A Death on the Tracks, During Rush Hour

A death on the tracks, during rush hour

The platform was packed. Most of the passengers waited eagerly for the train while some of them chewed groundnuts like grazing cows. None, however, paid attention to the kid wandering on the tracks, who at times picked up something that caught his eye, amidst the rocks stained with paan or spit or urine.

His brown eyes gleamed in the sun as they swept across the platform in swift motions. The loose shirt stained with mud and grease flapped in the evening breeze. The dirty and oversized brown trousers were rolled up to the knees. When he saw Tauseef, he paused as if he had caught a glimpse of himself in the glass while walking past a showroom.

“Come up,” said Tauseef. “The train is about to arrive.”

The kid shook his head fervently.

Tauseef checked his watch. There was still time. He got down on the tracks. The rocks crunched under his boots. He looked towards the horizon, on both ends. None of the trains had yet arrived.

“Come, let’s go. The train will arrive any time now.”

The boy stuck out his tongue. He found Tauseef amusing.

Tauseef became impatient. He grabbed the boy’s shirt. “Don’t be so rude. Let’s go.”

The boy squirmed and escaped his grip. He began running. Tauseef wondered how he could run so quickly with his rubber slippers. Tauseef gave chase. “Hey, stop!” he kept shouting, but the boy giggled as if it were a game. He hoped someone would look at them and intervene. But none of the passengers glanced in their direction, not even casually. Tauseef called out to a man who was busy crushing tobacco on his left palm with his right thumb. He ignored his pleas.

The speakers jumped to life. The lady’s voice crackled over the platform in three different language – Bangla, Hindi, and English. The train would arrive shortly.

The sun was getting warmer. The kid was standing at a distance from Tauseef, lost in his world. A kid was outrunning him. What a shame! Had he not won the 100m race in school for three years in a row? Tauseef mustered his childhood spirit. He decided to sneak on him. Slowly, he crept up on the boy, careful not to make any sound on the rocks. Before he could make his final move, however, the boy darted, as if on reflex.

Tauseef panicked. He barely had a few minutes. “Why won’t you leave the tracks?”

The kid started dancing. He put his hands behind his head and thrust his pelvis in a derogatory manner.

The announcement crackled like thunder, in Bangla, Hindi, and English. Tauseef felt a fear grip him. He knew it was time. The train’s mouth had now become visible around the bend. It was rushing towards the platform like a storm. The horns blared. The tracks trembled like a teenage bride.

Tauseef became desperate. He chased the boy with every ounce of energy, but the wretched urchin outran him. He was heading straight towards the oncoming train. The gap was lessening. “Why are you doing this?” shouted Tauseef twice over the sounds of the blaring horn. On the platform, a hundred bodies pushed back a couple of inches, their heads cocked in the direction of the train, waiting impatiently to fight their way into the already-full compartments and squash under the pressure of the pressing bodies.

No one looked at them.

Tauseef gave up. The train jogged in with a loud horn. The crowd had already taken up their position on the platform, ready to jump on the compartments before the train stopped. Tauseef jumped aside and rolled onto the rocks. The boy stood there, his brown eyes pleading with him as the giant metal frame rushed into his tiny body.


Tauseef jerked from his sleep. He had been dreaming.

The sky, now stripped of the evening sun, had turned mahogany. Darkness was approaching fast. It was hot and humid, but nothing unusual for June. After emerging from the underground tunnel in time for the 6:14 train he had immediately cursed under his breath. The crowd was not as overwhelming as the morning rush, but it was still enough to feel dissatisfied. With each passing second, it would swell until the train arrived. Then the damp and reeking bodies would collide and shove each other as they made their way inside. At times, foul words would be used. Sometimes, it would turn into a fight. By the time they carried their tattered and weather-beaten bodies back to their families, the arguments and fights would cease, and the next morning, life would go back to its usual self.

The world would drag its heavy frame over the mundane tracks and pause more frequently than usual. The ticket counters would have long winding queues. People would click their tongues and impatiently watch the distant tracks. The digital timer would show how late the train was. And the speakers overhead would announce another “technical difficulty” at one of the stations.

That is how it went, for days, for months, for years, for eternity, round and round…

That morning when he was late again, Ambarish da told him to get a bike or something. If only his boss could meet his brother-in-law. Jamshed Bhai spoke about his car like it was a curse. The bloody thing eats petrol like it is mutton biryani, he said every time they were stuck in traffic.

His colleague, Jyotsna, was right. Why do they have to die during the day, and when everyone is going to office? Why can’t they jump off a building? There are so many new construction sites.

The macabre logic was not aimed at the dead person but at the ones left behind to bear the brunt. Why did they kill themselves so brutally? The thought of a 200-ton train crushing a human chest sent a chill down Tauseef’s spine. How much blood would have been spilt? Three litres? Four litres? Less? More?

Tauseef had spent his whole life near the railway tracks. His house was a stone’s throw from the nearest station. During winter nights, the sounds of the announcement and blowing horn gleefully permeated the concrete walls and still darkness. His school and college were also near the tracks. During his travels as a salesperson, he would stand at the gate for hours, his earphones plugged in while the wind mercilessly slapped against his fair skin and ruffled his brown hair. Through the rusted window, he witnessed the seamless change in scenes. First, the buildings disappeared and gave way to open fields. Then came the trees. Why did the trees look different in villages? Tauseef would always wonder. Lush, sturdy, and full of life. Then came the people, their language, clothes, and habits. Slowly, the world egressed from its polluted self, like a snake shedding its old skin.

It was dark now. The lights at the tea stalls sprang to life. The smell of brewing tea and milk filled the air. A man squatted against the wall of the STO office and sold ghoti gorom. By the slender light of a kerosene lamp, he mixed bhujia, diced onions, green chillies, and tiny pieces of hog plum in a steel bowl and packed them into small newspaper pouches. Near one of the red stone seats squatted another seller selling ice apples.

Tauseef got up and walked towards the edge of the platform. The empty seat was immediately occupied by another man. The platform was slowly filling up with tired faces dragging their heavy bodies. He stared at the dark sky thinking about nothing in particular. Then he pondered over his future. He loved Kolkata. Next year he would take up a better job in the city. His other friends were moving to Bangalore and Hyderabad. They gushed and Slowly, he would get a bike, then a car, then get married…

A distant horn broke his chain of thought. He took a few steps back while others moved closer. A pair of glowing eyes appeared around the corner and slowly crept towards the crowd, devouring the tracks along the way.

On the illuminated tracks he thought he saw someone. Was it a little boy, standing in front of the jogging train? Tauseef stared hard and realized he was right. He could not make out much except for the loose shirt and oversized brown trousers. He was a silhouette but Tauseef could make out his brown eyes. They were pleading with him.  

“Someone save him!” He screamed. The people turned around. Tauseef was too numb to say anything more. Trembling, he scrambled back to his old seat. His hands and feet had gone cold and his heart desperately pounded against his ribcage. The tremor rattled his body. The train trudged into the platform, its horn splitting the air in two, and its blinding lights swallowing Tauseef whole.

Tauseef crashed back to reality when the train pulled out of the station with a loud horn. A calmness descended on the platform as soon as the tail disappeared around the bend. He picked up his bag and walked back through the tunnel.


The next day, Tauseef took the but it came to a halt two stops before his destination. The passengers who were already irritated at the slow-moving traffic were now voicing their opinions about the state of public transport under the current government. The rising temperature and pressure of sweaty bodies pressed against one another worsened it. By the time they reached office, they would turn into rags. The bus killed the engine. The other cars around them had done the same. One of the passengers inquired with another passenger on the next bus.

“There has been an accident,” the man replied dismissively. “It’s a beggar I think; A little boy running on the road, unmindful of the traffic.”

Tauseef heard the conversation and looked at his watch. He got down and walked towards the thick crowd. He could not get a good look, but he caught a glimpse of a bony leg. It was covered with a pair of dirty and oversized brown trousers – stained with mud and grease – and rolled up to the knees.

He kept walking.

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