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Rated: E · Fiction · Emotional · #2175548
His grandson asks Kamal Banerjee what's the most heroic thing he has done...
" Dadu? Did you stop the Rajdhani?"

The child's query caught 57-years old Kamal Banerjee by surprise. He raised his eyebrows and chuckled .

" Who told you that? " he asked his grandson, who was a full half a century younger than him.

" Grandma, of course."

" I see" said Kamal, beginning to grin, " Did you ask her this?"

" No" said the grandson, " I just asked her what's the most heroic thing you have done and she said you stopped the Rajdhani!"

" Oh! Really? " said Kamal, smiling , that the smile came from his heart was doubtless, " What else did she say?"

" Nothing" said the grandson, " But, I want to know more."

" Well, " said Kamal, nodding his head, " Heroic?" he cast a contemplative glance sideways, " I don't know whether it was heroic , all I know it was the right thing to do."

" What had happened, Dadu ? " The child came up and took a seat beside his beloved grandpa . He looked at him eagerly, his child's eyes housing one whole universe of curiosity.

" It were the holidays" said Kamal, taking the child to his lap, " I was returning home, from Delhi, I was traveling in the Rajdhani, and I was travelling with an owl..."

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Some three decades back, returning home in...

... the Rajdhani, it had left Mughal Sarai just a few minutes back. Kamal Banerjee, lying awake under a blanket in his sleeper bed on the upper berth, read his watch. It was two in the night and the lights were still on! Impossible!

Piqued, Kamal Banerjee , turned around to see the Owl , it was lying in its own sleeper bed, on a similar upper berth. It too wasn't sleeping, instead it was engrossed in reading some voluminous novel titled ' A Man's Determination'.

Deriving insane determination from the title, Kamal said, " It's enough, uncle. You won't finish the book tonight. So, why not turn off the lights and let people sleep?"

The Owl made no reply. It didn't even bother to meet Kamal's angry gaze. It simply read on.

" Do you hear me?" said Kamal, raising his voice, " Switch off the lights! Let people sleep! Please! "

" People are sleeping " replied the Owl, finally, firmly, dismissively.

Kamal knew the Owl was right. Besides him, only one other passenger, a young girl, had been awake. She was sitting in a corner seat, constantly keeping a watch outside the open windows. She looked isolated and gloomy. Apart from her, the other passengers were deep in sleep, some high on snore even. But, Kamal couldn't be so indifferent, for it's a childhood lacuna of his that he can't doze off under the lights.

" It's 2 am, uncle!" said Kamal, not bothering to sound sober, " This ain't your private library, this is a public train, please switch off the lights and let me sleep. I need to wake up early! Do you hear me?"

Silence again. No words. Only reading.

Disgusted, Kamal made up his mind not to dwell on words, instead he proceeded to turn the switches off on his own, but no sooner did he dip his head inside the blanket, feeling satisfied about the darkness he had created, the lights came back on, courtesy the Owl.

Having had enough, Kamal immediately sat up and turned towards the Owl.He saw two cold, crooked, piercing eyes looking at him , measuring him up.

" Where's your stop?" the owl asked, an air of roguery unmistakable in the voice.

" Asansol" replied Kamal, " The stop is at 7 in the morning, so I need sleep!"

" Do you know who my son is?" asked the owl, a dangerous calm in his voice. His face was turned towards Kamal but his hands still held onto the novel.

" Who?" said Kamal, quite roughly.

" That's none of your business" said the owl, its eyes didn't blink " But take it from me, if I give my son a call, there will be trouble for you at 7 "

" What do you mean?" said Kamal

" Again, that's none of your business" said the Owl, its voice shrill, almost hissing" Just know my son loves his father "

The Owl smiled wickedly. It held Kamal in its fixed gaze for a few seconds before turning his face away and renew reading.

Kamal kept on staring at the Owl. No, he wasn't afraid, still ...

Kamal looked at the switches for a few seconds. The emergency chain of the Rajdhani was dangling above . Kamal's hands itched to turn the switches off, still...

He returned to lying on his bed, he rolled the blanket over his eyes and closed them, bearing with the light. It was prudent not to take on the Owl.

The Owl was unnaturally cold!

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The Rajdhani arrived at Asansol on right time. Having not slept the whole night, Kamal felt exhausted , his head seemed to weigh about a tonne. He descended from his upper berth, quickly took hold of his luggage and made for the exit door, but not before looking at the Owl for one last time. The Owl, unbelievably , was still busy reading!

"Come on now!" thought Kamal, with a smirk in his face, "Go to sleep, you owl! The day has dawned and it's time for owls to sleep!"

Most of the passengers were still asleep. The end stop, Howrah, was still a good couple of hours away. As he strolled his way to exit, Kamal saw just one man stand on the edge of the door. Good, he thought, no crowd, no rush. But, when he reached near the door, he saw there was someone ahead, a girl, the same girl who hadn't slept last night . She was trying to get off the train.

Some people, most likely her parents, had already gotten off and were stretching their hands out to her in a sort of helping gesture.
When Kamal peered over the shoulder of the man ahead he could see there was an all too apparent air of anxiety over their faces. At first, he failed to comprehend the matter, but, quite soon, he was in the know and it would be an eternal wish of his that he never knew anything.

Kamal saw the young girl, dressed in an all-pink salwar kurta, cling onto an iron rod beside the door, she was holding onto it as desperately as a troubled child holds onto her mother. Slowly, very slowly, she stretched a leg out so as to alight from the train, Kamal saw it was trembling, just like her hands were once they began to relax their grip over the rod. She shifted her body, slowly, towards the platform, her parents , now Kamal was quite sure of their identity, stood on the platform encouraging her , prodding her, her father saying " It's easy, dear. Very easy. Just a bit more! Just a bit! I am here! Your father is here!" , his hands gestured to lure her towards him. Alas! Just when her feet had almost touched the ground, she screamed and jerked back into the train.

She turned her face around and Kamal could see it. Kamal saw the horror that betook her, the fear that covered her face, the pain that forced her to shut her eyes, the tears that flew down her cheeks, the tremble that still rocked her hands and how she tried to stop it by biting on them. She knelt down, not leaving the rod, and began crying loudly.

The sight moved Kamal. It shook him. He didn't want to, still he imagined, in vain, what demon she must have thought the platform to be, how horrific could the simple act of taking a step be. He had no answers, still, he thought of what it means to carry such fear within you, to live with it.

HE HAD NO ANSWER.

Kamal stood there, frozen. His grip over his luggage had turned feeble. Suddenly, the passenger ahead of him made a move , causing Kamal to regain his sense of the context. The man, who had turned impatient by now, slid through the gap between one end of the door and the girl's trembling body and stepped onto the platform. He looked at his watch once and started walking, away from the girl and Kamal, away from and into a world where alighting from a train was just that - alighting from a train.

For a fraction of a second, Kamal's impulse suggested he follow the man's lead, he slide through the door and walk , into another world, away from this, for this was too fearful, too numbing , too crushing.

Still, Kamal couldn't move. He couldn't bring himself to be cold.

He saw the girl's father come forward, his hands tenderly caressing his daughter's back, his words intending to instill belief in her , " Come on, dear" he said, " Come on, good girl, you can do this!"

Just then, the train whistled its intent to depart. The suddenness and shrillness of the sound brought tears into Kamal's eyes, still, he withstood them and like last night, thought it best to side with prudence.

Kamal lowered his head and made a headlong sprint towards the other end of the coach where there was another door. He rushed past what was his own seat, past the Owl, who was still busy reading but Kamal no longer gave a damn, he reached the other end and jumped out of the train and onto the platform, into a different world, still..

He had to look sideways. He had to look at the other world, from where he had run away.

The train had shaken off its inertia. Kamal saw the wheels start rolling, they were to carry the train to Howrah, with the girl in it! She was soon to be separated from her parents. The other world was soon to become an even more ominous,lost other world.

Kamal saw her father, aware of the catastrophe about to befall , jump onto the train. He went behind his daughter and began to push her onto the platform. The girl resisted with all her force, for her the platform still hosted the devil. Kamal saw, notwithstanding the distance, the palpable fear that gripped her, he heard, even amidst the din of the station, her helpless cries and for once, he thought, To hell with prudence!, and jumped back onto the train.

He raced towards where his seat was. The Owl still lay awake, still reading, but Kamal couldn't bother less. He turned a corner against his seat, stretched his hands forward to where the switches were and , like "a determined man", pulled the emergency chain causing the Rajdhani to jerk to a stop.

His rash action jolted the Owl, who sat up at once. The Owl was astounded, but before it could open its mouth to utter another threat, Kamal had raced towards the door, the one through which he had gotten off . He leaned against it to see whether he was of any help to the girl.

Kamal saw the girl was now on the platform. Her mother had covered her in a protective embrace while her father ran his loving fingers over her hair, his face bearing relief. The girl was still trembling, her eyes were still shut, but she was safe. Kamal breathed easy and looked at the scene with awe.
" What the hell! " shouted the Owl from behind, it had followed Kamal to the door, " Who do you think you are, you rogue? Why did you pull the chain?"

Kamal's satisfaction was so noble, so grand that it overwhelmed him. It blocked the nose made by the Owl.

" I said, why did you pull the chain?" thundered the Owl, grabbing Kamal's shirt-collar with one hand, " Is this your father's train?"

" No!" said Kamal, turning around suddenly, his voice no less coarse than that of the Owl, " Why don't you call your son? Sure, he can run a train for you. He loves you!"

Kamal cleared the Owl's grip on his shirt with one violent swat of his hand and got off the train. Before the Owl could form a response, Kamal Banerjee, bubbling with the life of his youth, made his escape while the Rajdhani stood still on its tracks...

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Having finished his tale, Kamal let out a sigh. The memories of that girl, of her fear, of the other world still force a silence out of him every single time. Moments later, he turned his face and looked into the eyes of his grandson.

" I think I did the right thing that day" said Kamal, his voice low, " What do you think?"

His grandson hugged him tight, he said he is proud of his Dadu. Kamal hugged him back and kissed his forehead, when , from a distance, his wife called the child.

The child smiled at Kamal and jumped out of his lap to go to his grandmother. It was a simple step, a step taken without fear, a step in this world...





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