The train paused with a screeching halt on the Charbagh Railway Station in Lucknow. Muskuraiye, aap Lucknow mein hain! Smile, you’re in Lucknow! Read the greeting on the platform. Quite a Nawabi etiquette, I thought, as I unloaded my bag and baggage on the platform.
The station was amazingly packed despite the fact that it was quarter past seven in the morning. I was tempted by the warmth and smell of morning chai but I decided otherwise when I spotted a big fat rat beneath the stall. Although the platform was cleaner than I had expected. A newly installed escalator increased the comfort level of the station. As I made my way out of the station, I was even more surprised to find the recently installed Metro as functional. How I wished it were operational throughout the city.Though I was returning to the city after a gap of almost four years, it seemed that I was treading in a completely strange place. Lucknow had taken immense strides too quickly.
I called a cab once I was outside the station. The app showed the arrival in 10 minutes. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and was shocked. I turned around to find a miserably old woman, who wore round specks and had saggy skin. It didn’t take to be Socrates to tell that she was troubled by something. But before I could ask her anything, she started crying.
“I came to Lucknow from my son’s. He- he lives in Meerut…” she started crying again, more loudly this time.
“Oh, please! Don’t cry. What really happened, tell me?”
“The train arrived late at night. The time must have been two or three maybe… Someone stole my bag! I’m new here. I have to travel to Lakhimpur, my village. But, but- all my money is lost!” This time she was practically wailing. I felt myself pitying the old lady. Her age, her painful cries and everything about her appearance demanded sympathy. But, how could I trust any stranger? Hadn’t I been taught to keep away from them?But, the old woman went on… “I have a grand daughter of your age. Although I hate to beg, but I certainly have no choice…”
“Do you remember you son’s phone number? Or anyone’s from your village? I could call them and they would come to your rescue,” I suggested.
“Oh, you see I have never been to school after 2nd grade. I had a mobile phone, but that- that too has gone with the bag,” she broke down again. “I am a villager, illiterate. I only knew how to pick up when someone calls and nothing more than that.”
I was perplexed. She was my grandmother’s age and I couldn’t even begin to imagine her in such a state. How callous was her son who’d left her on her own! Suddenly, I had a brilliant idea.
“Amma, there’s a police station nearby. Let us first register the complaint of your lost bag. They’ll take care of-“
“Oh, no! No- please don’t hand me over to the police. Don’t do anything. Leave me in my state but please do not call the police.” She was indeed behaving like a child. What a morning!I thought. Nevertheless, guilt had swept over me and now I couldn’t just shed it off.
I rummaged in my handbag and found a five hundred rupee note. But, that was quite a sum! Next, I found a hundred rupee note, but I doubted that she would be able to travel that far on it. I finally found a two-hundred rupee note. Yes, that seemed apt. I handed her the note and her miserable expression changed into a wistful glee. She thanked me over a hundred times and the next thing I knew she was lost in the crowd.
I heaved a sigh of relief. After all, it felt great to help someone. I decided not to relate the story to my mother, as I feltdeep down, that she wouldn’t approve of it.
Suddenly, I was reminded of the cab. The driver must be waiting and now I’d have to pay waiting charges. I called him.
When I finally found the cab, the driver, an aged Punjabi man, said that he had been waiting for 5 minutes.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“Your number was unreachable, somehow, so I thought it was the best to wait until you found me. Was the train late?” he asked as he helped me with the luggage.
“Oh, no. The train was on time. It’s just that I met an old lady and- Well, forget it…”
“Did she say she’d lost her bag and baggage or stuff like that?”
I was stunned to hear that. “How do you-“ I couldn’t go on further.
“Oh, another victim! She’s a good actor though, I must admit.” He told me as if reading my shock and silence.
Oh, yes. He was absolutely right. She had said that she was new to the place, but she had not bothered to ask me which train or bus led to Lakhimpur. Her face went white when I mentioned the policeman. It was the height of stupidity on my part.I shouldn’t have been swayed by her story. I should have turned a cold heart like the others. I should have abided by what my mother taught me. But, wasn’t helping someone a virtue? How could she cheat on me- my innocence? Too in that age!
“But, she seemed so genuine.”
“That’s her USP, I must admit. No wonder you’re not the first one!”
“But she could have begged if she couldn’t earn the money. Why cheat? This is so unfair. That’s why no one offers help to anyone.”
“How much did you provide her with?”
The driver simply laughed. “She would beg for a month for that much.”
I frowned. It still seemed unbelievable. The driver went on,“Don’t be sad, puttar. What you did was the right thing to do. She’ll pay for her sins and you’ll be rewarded for your good deeds. Vaye Guru Ji watches it all.”
“Karma, right,” I smiled.
It is because of such encounters that one is taught not to trust strangers. But if she were real, it would have been really cold of me to let her go. With that, I eased myself. I would have repented anyway. To give, or not to give, her existence put me in the wrong.
Author’s Biography: Himanshi Shukla is a budding writer from Lucknow, India. She is passionate about reading novels and writing creative fiction and non-fiction. She is pursuing a Diploma in Creative Writing in English from IGNOU, alongside her graduation, to give proper shape to her passion. She has articles published in The Indus Woman Writers Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Treetake Magazine and her college magazine. She blogs at http://thecagegbirdsingsweb.wordpress.com. She plans to write a novel in the near future.