Friday, July 22, 2005


"Is that Bal Gangadhar Tilak?"

"No, it isn't. Tilak was hideous, and he most certainly isn't !"

The portrait hung in what used to be the drawing room of a palatial two storeyed colonial style bungalow. The red turban, grey moustache, and the regal customary shawl made it distinctive. What was peculiar about the portrait was that its eyes followed you regardless of which corner of the room you chose to occupy.

Bringing out the family tree, and directing my attention to its apex, my grandfather told me that this was the man who built the place I then called home. My friends told me it looked spooky by night. Maybe it did. But it was home...surrounded by gardens, a well and stables, it must have been magnificent two hundred years ago.

Gradually, the old place in the heart of Girgaum had been hedged in by towering concrete structures. A part of the garden was rented to box-makers; and the stables were converted into a dumping ground for kitchen waste, where a cat and her kittens found home every year.


"Don't worry beta ! Aap mujhe bas do sau rupaiye de do, aur main aap ko berth dila doonga. T. C. ko hum sambhaal lenge. Aap ghode bech ke sona."

Squirming inside the linen closet of the first class A.C. compartment of the Guwahati bound express, the strains of a soppy Hindi oldie kept reverberating through my mind. "Karvate badal te rahe aadhi raat hum" was my predicament, the only flipside being that roaches had replaced romance.

I kicked the air as yet another cockroach attempted to scale the Everest that was my shank. A small shower of sweat beads accompanied every bid to do away with affectionate insects. Streams of perspiration branched out into tributaries as they encountered epidermal cilia. Lying chained to my own luggage, the fatuous optimism with which I had boarded the train at Dadar oozed out of every pore in sauna like fashion.

Securing my suitcase to the adjacent basin pipe had proved unsuccessful. The bright red VIP Eleganza had been inadvertently splattered with frothy fluoridated sputum spewed by compulsive brush-before-going-to-bedders, some stray droplets making their way to my makeshift bunk.

The stomach churned bile. The aroma wafting from the loo added to the nausea.


She had more holes than a normal person does, and the reason was not genetic. She needed her nose rings, her eyebrow rings, her navel rings and of course her earrings to face the world.

Smart. Pretty. Intelligent. Arrogant. These were the epithets used when Nancy Misquita was mentioned. But she knew better. It was only in the bathroom of her plush Bandra flat that she shed her inhibitions as well as her clothes.

Devoid of props, she shuffled onto the weighing machine. The scale hand traced an almost acute arc and stood still. "Perfect", she murmurmed and then looked up to face her fogged reflection in the mirror. She didn't really need her kilograms to tell her that she was eyecandy. Catcalling roadside Romeos confirmed that almost every other day.

That was not to say that obese and ugly women were spared. But at least they called her "Sophia Lauren" and not "Moti Mausi". Where such riffraff came across Lauren she failed to fathom...


As the Virar fast lurched away from the Charni Road platform, a silent scream escaped Nancy. Wailing was futile. There was no one in the empty train compartment to hear her cries. No one except that cold-blooded thing, that glinted at her with unblinking eyes. And what was worse, it was advancing, and even her martial arts training could not keep it at bay.

She eyed the “In Case of Emergency Pull Chain” sign. Did she dare yank it? Wouldn’t it be awful to be stuck with this pintsized saurian between stations? And how could she face the Railway Police in case it escaped? She couldn’t jump off after pulling the chain, could she? What if a train was chugging along the adjacent track? What if…what if…

Her close encounter with it when she was all of ten years had left her traumatized. As dusk approached, she would go around shutting all windows and pulling the curtains across. For fifteen years she had followed this ritual daily. Not a chink of light could escape. It was a complete blackout…more complete than the prescribed blackouts during the Indo-China war. And after all her precautions, she was stuck in a train compartment with it !!

The train slowed down. “Mumbai Central” blurred past her watering eyes. The train stopped. How? Why? What? rushed through her frantic mind even as she alighted.

“Platform No. Do pe aaiye hui train yard jayegi. Yatriyon se vinanti hai ke we is train ko khali kare. Yatriyon ki asuvidha ke liye khed hai. The train halting at Platform No. 2 is going to the yard. Passengers are requested to please vacate the train. The inconvenience caused is deeply regretted”, blared the usually unwelcome nasal voice of the railway announcer as Nancy ascended the bridge en route to the taxi stand. No more local trains…ever !!

Nancy was convinced that she would die of a heart attack if she had to share a train compartment with a wall gecko again !!