The train got ready to go, warming up the rails seeped in the cold of solitude. When the station started to hum with activity, the train felt within the unfolding of a colorful Indian dream. The distant stretches of ripe cornfields lush with heavy spikes, vast expanses of blooming bright yellow mustard plants and wheat fields wherein golden grains laughed laced the dream with lustrous frills.
Clearing its throat with two or three long whistles, the train began its journey. When it reached a level cross that had no gate, the train heard someone whispering something into its ears and slowed down. Then a voice asked, “When you reach here, can you not pause for a silent prayer?”
The train wondered, “What for?”
‘To say the truth, I am a martyr. Hoodlums belonging to the opposite party bound my hands and legs and threw me on these rails, my bicycle just beside me. So it was deemed an accident. Head to one side, body to the other.”
The train said softly, “Since I happen to have a heart within these iron confines, I am really saddened. Haven’t you seen us trains going over these rails as severed heads with no body, in repentance of all such misdeeds we unknowingly commit? Anyway, I shall certainly think of you whenever I reach this spot in future.”
The train gathered speed once again and shot forward. The journey was through a slum settlement. The train felt as if someone had covered its eyes with his palms and was tickling it. The train was bewildered for a moment, “Who could this be?” The answer was a laugh that tinkled like the dropping of gathered ‘manjadi’ seeds. “Tell me, I have to go”, said the train, anxious about its time schedule.
Little fingers were removed from the train’s eyes and a tender voice was heard to sing, “Whistle away, you smoky train, whistle away as you rush me
by — blind and deaf with hunger I was walking on these rails one day when a train came by and extinguished my hunger forever.” The train asked in tremulous voice, “Poor infant! My child, what can I do for you now?”
The tender voice replied, “You must not rush by like this when the souls of dead infants touch you. You know we cannot keep up with your speed.”
The train sighed long and deep and started off again. When it passed through a modest countryside, it felt a sensuous touch. Because of the previous experiences the train was sure that this was another soul. With a rumble it said, “I don’t recognize you at all, you know.”
With a stabbing laugh the voice revealed it. “I was the most beautiful girl in this village. But a group of villains gang-raped me. Taking me for dead they threw me on these rails. Some train or other saved my honour.”
The train said ever so kindly, “Your voice is so sweet. You must indeed have been a lovely girl. Now, what is there that I can do for you?”
The sadness in the maiden’s voice was toned down. “Whenever you come by this spot, you must let forth a melodious whistle in remembrance of me.”
The train agreed enthusiastically. Taking leave of the girl it howled and sped on. When it entered a marshy land, it felt a soft pat on its brow. It recognized a mother’s soul and said so straight out. The soul promptly agreed.
“Yes, dear. I am a mother. All my children turned out to be girls. Their father named them all after rivers-Ganga, Kaveri, Sarayoo, Alakananda, Mandakini! All holy rivers! But what was the point? Could their father afford to give them all a lot of gold and dowry and marry them off? When their yearnings grew old and grey they went astray. How long could I be a witness to that and hold fast? A train kindly put an end to all my sorrows.”
The train said aloud to itself, “Alas, Mother! there is nothing now that I can do for you?”
The mother’s soul murmured, “No, child. But when trains pass this spot they think of the agonies I suffered and tremble and sway terribly.”
By the time the realization came as to why trains stop at intervals in silent commemoration, then start out slowly, whistle in long bursts of sorrow and sometimes glide by swaying in great agitation, the border of Kerala was reached. Then it dawned upon the train that it had merely passed through the external sights of life here. As it thought of how much more dreadful the inner aspects of things might be, the train shuddered. Passing through the foul smell of a trampled dream, it then grunted and gasped into yet another life.
Translated from Malayalam by Sulochana Ram Mohan.
GRACY. Has published five volumes of short stories, Padiyirangippoya Parvathy, Randu Swapnadarshikal, Narakavathil, Bhrandan Pookkal and Panikkannu. Kaveriyude Neru is a book of memoirs written in her individual style. She was awarded the Lalithambika Antharjanam Memorial Prize for young writers in 1995 and the Thoppil Bhasi Memorial Award in 1997. She works as a college teacher in Aluva, Ernakulam district in Kerala.
SULOCHANA RAMMOHAN. Promising short story writer, poet and translator. Member of the Poetry Chain based at Thiruvananthapuram. Has published critical studies on the stories of Chandramathi and Ashita. Interested in women’s studies.