Visitor in Madras

Update for 7 January 2010

Vikram Thapa got off the train, his hair was scruffy and his clothes dusty. He still wore his wind jacket, although the ambient temperature was close to 30OC and getting hotter. The train terminus was brimming with activity and with everyone heading to the exit; Vikram joined the crowd, luggage in tow. He walked out to the autorikshaw stall and pulled out a crumpled note from his pocket – it had an address which he showed to the auto-driver. The auto-driver pretended not to know how to read, and lazily waved his hand, shooing Vikram away. So Vikram walked across to the next auto in the stand – not realizing that this was a racket for harassment and the cop in white and khakhi who stood a few metres away, was only turning a Nelson’s Eye to this harassment. Exasperated, Vikram muttered a few curse words in Hindi and walked towards the cop. This angered the auto-drivers who got off their vehicles and started shouting back at Vikram, following him to the cop. The commotion created and gathering crowds was not something the cop, Vadivelu, enjoyed. He preferred his solitary interactions with “law breakers” so that he could extract the most of him or her. But this situation came unwarranted and he could not ignore it, so he reluctantly raised his baton and put on his cap and looked skyward, such that his nose was high up in the air, and the handle-bar moustache moved upwards with it. Vikram uttered his disgust on the un-cooperative and uncommunicative auto drivers, all spoken in Hindi with a few English words interspersed. Vadivelu just looked condescendingly at the ranter and stopped him midway, “No Hindi, talk in English”. So Vikram repeated his complaint in halting English after which, Vadivelu just ordered the nearest Auto driver, Muthu to comply with Vikram’s request and walked away. Muthu could not be seen as defiant to law, so he just grunted and asked Vikram to follow him. Vikram was relieved and loaded his luggage into the auto before stepping in. Muthu started off, and as soon as he had left Madras Central station, he turned back and spoke in his accented English, “Two Hundred Rupees”. Vikram was shocked and started arguing, but stopped immediately, as Muthu parked his vehicle and gestured his passenger to alight. Vikram had travelled for over 72 hours now, of which he spent 12 hours in a mini bus from his village near Kathmandu to the border town of Bhairahawa and after crossing over at Sonauli, he boarded another bus onwards to Gorakhpur. The train journey from Gorakhpur to Madras went through almost every state along the eastern peninsula, except W Bengal. Although much of the journey was through cooler parts of the country, the last 6 hours was grueling as the train skirted the Coromandel coast before reaching its destination. He was tired and did not want to be left stranded in a hostile environment that was not only oppressively hot, but also linguistically challenging. He looked at Muthu quizzically and then opened his wallet which had only a fifty rupee note in it. He knew (instinctively) that he was being swindled, and that his destination address was not too far away to warrant the two hundred rupee fare. He emptied his wallet into Muthu’s hand and folded his hands beseechingly. Muthu then eyed a picture of a famed Shiva temple in the wallet and asked Vikram what that was. “Pashupatinath”, replied Vikram, and Muthu cupped his hands, held the picture within and shut his eyes, as though in meditation, and then returned the picture and wallet with the cash to Vikram. He mumbled something to Vikram in Tamil, and started off again. In ten minutes, they were outside Dasaprakash Hotel and Vikram was glad to see his benefactor, Jung Bahadur, the doorman at the hotel. He alighted form the rickshaw and Jung walked upto him smiling, with open arms for a friendly hug. Muthu helped in unloading the luggage and refused his fare.

Travelling from the hilly regions near the Himalayas, all the way south to the coastal city of Madras (now called Chennai) can be quite a journey. Just like the SENSEX trip today, which started in green territory – perhaps the highest point it has seen in about 2 years, before tracing its steps downwards towards lower areas until finally closing the day 85 points below last closing, to end at 17615. The long journey and the fatigue it brought along could be seen in the D Boyz’ activities, as there was a feeble attempt at trying to reverse the downward journey – so at 2:30 pm, the Boyz worked towards propping up the SENSEX from -100 points to less than half of that, but they gave up. Perhaps, they did not have a twist in fate like the Nepali visitor to Madras.

Jung had lived in Madras for over 5 years now and was helping his friend from Patan (outside Kathmandu) find a job here. He too was surprised by Muthu’s gesture of waiving the auto-fare, because quite the contrary is the norm in this city. Muthu was initially reluctant to share his story, but on insistence, looked heavenward, and said that Pashupatinath was the saviour of his 2 year old son. His son was afflicted with an illness that no-one could diagnose or treat, and Muthu was getting desperate to save his child. He had visited many doctors, and even local medicinemen, until someone suggested that he pray for his son. Being an agnostic, he did not know whom to turn to, until an old woman who lived near his shanty, told him about the miraculous powers of the Lord who resides in the Himalayas. She had recovered from a paralytic attack while travelling on pilgrimage to Mt Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. So was “abandoned” at Kathmandu and the local hospital nurse had got her some “Prasad”, food offering from this temple which miraculously helped her heal fast. Muthu prayed, like never before, at the little shrine in the Old Lady’s house and within a month, his son recovered and is doing fine now. So when he saw the picture of the temple in Vikram’s wallet, he knew that this was a divine way of “being asked to pay for his boon”. He just could not take any money from Vikram who was a devotee of the same of temple.


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