The Man at Churchgate Station
After snoozing my alarm several times, I finally manage to get out of my bed. Even my dog does not want to be disturbed at this early hour of the day. It is my first day at work and I do not want to be late. I am a teacher and I got this fancy job in a fancy school that is like miles away from my home. For those who have been in Mumbai, traveling long distances for work is not an unusual things. But for someone who has been raised in Lucknow with all the comforts at doorstep, it was going to be a big challenge because the Local Trains here are not a pretty sight. Getting a place to sit in the morning hours is next to impossible unless you can push your way in.
So I get done with my morning ablutions, take my dog out for a walk, fix breakfast for both of us and finally leave for work. Here is when my journey finally begins. I get an auto rickshaw to the station. It takes me about ten minutes to get to the station where the train was already waiting. I get into the First Class Compartment where I find a comfortable seat near the window and mentally prepare myself to spend the next 45 minutes in that crowded train. To pass my time, I get a newspaper and start pouring through it. As I read, more and more people started getting into the compartment. Some of them were regulars who seemed like they have been traveling for ages and knew everyone around.
One of the ladies turns to me and says, “You look new. Are you traveling for the first time in this train?”.
“Yes I just got a job near Churchgate and it is my first day to work”.
She just nodded and looked away. I realized later that I was sitting in her regular place. The place she might have been sitting on for ages and I like a total stranger ripped her off something that belonged to her. Anyways I just continued reading my paper. After the Safety Instructions were announced in the three different languages: Hindi, Marathi and English, the train finally started moving halting at nine stations before it reached Churchgate. It was not at all a pleasant experience for I had not anticipated the crowd. Even though I was sitting, the compartment was so crowded that there were ladies standing right in front of me blocking the little air I was getting from the fan. Nevertheless, I tried to keep myself distracted by looking out of the window and all I could see was people sitting near the tracks for discarding their waste.
The scene at the Churchgate Station was again lot of people running to reach their destinations. There were shops under the subway where one can get anything from a lottery ticket to a vada pav. Towards the end of the subway, there was a line of beggars sitting on the stairs that led to the main road overlooking Eros Cinema. They were the same category of beggars, who I never give money to.
As a child, I learnt in one of the Moral Science classes that beggary should never be promoted. Giving money to beggars only motivates them to continue begging their entire lives and never find work. And then, there was this other incident when a beggar approached my father to ask for money. He was a young and healthy gentleman maybe in his late 20s. Instead of giving him money, my father offered him a job that would pay him well. Just the idea of having to work gave him jitters and he completely vanished from our sight.
So I particularly have no sympathy for people who ‘decide’ to beg. But at the end of the queue, there was one person who did not fall in my category. He had swollen legs, so swollen that it made me wonder the amount of effort he might have put in just walking or sliding to that busy corner. He reminded me of an illustration of a man with the same swollen limbs I had seen in my Biology textbook during High School years. The disease is called ‘Elephantiasis’. Back in those days I used to avoid the page with that picture because I could not stand seeing it. And today there was a full-grown man infested with the deadly parasite sitting there with crutches by his side and I just walk past him barely noticing him. Of all the things that were to become part of my daily journey, I never though that he was going to be one of them, Everyday I would see him and think about taking a few pennies from my wallet and dropping them into his bowl like others but then I would stop and think if a few pennies were actually going to be of any help to him. This thought continued to perturb me for the next few months so finally, one day I decided I would drop in a few pennies and see how it felt.
I got down from the train, took a few coins from my bag and started walking towards his usual spot. My mind was brewing different thoughts like 'maybe I could buy something for him to eat too' or 'just hand him the money and give him a smile', but when I reached there he was not to be seen around. I was a little disappointed but I kept the money back in my bag and went ahead for work hoping I would see him the next. He was not there the next day and the day after that and after that too. Many days passed by without him being there. I had started believing that the disease might have taken its toll on him.
The vacations started and there was no visiting the station for about a month. It was a regular day again and I was back with my routine. I got off from the train started moving towards the subway and over to the exit. And there I saw what looked like the man who I have been looking for. He sat there with his solemn look waiting for someone to drop a few coins in his bowl or offer him something to eat. Now this definitely seemed like another opportunity for me to do something I have been really wanting to. I hurriedly went through my wallet and fetched out all the coins I had, went to him and dropped into his bowl and waited for me to feel content by my act. But the next thing that happened was "NOTHING'. I did not feel anything by having helped him that way. I made it a part of my routine to give him either some cash or buy a vada pav for him. After a few days I realized it was doing him no permanent good. That petty cash was not going to help him get treated. So I decided to help him in a way that would make his life.
This time I went to work and did not forget about him. Instead I was determined to find someone who would be able to help me find him a long-term help. After days of browsing and talking to different people from NGOs, I finally found one who agreed to provide him financial assistance for his treatment. In the meantime, I continued buying a pav for him everyday.
By now he started recognizing me. He would give me smile while seeing me approach him. Today I smiled back at him in a way that meant more than just a vada pav.
I approached him and broke out the news to him “ There is an NGO who has agreed to help you get treatment for the disease. They will take care of the expenses even during the recovery. Would you be willing to talk to them?”
I waited patiently to see some reaction from him but there he sat with a blank expression on his face. I was there for the next five minutes but having received no response, I felt that maybe he needed to think over it for sometime or discuss with his family. I went ahead to my work where spent the entire day worrying about what his response was going to be.
And the next day when I moved towards his usual spot, I was filled with determination to make his life better. But he was not there. A week passed by like this but to no avail. I even contacted the NGO to find out if they had come and taken him for treatment but no luck there either. It has almost been a year now and I am still wondering if I have actually made his life ‘better’.
Keywords: Churchgate Station, Mumbai Local, Vada pav
Mary Ann Chacko(non-registered)
The effort you took to find him help is very touching. Knowing you, I'm not surprised! I know that determination!
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