Dedicated to MRK, my friend for reminding me what compassion is!
We were a team of twenty, awaiting our return train to Bangalore that evening from Dandeli. The past couple of days were amidst the lush green habitat Mother Nature offered us at one of the blessed terrains in North Karnataka. It was drizzling by the time we reached the station and soon it gave way to the typical downpour that blanket the tropical rain forest region of that part of the world. A few guys among the group had made arrangements for the dinner. The stray dogs on the platform looked at us yearningly for the remains of the hot biriyani we devoured.
The wait didn't seem to be endless with my fiancée on the phone who was patiently listening to all the experiences and adventures in the jungle. Soon, the rails at the far end of the station twinkled with the powerful light from the locomotive. The train stopped at the station with a shrilling cry, probably annoyed with the cold weather it had to endure. Though the station was not crowded, the compartments painted a different picture altogether. The linoleum covered floor reminded me of the jungle trail we covered a few hours before, of course the only saving grace was lack of leaches!
There were a few berths allotted to us as per the ticket. The berth in my name had a middle-aged man sleeping peacefully along with a boy who seemed to be his son. I'd half a heart to let them continue there, though my tired body wanted to do otherwise. It was one of those moments when fatigue won over empathy! I'd to ask both of them to wake up and leave the space for me. I watched part in shame and part with indifference, while they moved across to the next cubicle and sat there.
The rest of the team also parked themselves at the seats they could find awaiting the Ticket Examiner to allot berths for all. The verdict soon came and berths were made available for all in the next compartment. I got up and passed right in front of the father-son duo with a deeper shade of apology written all over my face. In fact I did say a sorry to them, which I'm not sure they heard.
We reached the berths allotted to us and started settling down. Ironical enough, one of the berths again had a father and son, but this time with a difference, the kid was much smaller. He was wrapped in a characteristic red and pink sweater which we find on kids from average middle class families. His father had wrapped a muffler also around his head. The face of the kid radiated so much of tranquility that none of us really wanted to disrupt. Nevertheless the need to have the berth made us to ask them to vacate. It was obvious that the father was helpless and he asked us for some time. He wanted the kid not to be disturbed till the time he found an alternative. We told him to take his time and off he went in search of a place where the two can spent the night together.
The face of the child was so angelic that it put us all in deep pain as we tried to comprehend the fact that we asked the father to vacate the place along with the kid. Lo and behold! MRK, the man with an interesting package of emotions, among the group, realized that we indeed have a free berth with one person less travelling, than originally planned! The father came back with an option of moving to a non-confirmed seat. He seemed to be really at a loss. To much of his relief we broke the news to him that he need not worry about the berth as they can use the current one.
We settled down pretty soon and were all happy that we didn't frighten the sleeping angel. Chit chat sessions followed which revealed that the man is a small time government employee at one of the village offices near Tumkur. They both were on the way to Bangalore. Further probing made us all felt aghast, with him revealing the actual purpose of their visit. The hardly 3 year old kid needed a heart surgery and was scheduled at one of the hospitals in the city the very next day!
We were completely dumbstruck and searched for words that could be some sort of solace to the father. But the gravity of the situation was so deep that words made a dubious escape from our lexis. We learned more about the situation and got to know that it was a case of a hole in the heart that could be cured with the surgery.
Needless to say we were relieved to hear, it was a curable case though the sheer thought that the tiny little heart beating inside that small body will have a rendezvous with the surgical knife was more than what we wanted to envisage. The thought became even more painful with the reminder that we asked the kid to be disturbed from his peace for the sake of able-bodied men wanting to take rest!
Before we all hit the bed for the later part of the night, pray we did for the success of the surgery and the speedy recovery of the kid. That was the least we could to make the family feel a little at ease. As the reality sunk in, multiple pairs of eyes were on the kid. A sea of emotions went through each one of our minds.
As though from a deeper instinct of the little self, the petite angel was smiling in his sleep…