Monday, February 3, 2014

A Train Accident. A Realization. And Nothingness.

Danger. Do NOT cross tracks. 
I saw a man come under a train. One minute he was there, the next minute he wasn't. It was that sudden. He was too far away for me to witness any real carnage, but the realization still formed a huge lump in my throat. Fifty feet away, the train inched along a few yards and then pulled to a complete stop. I remember hordes of blurry shapes running towards the site of the accident. People jumped down from all platforms and took off at a run. I could see crowds surrounding the train from both sides, trying to pull him out. I stood rooted to the ground. Couldn't move my legs, couldn’t bring myself to go closer either.

Seconds turned into minutes and the mass of people at the site grew in numbers until I could see the man no more. And then two other trains rolled in to different platforms at the station. And I couldn’t believe my eyes as a large number of people came running back to board these trains. I had always heard people say ‘Life goes on’ but that it would be so quick to adjust itself is something I still have difficulty digesting.

Ten minutes later - no CISF, no RPF, no ambulances, and no policemen on the site yet. A couple dozen men still stayed on at the accident site, mingling about, unsure what to do. The women hung back, whispering, some with their hands over their mouths, shocked, some with tears running down their cheeks. Out of nowhere, I recollected storing the Nerul police station’s number on my cell phone a few days ago, when I had thought it would be a good idea to key in important helplines in and around where I live and work. With shaky fingers, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed the number. I let it ring 10 times. No response. Frustration started bubbling inside me. I dialed the number again. 10 more rings. Nothing. Again. This time I let the cellphone network automated voice system walk me through the No-Response message. Disappointed, I then dialed 102 even though I did not have the number stored. My phone automatically displayed a beacon and flashed an ‘Emergency Number’ message on the screen. But this time the cellphone network automated voice system told me the call could not be completed and that I should check the number that I had dialed. The realization stung me. If in trouble, how was I supposed to contact emergency services when the police wouldn't respond and I did not have the faintest idea of how to dial emergency numbers from my cell phone?

I looked up to see a train approaching my platform from the far right and then I looked up ahead to see two men, young boys – maybe in their teens - jumping down into the tracks and climbing up my platform. Something snapped inside me. As they came back up, I yelled at them. There’s a man who’s probably dead, he was trying to cross the tracks just like you, and you don’t even know if he’s dead or alive, something is still going on right before your eyes and you still won’t learn, will you? My voice sounded tinny and beseeching to myself. One of the boys looked back in the distance towards the site, looked at me and mouthed a ‘Sorry’. And as they walked past me, I could see the other boy laugh it off and hi-five the other. Helplessness washed over me – a cascading effect caused by the accident, the inability to help and act rather than stand and watch, the unresponsive helplines, and the complete lack of value of life. Salty tears running down my cheeks told me that I had just joined the gang of emotional women, hurt and upset by an event unfolding in front of their eyes. As the train in front of me skidded to a stop, I boarded it, found a seat, and whipped out my cellphone to call my Mom. Most Moms are the best emotional anchors in times of distress.

A good fifteen minutes of sniffling and whining later, I straightened up enough to get through the day. Disconnecting the call, I looked around at my fellow passengers. Everyone who had stood at the station with me would had undoubtedly witnessed the happenings. No wonder they all looked like zombies, staring straight up ahead. For a change, cellphones seemed to be less in use. I wondered how many of those still using their cellphones were texting it on to Facebook. The rest of the day was a subdued one, I think I was more silent than usual. On the way back home, alighting from the train, I passed the station officer’s office at the Nerul station. I refrain from entering closed offices, no matter what time of the day it is and how crowded the place might be. So I simply asked a janitor standing on the platform outside the office. He shrugged. ‘Kisko maalum aage kya hua’ (Translated to: Who knows what happened next.) Talks later that evening revealed that my sister-in-law had been in the exact same compartment that I had boarded on the way to work, and yet we had missed seeing each other. Guess we had both been too lost in our own musings. I scoured the internet and the papers the next day hoping to understand what had happened. But there was no coverage. Two weeks later, thinking about the incident still makes up break out into goosebumps. But the lack of coverage and the casual attitude of the janitor make me think – was I reading too much into something seemingly so insignificant that no one knows what happened to the man? I still wonder what happened of him.

In an initiative that aims to highlight the dangers of crossing tracks and alighting/boarding moving trains, the God of Death ‘Yamraj’ has been visiting Mumbai’s railway stations and making his presence felt. I applaud the effort. India is largely a God-Fearing country. If not self-realization, maybe the fear of God will make people understand. And yet, every single day I see men and women boarding and alighting from speeding local trains, crossing tracks and risking their life. I keep mum and continue on with mine.
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Sirens Spell Danger - A Reflection


This post is special for more than one reason. Not only is it the first post of 2014, it also is the first book review post on the blog. And what better book could I have chosen to mark this important milestone, than one penned by three established bloggers and friends from the virtual world. Sirens spell Danger, an independent publishing initiative taken up by C. Suresh, Radha Sawana and Karthik L (popularly known as The Fool) is the first e-book I picked up in 2014. A collection of three thrillers, each different from the other, the book turned out to be the perfect start to my new year’s reading quota.

The first of the lot, a racy spy-thriller laced with bits of self-deprecatory humor indigenous to the author’s writing style, Femmé Fatale is a fast-paced tale that, right from the opening scene, shows you just about everything that can go wrong even with an educated IPS officer. Torn between his conscience pushing him to save the city from the choke hold of international terrorists and the constant diversions his body and mind are subjected to at the sight of a woman, Femmé Fatale keeps you turning the page to find out what our hero does to save Bangalore and woo the girl. Interlacing terrorism, romance and humour must have been tough, but Suresh manages to do it well with the hero displaying bouts of puppy-dog-love and not thinking with his brains thus leading to the funny bits. I especially enjoyed a scene where the gun in used in the most innovative style for defense!

The second story in the lot, Bella Dona by Radha Sawana, is my personal favourite. Flowing and swishing around like rich red wine in a clear glass on a full moon night, the story involving dead bodies of accomplished industrialists, a meticulous investigator, shocking twists and acts of vengeance, moves along fluidly and not one moment feels uninteresting. Alternating between mysterious unspoken thoughts that start every chapter and draw you in, and the plot unfolding in the present with various characters, the story is an excellent compilation of research, plot, characters, emotions and thrill. From chemistry to police interrogations, from forensic results on corpses to thought processes etched out, the story holds its ground throughout and for a debut author, that is huge! For those who enjoy reading crime, Bella Donna is one that will keep you hooked right till the very end.

Bellary, the last story in the set, sits right in its own sub-genre and starts off very well. Keeping it real, Karthik outlines the musings of an IB officer during the course of his investigations, including his interactions with two very different females. Halfway through, Bellary becomes a mix of reality and fantasy as ISI investigations cross path with stone statues that come to life. Involving sirens of a whole different kind, Bellary keeps you guessing about the role the two women play and their motives right till the end. This is a story that appeals to both sets of readers – those who enjoy fantasy and those who don’t enjoy it. For those who do, chapter ‘Fifteen’ onward is an added bonus.

All in all, Sirens spell danger is an interesting collection of novellas, and can easily be placed high up in the list of recent publications. I rate it at 4 out of 5 stars for it's well-thought plots, character sketches and the thrill factor. The only grouse I have, if I may even call it that, is the variance in writing styles and thought processes from one story to the other, that end up making you pick favourites. However, considering that it is an anthology, this is to be expected. Available in Kindle format, the book can be purchased at Amazon. You can also use the Kindle Reading App to read the book on your Android device or your computer.


I would love to hear your views!
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