And there I was, escorted by two GRP (railway) policemen. Their bellies making a desperate effort to kiss the barely busy platform buzzing with the euphonic chirping of birds.
Sir, कितनी देर में छोड देंगे ?(how long) , I mumbled with the absolute naiveté of a fledgeling. I got no response, both of them busy minding their leisurely waltz.
Some ten steps later one of them unexpectedly opened his orifice, euphemistically referred to as mouth.
'कोठे पे जा रहा है और 'ठुकाई' से डर रहा है ? TTE को एक- डेढ हज़ार दे देता तो हमें तेरी दलाली नहीं करनी पडती'(going to a whorehouse and already afraid of getting screwed? Had you bribed the TTE some 1000-1500 rupees we wouldn't be pimping you around)
The other one seemed amused by the metaphorical comment as if experiencing a secret orgasm.
We entered through an almost broken down gate of a badly maintained small town railway police station. I was asked to stay in the verandah. Both of them disappeared for a moment, later showing up with another policeman in civil clothes.
He asked me in a stiff but polite tone, तू तो पढ़ा-लिखा लग रहा है , अच्छे घर से है ...चल हज़ार रुपय दे और चलता बन l(you look educated and from a well-to-do family...c'mon cough up 1000 rupees, we'll let you go)
A fit of frightful jitters ran down my spine. I could not speak a word. It seemed as if I had consumed a spoonful of sawdust. I was actually carrying 15,000 rupees (in denominations of 500).
I had stuffed the money in a secret pocket of my pants surrogately positioned near the side pocket.
Fumbling, I took out the lone 100 rupee note i had in my wallet. He was not impressed.
Having failed at getting any positive response, he kind of gave up on me. अन्दर डाल दो इसको(put him in), said he, while sauntering towards the main gate.
I had this smattering of information, from family and experienced friends, that usually they keep you for 24 hrs. and let you go, no strings attached.
In my mind I was getting myself prepared for the hardships of prison life, albeit for 24 hrs, rather than parting with my money. Although they had demanded a fraction of it, I was afraid, if they happen to see the treasure of rectangular green leaves I was carrying, their greed might get a promoted, and I might as well end up losing all I had.
24 hours in the lock-up seemed a good idea from the beginning. And I felt myself patting my own back for the wise decision when I saw that the cell was almost empty except for one seemingly skeletal figure.
He must have been 18 yrs old, almost my age, and skin, a shade darker than me.
I got inside and tried to figure out where to place my superior self as there were no benches. He was lying down, knees folded, one hand peacefully resting on his chest, the other acting as a pillow to his calm and composed head.
I unloaded my hitherto loaded back and tried to dust off the area near his head with the help of my bag. He probably sensed my presence and made a face while getting up; and sat beside me. He looked seemingly harmless, so I was comfortable sitting beside him.
Now, it was the question of breaking ice between us. After about ten minutes he broke the silence and asked me-
तू तो साफ सुथरा लग रहा है , अन्दर कैसे ? (you look clean, how did you end up here?)
ME: बिना टिकिट reservation में बैठा था l (was sitting in the reservation compartment without ticket)
HIM: अबे 100-200 रुपये दे कर रफा-दफा कर लेता l(should have settled it by bribing 100-200 rupees)
ME: 1000 रुपये मांग रहा था साला l (the bastard was asking 1000)
HIM: अबे, मोल-तोल भी कोइ चीज़ होती है ? ...खैर तेरी गलती नहीं है ...तेरी शकल बता रही है के तू हज़ार वाला customer है l (dude, there's something called 'negotiation'?...Though it was not your fault...your face says it all- that you're a 1000 rupee customer)
Two minutes of silence followed in the condolence of my 1000 rupees worth face failing to save face and ending up in a prison.
Out of curiosity I couldn’t resist my urge to ask him-
तो तेरे पास भी पैसे नहीं थे TTE को देने के लिए ? (you too didn't have enough to bribe the TTE?)
He replied- नहीं.....मेरे पास पैसे थे......और, कुछ ज्यादा ही थे l (no...I had money...and, far more than enough)
ME: (making a quizzical face) मतलब ?(as in?)
HIM: (with utter calmness and the right mix of composure) मैं एक जेबकतरा हूँ l( I'm a pickpocket.)
...to be continued...