from your thoughts, especially if you find yourself in the sleeper coach. From the ceiling fan to the disturbed aunty who can’t stop cursing the Railway staffs and officials for the mess they have made, everything turns out to be comical and even the stern people can’t overlook.
A boy about 4 years older than me named Danish, was sitting before me. Beside him was a middle-aged couple. The husband worked as an assistant to some lawyer while the other half was a house wife. Well, how do I know them? Its obligatory for north Indians to find relatives everywhere and that is the reason for why they introduced themselves. I didn’t bother to ask the name of the man because it’s a custom to go with the word ‘uncle’ or perhaps ‘Ji’ rather than risking your respect. The man whom I had just made my uncle was a weird fellow. He had very distinctive features so as to follow. His two front teeth of the upper set were imposing great peer pressure on the others. He wore oversized shirt and trousers with worn out flip-flops but his persona was of a man who had been around the world. Though the personality was unrealistic and quite contrasting, it did occupy much of our time. His eyebrows were long enough to tickle the dark circles below his eyes. I hence for the first time witnessed a handle-bar eyebrow.
The lady, however was shy, keeping her mind and thoughts to herself. What disturbed me of her was the stare she posed. Continuously, she relied on looking at me and whenever I looked back at her, she looked away. Out of a cent chances, there are about dozens of them where both of the persons’ eyes meet and you catch them red-handed or probably red-eyed.
I was the lone traveller on my berth for others were yet to come. The sun had almost drowned and the weather had turned windy. The greyish cover of clouds had overtaken the gutsy orange and the train was moving ferociously along the line of north Indian rosewood trees.
Feeling sleepy, I got up to put the book in my rucksack bag and sat down to get myself dozing off. In about 10 minutes I felt a jolt on my shoulder with someone calling my name. With weary eyes I woke up being unable to recognize the boy.
“Hi Akarsh! I’m Ben. What are you doin’ here buddy?” He exclaimed. I knew I had seen him somewhere and his Goan accent was pretty alarming but still I was confused over his presence. I tried to remember
but in vain. Seeing my disability to recognize him, he said “Benedict Crasto buddy, we met in Gokarna on the Kudle beach”. I had met hundreds of people in Gokarna, therefore, I found it better to deliberately recognize him even though I had no idea of him.
Me: Oh yeah! Now I remember, Benedict! Yes, yes!
He sat beside me.
Me: Is this your seat?
Ben: Oh yes man! What are you doin’ here man?
Me: I’m going back home.
Ben: Well well…you are a lucky man! Home is subjected to few people. As you know I’m a nomad. No home, no family. Just me and my trips. Woohooo!!!
Ben was an eccentric guy and his presence was giving hard time for others in front of me to talk of politics. They were ignoring him but his sudden outbursts were enough to take their attention away. His curly hairs were a shade of blonde. Wearing shabby trousers with lots of pocket paired with a kurta, he seemed a perfect blend of Goan and north Indian culture. Certainly, Ben wasn’t the High and Dry form of guy. His ever over-the-moon attitude came from some magical substances.
Me: So, when did you take it?
Ben: What are you taking about man?
Me: You know what I’m talking about. What was it this time?
Ben gave me a disapproving look but soon came to his senses.
Ben: Well bro, it was just a bit of queen. Sometimes you need it and other times you just do it for leisure. It kind of stimulates my body and mind. You know how it is man! Going into a different place all by yourself. Your soul transcends the borders and you become something else!
While justifying his act Ben became a preacher. His brows tensed and his muscles taut. He gave a look of one so immersed in drugs that no one can sway him of the way. He continued.
Ben: You see bro; I don’t know why people complain! It’s the best…
I interrupted him.
Me: So, what are you doing in North?
Ben: You know my methods man. I get bored of places and people. Ordinary life doesn’t suites my palate. I’m an animal. I don’t own a family, no wife, no children, no back logs. Just me and this moment.
Me: Yeah, good for you.
I decided to indulge myself in some other work while Ben found talking to others befitting.
It had been a couple of hours since dusk and the winds were substituted by a strong gale and little shower. Outside the window, the trees were whirling. The moon was often perturbed by the thick blanket of clouds. Raindrops started finding their way into the carriage; the reason for which we all shut the windows. Though we couldn’t see lightning but thunder could be heard. The rain had turned wild with the peltering of drops on the carriage. Some amount of water found its way below the shutter of the window.
Danish looked a bit uncomfortable. He went to the loo a couple of times. The lady however had continued her staring while in between she listened to Ben. Inside me, I was boiling with anger. A stare does really makes you conscious. It seemed that I was being toyed. She was looking me from the upside down. The torturing stare compelled me to stare her back. She was in high standards to her husband in dressing up. She had on a beautiful set of salwar-kameez. Her slippers seemed to be branded and remarkably well padded. Around her neck was a silver pendent which reflected her majestic personality. Also, there was a red coloured thread around her neck. Although her personality was appealing and she had exquisite eyes, but what attracted my attention were the bangles she was wearing. They were in complete contrast to her charm. Those ancient looking rugged bangles made her wrists look rather dull.
I plugged in my ear phones to get away from the mental chaos that had resided. Ben had some other plans. He elbowed me and said something which I couldn’t understand. I removed the plugs.
Ben: Isn’t she amazing?
He whispered in my ears.
I was bewildered by his question.
Ben: The lady, isn’t she interesting! She is continuously staring at you. Do what I say.
Me: What do you want?
Ben: Get up and go somewhere!
Me: What! Where?
Ben: Anywhere, may be to the lavatory and come after few minutes.
Though his intent was unclear to me, I started getting up. At that moment I saw the earnestness in the lady’s eyes. She wanted to say something but couldn’t. It seemed that she had almost blurted out her emotions but restrained herself.
I went to the lavatory as suggested and waited for a few minutes until I heard a scream. It wasn’t a high pitch one but was quite hoarse. Surely a man’s. Rushing out I ran to my berth finding the lady lying on the ground shivering with agony. Everyone was trying to pick her up. Her body was moving back and forth with such force that it seemed that a giant wave had struck frequency with her. Tensioned was the atmosphere around. Nobody knew what to do. A sense of fear ran across everyone.
As soon as she was laid on the berth, her shivering died down and she finally concede to struggle. Her husband was calling her name but she didn’t respond. About two dozen people were standing around looking at that lifeless body. There lay a woman with her worn out broken bangles on the floor.
I was out of my mind. Although I didn’t do anything, I somehow felt responsible for the woman. My mind cast me to search for Ben. He wasn’t around.
The railway guards came around to find the body and immediately cleared the area. Soon, the news travelled to other compartments. The guards commanded the loco pilot to let the train moving so that the culprit doesn’t get off. Everybody else were glancing, standing close to the lavatory. There was a reverberating buzz. A sleeper coach had somehow turned into a crime spot. Three guards hovering around the body. The husband with his head sunk and his eyes radiating pain sat close to the body as lifeless as the woman was.
I was in a state of utmost confusion. Where were Danish and Ben? Also, there was no sign of allegations from the husband. Everyone seemed to be agreeing to the deed done to the woman and proclaimed it to be her fate. The unison amongst the passengers’ thoughts was initially disturbing but lately I too got influenced. But still the question of how she died loomed around my head.
As I was peeping to see the corpse of the woman, a hand gently pats my shoulder. I turned around to see Danish standing along with Ben. The expressions clad on their faces showed another tale. Their gaze intense, as if piercing my iris. Their pupils dilated, slowly and gradually alluring my soul to go deep down them and search for the plot.
Ben: Are you ready to listen?
I was startled to hear him ask that way. His eyes smouldered as if frustrations of his past came back torturing him from within. On the contrary, the demeanour of his body except his eyes was calm and composed. It looked as if his eyes were going to burst.
Ben: I hope you have some questions.
Me: No, I mean…yes.
Ben: You would get every answer you want. But you won’t ask me anything about the course of events that I’m about to create.
What was he trying to say? I became more and more terrified as each word spilled out of his mouth. I restrained myself from asking further questions.
Ben pulled out a strange object from his left-side pocket of his trousers. It seemed a sort of permanent marker initially. Looking closely, I found it had some engravings on it.
In Norse mythology, Thor is the hammer-wielding god of thunder and lightning. Thor’s relation to this peculiar six-inch device was a baffling question for me. Also, what did A.E. stands for?
The object was made of a metal, the lustre of which I hadn’t seen before. Along the sides of the cylindrical device were two glass sheets. Through them a blue liquid was visible. Even the liquid seemed tantalizing and it teased my senses of its luxurious look.
Ben took three steps ahead towards the corpse and came in complete sight of the guards. One of them noticed him and glared towards him. Ben stared back at him. The guard started coming towards Ben, with his right-hand clutching onto a baton. He held the baton high to strike Ben when he came close.
Ben looked at me. He stretched his hand towards me. I couldn’t see what other passengers were doing on my back but there was pin drop silence except for the rain. Without thinking much about the prospects of my future, I held his hand. The guard came running with furiousness dripping off his face. Ben, suddenly knelt down keeping the device on the carriage floor, though still holding on to my hand. The device got glued to the floor. He twisted its top.
The whole carriage got filled with light of immense intensity. It was blinding my vision. I held on to Ben’s hand even as the momentum of infinite tiny particles hitting me zeroed in a matter of few microseconds.
In about 30 seconds, I felt the surge had stopped. To my surprise, there was no sound whatsoever. Even the rain drops weren’t audible. I opened my eye-lids. The guard was about two metres away from us. His hand was still in air but it seemed the time had slowed down. There was just a hint of movement. The baton in his hand cut through air as if we were submerged in a highly dense liquid.
Looking around, I found that everyone else was too showing signs of slowing down. Some had weird expressions on them. Some had their face going through the slow process of twitching. Danish had one leg bent in air, while his hands covered his face. He was in a process to initiate a run.
Ben leapt up suddenly thrilling me to the core. He too looked around giving a wry smile and a nod to me.
Ben: Welcome to the league Akarsh! We made it. The Longistein has worked!
The extra-terrestrial situation inside the carriage was something I hadn’t ever dreamt of. Everybody was still except the two of us. A murder mystery and a convict by my side. A corpse at some distance. As grave as it can get. The train seemed to be going through a tunnel. Time had slowed down. But somehow not for us!
Ben: Akarsh, the fraternity has chosen you as its member!
Me: What? I never applied for any fraternity!
Ben: Indeed. But the fraternity choses people from the society to let their message flourish through them.
Me: What message? I don’t understand.
Ben: It’s ubiquitous, but doesn’t catch our attention.
Me: I don’t quite follow.
Ben: Let’s go!
He strolled towards the corpse ducking under the first guard’s hand. I followed. The husband still had his head sunk while other two guards were standing almost motionlessly.
Ben: Akarsh, there is something strange about this whole setting. Can you notice?
Me: Yeah! Everything!
Ben: You were here when she breathed her last. How did she die then?
Me: She had a sort of fit when she convulsed a lot. And then she…
The whole incident reverted back to my memory like a sudden pang in the head.
Ben: Yeah and then she died. Strangely, my friend can you see the cut across her throat?
Kneeling down, I did come across the cut which I had previously assumed to be a red thread. I was poleaxed by the vision.
How is this even possible? She had this from the start. How wasn’t she bleeding through this whole incident? That’s not possible!
Ben: That’s not possible, right? Exactly, it isn’t. Then how was she alive? Brace yourself, as this is going to hit hard.
Ben looked at the woman and then his gaze upon me.
Ben: She was dead the whole time.
Being shocked by this revelation, I sat there on the floor clutching my hair. The whole scenario somehow outwitted my intelligence. For a moment or two, it seemed to be a prank on me but its longevity was concluding otherwise.
Ben stood before me waiting to compose myself. I wanted to scream.
Ben: Akarsh, this woman died 35 years ago.
That was the limit. I stood up. I knew I need to let it out.
Me: Oh yeah?! She died 35 years ago when I wasn’t even born. She was alive. I saw her with my own eyes. She talked. She uttered words! She blinked her eyes. She stared at me. Of course, that’s the sign of a dead woman. Isn’t it? You brought us into all this and you are just bloody calm. How can you be you so ignorant of the fact that a woman died? This is not a joke. And what is that woman? Look at her, a fully grown up woman. But you are saying just opposite of what I’m seeing. A woman who died in her childhood!
I blurted out my anger with all I could have said. My facial muscles did tango just like an amateur would do. My hands were at no point in my control. They threw themselves like they had minds of their own.
Ben, to my surprise grew ecstatic.
Me: Yes, now you are smiling? Why the hell are you doing that? I ain’t getting anything!
Ben: Dear friend, you have proved yourselves to be worthy. I always knew that. You predicted exactly what will follow soon.
Me: I didn’t predict anything. You are making things up. You are insane!
Ben: Indeed, she died in her childhood, dear friend!
The sudden change in his voice alarmed me not to say anything stupid. The rich baritone offered greater conclusion to this tale. I softened.
Me: I’m listening. Go ahead.
Ben: On the borders of Rajasthan and Haryana lies a town called Jaiwad. A place comprising of seventy thousand people. The town is known locally for spice trading and inhumane butchering of animals and people. A crime syndicate which works on medieval customs and practices has made Jaiwad a place dreaded locally. Lives there are as cheap as dry red chillies. Laws are jokes and policemen are clowns. Low caste people there are bred for organs. Once they attain maturity, they are brutally killed so that their organs could be sold. Only the rich lower castes people who could make their ways with upper castes ones are spared alive so that the business can flourish. Women are hugely outnumbered against men. Those lucky who attain puberty are unfortunately sold off to rich people.
Me: What has luck to do with puberty?
Ben: Dear friend, luck does play a crucial part. Look at the woman before you. She was killed before she could even say a word.
Me: She was murdered!
Ben: Indeed, my friend. As I told you before, the people of Jaiwad follow a tradition which snatches people of their basic rights. The women there are treated either as prostitutes or they are killed as soon as they are born.
Me: Oh, dear lord! Woman foeticide!
Me: And how do they decide, which girl to kill and which one to spare?
Ben: Fate, my friend. Fate decides who lives.
Me: But these are murders. Fate has nothing to do with it!
Ben: Fate itself is owned by the men of Jaiwad. They decide. The girls who are born in lower caste families tend to be killed more than their upper counterparts.
Me: How does it matter whether they are born in upper or lower caste families? These are lives. They have no rights over the girls there.
Ben: Indeed! This woman too was killed as she was born. She, however being born into an upper caste family, was killed. Her mother couldn’t see her even for a while and the men deliberately took her away into the fields and slit her throat. No shrills. No shrieks.
I felt disgusted and utterly ashamed of the deed done to the woman. My eyes welled up and throat choked with regret and guilt. I knew I couldn’t have possibly saved her but the description was too brutal to take lightly.
Me: Ben, I’m still confused, like thoroughly. If she died 35 years ago then how could this woman be that girl?
Ben: Dear friend, this whole situation is a setup to demonstrate you how we become ignorant of woman foeticide but when a grown-up woman is killed, it is said to be inhumane and barbaric.
Me: What do you mean? Are all these people actors?
Ben: No, not at all. These all are ordinary people like you were. The fraternity provides its members a Longistein. The setting a Longistein creates is what I call a tunnel. You are being monitored and taught in a tunnel.
Me: Tell me more about the fraternity.
Ben: Nothing much I know except of its methods which concerns me. I don’t know anybody in the fraternity or even who controls it. No one probably knows anybody. It is just me. I get a monthly letter. I monitored you in Gokarna and there I decided you were the right person.
Me: So, what’s so special thing about you that fraternity chose you?
Ben: Nothing much, I suppose. Except for the fact that you have started running lately to lose some weight and that too indoors.
Me: How could you possibly know that?
Ben: Your body’s flush seems to be a bit lumpy and dimpled. Also, there is no tanning marks on your arms. Which also suggests that you have been indoors quite a lot. The marks on your hands are too subtle to notice but you have on some sort of gloves…yeah boxing gloves. Your fingers are way too close for a normal human being. Now, the palms, they are littered with stray marks by a pen. You think a lot while you write. Last but not the least, you don’t have socks on!
Me: This is not possible! No way. How did you just…I mean, no way! How did you know about my socks?
Ben: Well sometimes instead of the eyes your nose might help!
That was as obvious as anything can get but the simplicity was more endearing. This guy was way beyond of what I thought him to be. Ben had been a discovery, a man full of surprises.
Going through this I stumbled upon one of his statement that he made. Owing to which I asked.
Me: If you don’t know anyone in the fraternity, how could I join the fraternity if I know you?
Ben: Oh, don’t worry about that. You’ll soon forget me. Just follow my orders.
Suddenly, one of the guards touched Ben. He looked around and grew concerned seeing that the pace of everyone around was slowly increasing.
Ben: Let’s go. We don’t have time.
On reaching the Longistein, Ben looked around as calm as ever. He knelt down and looked at me.
Ben: Dear friend, when I say run, don’t look back and run as fast as you can.
I nodded. He twisted the top of Longistein the other way around.
My hands starting cutting through the crowd which suddenly had acquired its old pace. Everyone had turned normal. By the time I went past most of them, they couldn’t notice what had happened. I knew Ben was closely following me. My heart beat went up a notch and my chest were pounding ferociously.
Even while running, I could hear the sounds of rain drops falling, sound of people, footsteps and my own self breathing heavily.
Ben: Stop in the next compartment and open the exit door!
I heard him and decelerated. On reaching the door I swiftly opened it. There was a gush of water inside the carriage. Whole of my body was drenched in few seconds. Outside, darkness prevailed. People around me gestured me to close the door. I neglected them. Ben came running, almost colliding with me.
Me: What now?
I screamed through the continuous outburst of Rain God. Some water found its way insidiously in my
Ben: You need to jump now.
Ben: Jump out of the train.
Me: Are you mad? I’ll die!
Ben: No worries, mate. The Longistein is a device way ahead of its time built by a man way behind our time. You were controlled by it and it’ll save you. Now jump!
Me: No, I can’t….
With that he pushed me out the opening. I screamed,
resisted his efforts, clutched the door’s handle but to no avail.
My body was in air. Raindrops trying to pierce through. Now and then, I knew that I would find something hard enough to flatten my mortals. Gliding, sometimes floating, I descended. All this within a matter of seconds and then finally a thud.
I woke up to a jabbing pain on the back of my head. Loudspeakers were functioning around on their full potential. Smell of chemicals was prevalent.
Where am I?
Looking more keenly and trying to connect the dots, I found it was a hospital. My mind had somehow slowed down a lot.
The hospital was flooded with thousands of people. Some were quiet, many were wailing and everyone’s face was pointing that a catastrophe has occurred. There was hustle-bustle around. Compounders were running hither-tither with stretchers on which were fluffed white clothes. Whole of the hospital was soaked in white and red. The loudspeaker announced…
Dead bodies in hall no. 14; bring your id proofs and photo of your relative.
I was in a huge hall where people lying on the floor were being medicated. They had broken limbs, wounded skulls, broken jaws, missing fingers. Many problems but only one solution. A metre of bandage, few drops of betadine and hope. The place where I lay was filthy and was strewn with paan stains. On my right side was a broken window through which water came in due to rain. By the window stood someone whose face I recognized but I couldn’t remember his name. He was looking outside the window.
The pain in my head resisted leaving but I gathered myself up. I remembered Ben pushing me but rest was fading away with every second passing by.
I hobbled across the hall to reach him.
Me: What happened?
The guy looked at me and his eyes were already welled up. He looked around the hall and then his gaze back out the window.
Me: I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name. My head…it just pains a lot. What happened here?
He continued looking outside. The throbbing in my head grew stronger each time I tried to remember his name.
A compounder came to us. He had a notebook and a pen with him. Tiny droplets of water spilled on the notebook, rubbed some of its content. In his squeaky voice, he said
Compounder: Name please?
The guy turned around and said,” Danish Khan”.
Compounder pointed his pen towards me.
Me: Akarsh Yadav.
Noting down our names he moved on asking other people.
I remembered that he was the guy sitting in front of me in the train. He had no injuries whatsoever. Taking a step forward, I put a hand on his shoulder. Looking straight into his eyes, I looked for an answer.
Danish: Our train got crashed into a railway bridge after derailing.
Saying so, drops of tears went down his cheek. He started looking down.
I wondered how I couldn’t remember that the train was even about to crash. Or the moments after.
Me: What happened to Ben?
Me: Benedict, my friend.
Danish: I don’t remember. There were only you, me and that couple.
Me: Danish, Ben joined me a little later. You know when I was sleeping, he woke me up.
Danish looked at me and scoffed as if I had said something nonsensical.
Danish: I remember clearly that when the train was about to crash there was an outcry of people. But you were sleeping. I believe your sleeping posture saved you. You might have been saved by the cushioned seats. The collision’s effect might have been mitigated by them. Atleast, that’s what happened to me!
Me: What! That’s strange. What then happened to the couple?
Danish: I don’t know.
Me: Do you remember what I was doing before sleeping?
Danish: If I do, I remember it vaguely. You were reading some book.
Me: What book?
He thought for a while and said,” Some book about Sherlock Holmes”.
Just then the loudspeaker started announcing a weird announcement…
Shukla is coming…Shukla is coming…around the corner…run as fast as you can…run run…
Listening to that, everyone around starting running madly. Danish left my company and ran wildly throwing his hands like if a panic attack had struck him. Even those who were lying unconsciously got up and ran. The compounder, the nurses and the doctors, all ran like hell has broken loose. I grew confused and panicky at the same time.
The ceiling above started leaking water. Plaster fell from it. I ran following others. The window glasses broke as if an enemy had marched into the hospital trying to obliterate it with spears and giant metal balls. When I was about to cross the hall, the whole ceiling fell down!
“Get up, Akarsh! Shukla is coming! Get up!”
Reverberation of the above and a splash of water brought me to reality. My hair felt wet and there was a different hustle-bustle around. Something that I was acquainted to. Initially, the sight was a bit blur. Paper planes and balls were in the air. Some girls were sketching on the black board. The familiar screeching of chalks and friendly abuses on my back confirmed me of where I was and what I was doing earlier. A day-dream. A sense of relief engulfed me and I eased myself on the wooden chair which squeaked a bit. A journey which took me only 15 minutes to travel. One which taught me something that I wouldn’t have experienced living in the protective environment of my parents, friends and siblings.
One question did hover about my mind: How could my dream consist of such varied characters and such a peculiar topic which had no meaning to my life?
The answer to it surprisingly was my own surrounding. In the class of sixty students, the ratio of boys to girls was five to one.
On my table a journal lay. It was a scientific journal named,” Albert Einstein, Theory Of Relativity”
Suddenly, my experiences with Ben came running in front of me. Also, the mystery behind the engraving on the Longistein was quite clear now.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. Somebody asked,” Akarsh, what was the name of the actor in Sherlock series?”
Immediately, I replied,” Benedict Cumberbatch”.
Finally, where did Ben come, I knew. My sub-conscious mind was the protagonist of my tale. I wonder if people’s subconscious mind and their peripheral vision play more role than anything
I had many more questions which needed to be answered but I knew they will take time. So, I let them play with my mind for the time being. For the woman and people like her in the society who are victim of foeticide, I know what to do.
Shukla Ji entered in the class with few paper balls still in the air and chalk dust all over the place. Everyone’s heads were down as if to proclaim their innocence. Being calm and composed he greeted everybody and let the havoc settle. Silence inhabited every corner of the classroom.