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.
I would love to hear your views!
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