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Am I Guilty?
|by Dinanath Manohar|
That incidence took place more than ten years ago and yet I distinctly remember each infinitesimal detail of the whole event. To witness an accidental death of an unknown person is a usual event in the metropolitan city like Bombay. Even in those days of seventies, such kind of accidents used to take place dozens a day. Now this number would have been multiplied by hundreds. The person walking in front of you suddenly screams getting hit by some vehicle. And his or her dead body lies there just few feet away from you on the road. The people who witness such unexpected and horrible accident get stunned for few milliseconds, struck with the mixed feelings of horror and of relief. In next moment with deft and precise steps they would hurry away from the spot of accident, thanking God or Goddess of fortune for being saved by a narrow escape.
But in my case, the memory of that incidence had penetrated deep, and still exists in unfathomable depths of my mind. Some times suddenly this memory pops up on the surface of consciousness. Suresh's face, his mangled body lying in the dust, the face distorted by the expressions of extreme amazement and pain, floats before my eyes. Except his name I do not know anything about him. That name too I have overheard accidentally. And still even after such a long span of time, the memory of the man's death niggles me. A dense shadow of guilt encloses whole of my psyche and for moments I gag under the outweighing blanket of darkness.
To be honest, there is no need to hide any thing related to that accidental death and my role in it. No body would dream of holding me blameworthy for that accident neither on the basis of legality, nor of morality. And yet I had not dared to relate that incidence to any body up till now. But if I do not speak out, the mystery would remain undisclosed and that would keep on troubling my conscience. So I have now decided to describe that incidence in all details.
I go to Bombay very rarely. People do go there to enjoy the life, but whenever I enter Bombay metropolitan city, the fear for my life keeps me always on my toes. The crowd of unknown faces, dizzying speed of the life, and never ceasing torrent of sense impressions crushes me and drowns me. If I had to go there, then I would be beleaguered by the calculations of time, work and speed problems. When my bus would reach there? In which direction I would have to go? Up towards the North Bombay or down towards South Bombay? Would there be heavy rush on the local trains at that time? Would that particular train stops at the station where I wish to detrain? Would it be possible for me to get down there through the crowd?
Taking into consideration all the answers to such questions, on that particular day, I traveled all the way in opposite direction to the main terminus of local trains, and got on the fast train for Kalyan. As train entered the station jumping up in the bogie I immediately rushed and occupied the seat close to the window. Once my fellow commuters got settled I took a novel out off my bag and got engrossed in story. At the next station, lot of people got in, and thereafter at every station, people kept on coming in and going out. The tide of incessant noise kept on rising and ebbing. I was engrossed in the book, and looked up only when the train reached Thane. Majority of the commuters got down there and though new passengers did come in, they being few, the carriage was quite empty then. I put that novel back in the bag, and sat there relaxed stretching my legs under the opposite bench.
I don't remember now what I was thinking about at that moment. But suddenly I become aware of that sound, sound of Dit .dot, dit ..dot, of Morse signals.
I looked up towards the source of the sound. There were overhead steel bars fixed across the carriage with number of hanging handles, so as to provide the support to the people standing in the passage and in empty spaces in between the benches. As there was no body to hang on them, the handles were swinging freely with the movement of the train. And as they were swinging in union to and fro, they were making a rhythmic sound together. The insides of the swinging handles, grating against the pipe on which they were fitted were making very rhythmic sounds in unison. I stared at them, and gradually their movements subsided and they stopped moving. Perhaps speed of the train might have decreased, or the shocks the train was getting might have reduced.
There was nothing abnormal in it. But that rhythmic sound meant quite different thing for me. Unconsciously I have been reading the letters out of that sound. It was the habit of years and it was quite impossible to have ridden off it. Few decades before wireless operators use to communicate the messages in Morse signals. Even in post offices telegraph operators used the Morse signals to send telegrams. This language is based on various forms of short and longs tunes. Suppose some body give a long whistle followed by short one, Morse operator would read it as a letter 'N'.
Few years ago I heard a joke about the Morse operators. Two telegraph operators in post services went to nearby hotel to have a cup of tea. Just close to their table there was sitting a young beautiful woman, with an aged man. One of the operator used the tabletop and gave his friend a message, ' have a look behind, a real wench.' But before his friend turns over to look, the aged man began tapping on the table, 'Gentlemen, I am here, father of that wench.'
Now you might have got a fair idea of what the Morse language is, so let us proceed on with the story.
The man sitting opposite me eyed me quizzically. But my whole attention, my eyes and ears were drawn towards the handles then. After few minutes the handles began swinging once again. The train was moving fast, the carriage was getting shocks. I was listening the sounds.. 'Da dit dit....dit dit...da dit....dit da ....' My back straightened, my ears were fully on the sound then, the hairs on the back had straightened and at the back of my head I was feeling tingling sensations. I was reading the letters... the sound continued to come.
'D..I..N..A..N..A..T..H....I was writing the message on the imagined paper in my mind...'Dinanath, Now is time you for..
And the child of the woman sitting beside me began yelling and crying. I tried to listen to the signals filtering the child's cries, but it was an impossible job. I got up suddenly and moved towards the open space close to those handles, but then the handles had stopped swinging. And then I realized the few of the commuters who were close to me, were eyeing me in amused kind of way. Unknowingly I might have voiced my annoyance harshly perhaps. I moved towards the door, away from their curious glances. I was trying to calm down. But I was agitated. A storm was raging in my mind. A question was whirling in my brain. 'Dinanath, now is the time..' Certainly that message was meant for me.. Now is the time.. But for what? And who was giving me the message. Was it some kind of warning, or was it an advice? Was it my mind that was playing a strange game with me? Was it the spirit of some dead wireless operator? Strange kinds of explanations were being formed in my mind.
I detrained at Kalyan station. But instead of proceeding to my destination, I returned back to Thane. The train going towards Thane was crowded, and there were people hanging to every available handle. No single handle was free to swing. I got down at Thane and again got the train going towards Kalyan. I don't know how many times I traveled between Thane and Kalyan that day. I came back to my friend's place tired and confused. I tried to get some sleep but it was impossible. The whole night I could not sleep soundly.
That night I decided to try one more time, and to travel by the same train and in the same compartment.
Next day, I reached to the terminus half an hour earlier to the scheduled time of the train. I had not slept for the whole night. It was an uneasy sleep full of nightmares and restlessness. I still was in a kind of dazed condition and I was feeling bit of temperature in my body. I climbed in that particular local train in that particular bogie, but a man had occupied the seat close to the window. I sat near him. I was trying to calm my agitated mind, arguing that it is craziness to expect the same thing to happen again. The incidence that took won't repeat again. I should not expect for any thing to happen once again. I kept on reminding myself that I was proceeding to Kalyan to finish off my work there. And yet as the left Thane station, I left the seat and moved close to those hanging handles.
Then that particular moment came, at that particular stretch of the track, the carriage began to waver, and the handles began to swing in unison. The sounds began to get formed...
'dit dit dit...dit da da...dit da dit... The letters followed each other. I was reading them. I realized that the message on that day was not meant for me. The message was..S..U..R..E..S..H...Suresh beware of piper od. I could not make any sense of the last two words... piper od.
Once again the questions raised their hundreds of ugly heads. They were hollering for attention.. What does piper od means? Who is this Suresh? is OD short form of some other words? Is there some letter I lost? But I was sure that I have not missed a single letter. I was quite confident of it. Suresh was warned to be aware of.. Is some body of these commuters sitting around me Suresh?
The train reached Kalyan Station. I got down from the train. Pushing the questions aside and out of way, I climbed up the stairs to the bridge along with the crowd. I walked along with all other commuters, and came down the other staircase and out of the station. Crowd now was moving towards the road just beside the entrance to station. The rickshaw pullers have crowded on the way, leading to the road parallel to the rail track.
I had then got rid of those questions quite successfully. There were now more practical questions in my mind. Should I go by rickshaw? Or should I walk down to the place? Craning my neck I was trying to look beyond the crowd in front of me, as I was moving on along with it.
And I heard some body saying,' Well, Suresh, I better should be fast, the bus is ready there to leave.' I looked for the source of those words. Both of them were few feet ahead of me. I realized that both of them were there in my compartment. But who is Suresh of them both? Most probably the fellow who had been sitting close to the window, where I had been yesterday, have to be Suresh. I started moving closer to him, pushing myself through the crowd. I had no idea what I was to do once I go near him. But I wished to make sure that the same fellow had been sitting on the window seat. I wished to know whither his name is Suresh? His companion had slipped away in the crowd then. Suresh had now reached to the front of the crowd now, just close to the edge of the road. A gigantic truck was slowly moving on the road. There was a rickshaw behind it and then a metador was following behind. My eyes moved to the back of the metador and I got panicked. There were steel pipe rods in the metador and more than half of them lengthwise were out side the metador. They were swinging quite violently with the shocks the metador was getting. Suddenly it struck to me...the words were not piper od but pipe rod..
' Oh my God ' I mumbled and then unknowingly I cried out.. Suresh beware of pipe... But then further words choked in my throat. The crowd roared, the crowd ran hither and thither...The driver of the metador had pushed down the brake paddle.. But it was too late now. Suresh's body was lying in the dust, twitching and jerking. The bag in his hand was lying just beside him, with the tiffin out. The blood was rushing out of his neck in spurts.
Suddenly I too turned back, and began to run like a madman. From what I was rushing away? That image of Suresh drenched in his own blood was in front of mind's eyes. When I called Suresh, he had turned his head back towards me, and could not see the pipe rod swinging towards him. Our eyes had met for a moment; his eyebrows were raised up in unuttered question.
Now whenever I think of that incidence, three questions confront me. I know that I would never get the correct answers to these questions, and even if got the answers, they are of no use now. The first question is who was giving the message through the moving handles to the person sitting on that particular window seat? Second question is, supposing I had not called him at that particular moment by his name, would he have noticed the pipe rod swinging towards him and moved out of it's range? And the third question naturally follows the second one. Was I responsible for his accidental death? Am I guilty?
Dinanath Manohar is a Marathi short story writer, novelist, with five novel at my credit, and several short stories. His first novel 'Robot' got Maharashtra state award, and recently 'Manvantar" got the Maharashtra Foundation Award. This is his first story in English. He is a social worker and has been full time activist in the working in a mass organization dealing with Bhil tribal laborers. Presently he is honorary editor of a fortnightly 'Parivartacha Vatsaru' published from Pune.
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