Posted by: Mojo Jojo | March 19, 2008

The woman on the railway bridge

She was a very old woman, and I would always see her sitting in a busy corner of the railway bridge to West Tambaram. Even her wrinkles seemed to have wrinkles, and her scrawny age-gnarled body spoke of times infinitely cruel.
She wouldn’t ask you for money. Well, she couldn’t.
This old woman was near-blind, and I had never seen her move her lips to say anything. Or lift a finger. Or look up. And there would always be this stink around her, probably because – as far as she was concerned – going to the bathroom was not an option. She was a very old woman, and I remember there were times when I wondered how she could live her life the way it was.
This was during my first year at MCC. “She won’t last the year,” I recall thinking back then. Not unkindly, though.
I was wrong. She was still there five years later, on my last day of college.
One year later, I landed a job in a media organisation at Chennai. My job was making pages, part of which dealt with choosing the hierarchy of the stories that have to go on it.
Suicide stories would generally be small fillers – things that have to be stuffed in empty gaps if some stupid celebrity report doesn’t fill up the allotted space on a page. And mostly, they would be fifty words long with headlines that went Youth commits suicide over love affair or Student flunks exam, kills self.
And even as I battled against time to get the page out before the deadline, my mind would race back to that woman on the bridge – and wonder why. Warped as my thought process may be, I could never think of anybody who had things worse. But still, she would hold on to every breath that she could take in, and every coin that fell into the copper vessel before her.
So why these suicides, I would ask myself. A broken love affair or a red-stained exam paper is nothing compared to what people like her go through.
The first dead person I ever saw was also because of this very phenomenon. I was about seven years old back then, in a sleepy little industrial town called Gadchandur.
The time was about 1:30 in the morning, and I had just woken up from my sleep because of a particularly bad nightmare. I looked around – it was dark and there was nobody on the bed but me.
Which was scary, considering that I could remember my parents being there when we had all gone to sleep a couple of hours back. I jumped off my bed, but I couldn’t see much – save for the moonlight streaming through a distant window in the living room. “Maybe they are playing a joke on me… they are hiding,” I thought to myself, a hard lump starting to form in my throat. But I knew that couldn’t be it; my parents were not of the kind who would do something like this for a giggle in the middle of the night.
But I ran around – shouting, searching, looking behind every shadow lurking in the house. I ran to my elder brother’s room, but even his bed was empty. The ceiling fan in his room, however, was still running – still making that howling noise it always did. “Maybe I’m still dreaming,” I thought, though it didn’t look like it.
And then I heard it. Sounds outside.
I ran to the kitchen and opened the backdoor – the one that opened into the garden. A few people had gathered at the neighbourhood dispensary, and I could hear my dad’s voice among theirs. Relieved, I ran out to meet them.
It was then that I saw her lying on a wooden bench. A woman, amost as white as the sheet that covered her to the shoulders. Of course, I didn’t know I was looking at a dead person then. A dead person who had been a teacher at my school a few hours ago.
And suddenly, somebody scooped me up and held his hand over my eyes. I couldn’t see, but from his voice I could infer that it was Bala, the dispensary compounder. And he was saying, “You shouldn’t watch… you will have bad dreams.”
Moments later, my mom joined us and before I knew it, I was being carried off home again. I can’t remember if I fell asleep immediately after that, it’s all quite hazy – but the next morning they told me the dead person was Miss K, my community living teacher. Apparently, she had consumed poison after a tiff with her husband.
Miss K, as I recall, had scolded me in class for not doing my homework on the very day she took the extreme step. It was days before I could fully comprehend what this meant. It meant that she had gone and killed herself, and another teacher would be taking my community living classes from then.
But even back then, I remember wondering what would have prompted her to do it. Far be it for me to judge her actions in the situation, but still…
Seven years later, a classmate of mine drowned himself in a nearby reservoir after being scolded by a teacher. The question lingered on.
Many a time, I have wondered what I would have done if I were in their position. If things got really bad and I could feel the walls closing in on me with each passing second.
I think I would still give life a chance. Maybe if it got so bad, so very very bad, I might even leave everything – my house, my family, my commitments – behind and catch a train to a land far far away, but I don’t think I will give up on life. Probably because I think it may change for the better with time.
Or probably because I am damn scared of death. Who knows what lies in wait for me on the other end of the hanging rope? If it’s nothingness and I am just going to go up in a wisp of smoke, well – that’s good. But if it’s a place where I am going to pay for every sin I have committed in my lifetime (and Heaven knows there are many), I wouldn’t mind keeping the inevitable another minute away.
And will I be betraying the ones who depend on me by running away? Probably, but it would still be a better option then giving up my ghost. This way, if things change for the better down the line, I could always come back for them. This way, everybody stands a chance.
But the point of no return is still the point of no return, and I will never be able to change my mind once I cross it. Neither for me or the ones I love. That’s that.

EPILOGUE

A couple of weeks ago, I had been to Tambaram again. This time, I didn’t see the old woman on the railway bridge.
“So, it did happen finally,” I thought, though I couldn’t make myself believe it. Every instinct in me insisted that she just had to be alive in some corner of the town… maybe she’s shifted base. Or maybe she’s ill or something.
I walked down the steps and out of the station. Far ahead in the distance – under the shade of a tree – was a banana seller, and next to her was a familiar figure. I squinted my eyes to see who it was, even as the passers-by jostled me for the right of way.
There was no mistaking it. It was the old woman.
I walked up to her and as I dropped some money in the copper utensil, I looked at her face. The wrinkles were deeper and she still couldn’t see the ones around. But defeated she wasn’t – not yet.

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Responses

  1. Seem to have gone a tad bit sentimental eh? Anyway carry on the good work. Gives us something to reflect on 🙂

  2. how can i be nasty when you write stuff like this
    🙂

  3. Cuppajava: Ha ha. Will do 🙂 But planning go a tad more cheerful in my next post.

    Rama: Wow. thanks 🙂

  4. waah JJ
    real nice stuff man. never would have guessed that u keep ur eyes open for such things. like i alwys say, gotta love r style of writing.
    and….see u soon…in 2 weeks

  5. Wonder when you were gonna tell me that you had shifted blogs..found my way here from 3inone, after I saw a link called porcheblues!!! Some friend you are!!Hrumph!

    As for the old lady..well..something tells me that she will not be around the next time 🙂 All things pass away after all…

  6. If you had visited my last blog, you would have seen a big detour sign and a message saying that I have shifted blogs. You are of no use to me. Hrumph!! 😉
    And you could be right about the old lady but hey! What was the smiley for… 😦

  7. Yep the detour sign is now on
    http://raining-in-ballarshah.blogspot.com/
    too, which is dead as a doornail right now 😐
    Your blogger profile points to this url, so you had better update this to the wordpress address too.

  8. And thanks for visiting my blog. 😛

  9. The smiley was just that..a smiley..what? Cant a guy even smile nowadays??

  10. Oh sure he can. Tee hee 🙂

  11. Wow! Reflecting on life & death and all huh!? I know what u mean though! 🙂

    Awesome post….

  12. Thanks a lot, Aparna. Yeah, about life and death – it did get a bit sordid, though. Planning to make up for it 😛

  13. First time here. What a post! When you mentioned in the last few lines, that you didn’t see her at her normal place, even I started feeling bad about it. Good you mentioned that you found her somewhere else eventually.

    Going through your old posts…… 🙂


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