Platform N0.1 of Nampally railway station, known as Hyderabad B.G. under a different regime. The afternoon of a weekday; the western sun furiously pouring his melted gold on the waiting passengers, friends and relatives who came to see them off and some to receive incoming passengers. In the crowd were my wife and I, headed for Chennai to meet the boy’s parents. The other population inhabiting the platform included vagabonds wedded to minor crime, vendors of high-priced tea, biscuits etc. and unleashed mongrels and invisible CCTV cameras enjoying the troubled scene under their nose. A budding writer would see the scene as an unorganized reception committee waiting to welcome the incoming Secunderabad-Chennai Express.
Soon I began complaining of heat and a feeling of giddiness. I touched my head to push back a flank of hair bothering my brow, it was all clammy and sticky there; I cursed my Maker. Five minutes later I felt unsteady on my legs. I looked out for something to support my sagging body. There were no unoccupied plastic chairs on the platform. Luckily, the train rolled in on to the platform. We had two lower berths reserved for ourselves. As soon as we entered the compartment I spread myself on the berth.
‘Are you okay?’ my wife asked, her eyes radiating anxiety. I didn’t reply, signaling to her with my hand not to bother me. From experience, she knew all was not well with me.
She touched my forehead and found it scorching. It was hot inside and outside the compartment. The overhead fan leaped to life for a nano second and died. Noticing the terror on her face, a passenger sitting near a window intervened and advised her to cover my torso with a wet towel. We had no idea of what distance the train had covered. My wife asked the passenger to kindly find out if there was a doctor on board. There was none, he said and suggested they stop the train and ask the guard to send a message to the next station to get a doctor to see what needed to be done. None volunteered to pull the chain, knowing it would involve a penalty. She told the helpful passenger she would take the responsibility for pulling the chain and paying the penalty. The Good Samaritan lost no time in pulling the chain. Anticipating the train to stop any minute every passenger in the compartment showed interest in the ongoing drama. Reluctantly, the train stopped one station ahead of Bhongir. The guard entered the compartment shortly after. My wife told him that I needed immediate medical attention.
“Amma, I will send a message to the next station,” he said. He hurried to the stationmaster’s cabin. Two or three passengers too followed the guard into the cabin. One of them ran back to the compartment shouting, ‘the message has gone to Bhongir.’ Now there was a crowd in the coupe expressing anxiety and looking at me and alternately at my wife who was now unabashedly crying and bribing every God to save her husband.
Fifteen minutes later the train trundled into Bhongir station. It came to a halt, when our compartment came face to face with the doctor, an elderly person, standing on the platform.
He and an orderly, carrying his bag, entered the compartment. He held my wrist and raised his right eyebrow to indicate how serious the case was,
‘Amma, make him swallow these Crocin tablets. He should be okay in an hour,’ he said, patting my wife’s head in condolatory affection. That show of fatherly concern of the doctor breached her tear ducts.
‘No need to panic, my dear,’ he said and patted this time my wife’s shoulder and left.
Seeing the doctor depart, the guard came in and asked me if the train could resume its journey. I smiled at his courtesy.
My wife never stopped crying softly and pledging all gold in the house and on her body to all gods and goddesses she had installed in her kitchen shrine. Shortly, the outside plunged in darkness. A stray light blinked indicating the existence of a passing hamlet in the distance. Slowly I slipped into a deep torpor without a thought for my wife and the state of panic I had left her in.
I knew my wife’s emotional fragility because she had been my alter ego for more than three decades. She never existed as a separate person. I was her raison d’être. In her daily prayers she sought long life for me and nothing for herself. When we had a daughter, she acquired an additional charge. Her attention to me and my daughter was such she reduced herself to an unbeing.
Against the background of the train’s rhythmic rattle neither of us was in a state of consciousness familiar to the common man. The surge of emotions was such that without being conscious in a human way, we displaced the present as a setting for existence by substituting it with revived images from the past. We were physically two entities who with the birth of our daughter melded into one.
The baby’s arrival obliterated our past of separate existence and fused us into a joint personality with two bodies but a common mind, receiving, storing, retrieving and reacting to the same pictures in our heads, co-coordinating and co-operating.
Over the years of spousal life we managed to build an invisible thalamic bridge that connected our heads linking the thalamus of one to the thalamus of the other helping the exchange of each other’s sensory inputs. It was a coalition of the minds.
From the inputs available to me from her head I knew she was taking a peep into the pages of our illustrated autobiography. The wedding performed under a vast canopy of thatch attended by hundreds of uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, classmates and the town’s gentry, our joint craving for a girl, her bringing up, health setbacks. The night when the daughter was hospitalized and when the doctors had said chances of recovery were slim and even if she survived they were not sure of the damage the brain might have suffered, we had cried with several eyes of patients and their relatives focusing their eyes on us
We had cried in moments of happiness too when the girl was the first student of her school to win the national talent scholarship. When the girl was about to board a flight to the US for a doctoral degree we broke down in the airport lounge telling her we would cancel the ticket if she didn’t want to leave us; now, we were on our way to the boy’s place and this calamity.
In the passing train, I thought of none but myself? Would I be around when we reach Chennai? It did not enter my mind that in her hour of distress she needed solace from me. Did she sleep? Did she have food? Nothing of the sort occurred to me. In my mind my self assumed the dimensions of a Viswaroopam. The train pulled into Madras Central bringing the dawn in its wake. As if it were in answer to my wife’s prayers, I woke up resurrected and less mortal. The feeling of funereal proximity that stayed with me throughout the journey disappeared. She shed tears in delight and gratitude to the multitudes of her Gods.
But the man who was supposed to receive us at Chennai could not be seen on the platform. We had no idea how he looked like. Nor were we sure he would recognize us. We found a man in a white shirt over a white veshti standing before the weighing machine. He could be the man who came to meet us, I thought. I approached him and said, ’Sitaraman?’ Yes, he said with a sigh of relief.
The end of a nigtmare.