By Savitri Narayanan
Engrossed in her favourite serial, Devika was surprised to hear the phone ring.
“Amma, what’s the matter? Why are you up so late?” asked Devika. “Are you ok?”
Staying in their village in Gaya, Amma’s day went like a clock. Half past eight was dinner time. After winding up the kitchen she would watch some spiritual programme on TV and get to bed. Usually lights would be off by ten. Why was Amma up past midnight!
“Raju bhaiyya called to say Asha bua is not well,” said Amma.
Asha bua was her father’s eldest sister. She too lived in Gaya till a year ago. Being close by, Amma kept an eye and helped her with local errands. But, last summer, when Raju bhaiyya came down, he persuaded his mother to move to Patna with them. Amma was sad to see her go.
“I was only three when I lost my mother. I don’t even remember her face! So what! I have Asha bua!” Amma often said nostalgically.
Asha bua was only happy to be Amma’s guardian. She nurtured her along with Raju bhaiyya and Sushil bhaiyya.
“I am leaving by tomorrow morning’s train,” Amma continued. “Will stay on if they need help.”
“The train will be crowded! You’ll have luggage too; how will you manage?” Devika was concerned.
When she completed her engineering, she had picked up this job and moved to Bengaluru. Two years ago, Amma had a fall and fractured her leg. She walked with a walking stick for support. The thought of Amma travelling by herself was rather scary. How would she manage her bags? What if she falls down?
“Take care, Amma,” said Devika and disconnected the phone. She tried in vain to get some sleep.
The train pulled into Patna station. A co-passenger helped with her bags. The platform was a busy place. Passengers with their luggage, those who had come to receive or see them off someone and a variety of peddlers – all moved around briskly.
A porter rushed to her.
“Take me to an auto-rickshaw,” she told him. To avoid arguments later, she asked, “How much?”
“Five hundred, madam!” he said.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Shanta, “Only two small bags!”
“Ok, fifty rupees less!”
“Don’t loot me; I will pay you two hundred rupees!”
The porter walked away.
Another porter who stood by said, “Four hundred, madam!”
“Don’t try to fool me, I know the rates!” she said, “will pay you double – two hundred, let’s go!”
He too walked away.
So it went on with another porter.
“All because they see how vulnerable I am!” The thought brought anger in her mind and tears to her eyes.
“Let’s go madam!” soon another porter approached. A tall young man, he politely lifted the bags and started walking. Shanta followed.
“We’re on platform number five, madam,” he told as they walked, “how will you go up and down the steps? Shall we take the escalator?”
There was kindness and concern in his voice.
He slowed down and extended a hand which Shanta took happily as she negotiated the steps.
They came out on the road and hailed an auto.
“How much shall I pay you?” asked Shanta.
“As you wish, Amma!” said the porter. “It’s my honour to help you!”
“Goodness is still around, I’m delighted!” she said handing over the cash. “Those like you make all the difference!”