Playing the White Knight for the first time



Part 3


Co participated in the preceding exchange by turning his head from me to the guy in civvies and back to me and to him again, like a spectator keeping a keen eye on the ball hit hither and thither on a tennis court. Animated he was, agitated he was not.  Did he know two bullets were already shot out of the barrel with his address inscribed on them? 250 rupees was a minister’s ransom (with kings going extinct). I had not seen any tell-tale signs of affluence on Co’s person – no gold chains or rings, no Rolex watch, no premium brand molded-luggage, no designer-clothes…How would the retired public servant (I deduced because of his railway-pass) arrange to pay the fine? And one doesn’t carry family jewels handy on a train journey. Also what would be his life without his attendant? About 50 feet (my best guess) was the maximum range over which Co and his attendant can connect up if separated at anytime on unfamiliar terrain, without the benefit of line of sight or throw of voice. If the guy in civvies made good his threat of pushing out the attendant at the next station to a second-class coach, it puts Co and his attendant well outside this range and consequently they would never ever find each other. Of that, I was certain. I was worried for them and felt compelled to make some moves, fair or foul.


I sat next to an unsuspecting Co and in my broken Hindi explained to him his transgression and the about the bullets heading his way. Co nodded at appropriate places in my briefing leading me to believe I was being understood. I restrained myself from patting Co on his back when I added reassuringly that I was going to try and get Co in the clear.


With that said, I stepped out to tackle the guy in civvies, more impulsively than with any real plan thought out. He had parked himself on the coach attendant’s seat near the door, holding Co’s attendant close by and ready for eviction. When I stood before him, luckily there was no one else to watch us over. For best effect, folklore said these scenes were enacted in privacy of two and not before an audience.


S: Look, I don’t see how he can pay 250 rupees as fine. He may not even have that much on his person. Also if you ask his attendant to go away to second-class coach, he is not going to be able to manage it. He will be lost. You have seen him. Don’t you agree? (A straight-forward statement of the case)

G: I am a railway employee on the beat with a job to do and I am doing it. Anything wrong with it? (Couldn’t really fault him on this)

S: Couldn’t you take a lenient view in this case?

G: I am not a high officer to apply discretion. I am instructed to use the rule-book. If he thinks he has a case, he could approach the higher authorities later. And it is for them to take a call. (No confusion here on the roles – the secret of how the behemoth manages to keep its trains on track most of the times, a feat readily acknowledged by the world)

S: I’m sure he would be more careful in future.

G: That should take care of the future. (No chuckles from me)

S: Didn’t you see he really needed assistance?

G: He should have gotten the doctor’s certificate, I told you. (For the second time, he cleverly ducked the tactic of his adversary trying to sneak in a consensus to undermine a confrontation)

S: Can’t a retired public servant be shown some consideration?

G: That’s what the railway-passes are for. Three times in a year for the family and the attendant to go with. Do you know what it would cost general public to travel in first-class like this? (My thrusts were parried)

S: What we do now? (Inexperience showed)

G: You mean what does he do now? I thought I’ve made it amply clear.

S: There must be a way to help him out. (Dead-end)

G: Yes, there is! (At last)  

S: What’s it?

G: You could pay the fine for him, if he is unable to. I mean if you wish to help him. (Did I see a smirk on his face?). 

S: What me? 250 rupees? No way. (The caught-in-the-headlights rabbit had an edge over me)

G: There you’re. (Yes, back at square one, I could have added mirthlessly)


A minute of silence ensued, at this impasse. And then, a flash of an idea! The guy in civvies had given me an opening and I had not played. How dumb! Just then, with equal alacrity, the moral fiber from within kicked in. Should I or shouldn’t I? I did not see any real choice. With clarity of purpose, I went back to the board. Pardon the piece of cacology, I got carried away for a moment. This was not a game I was playing. It was a grave matter not resolved yet in favor of my ‘client’. Now I was going for boom-or-bust. No more of ‘Here we go ’round the mulberry bush’. 


S: But I can muster 25 rupees, not keeping anything back even for the cab-fare to go home from Dadar, I assure you. Not to worry – I’ll manage the ‘going home’ part somehow.

G: 25 rupees is not 250 rupees. (It was his turn to be dumb?)

S: That’s max, I can mange. (It was close to the truth)

G: I don’t get it.

S: You do. I do not want a receipt from you. (Managed to spit it out; to use the cliché, the genie was out of the bottle)

G: I get it now.  

S: That’s a word from me. Here and now you get it.  

G: I said I understand what you’re saying. 

S: Oh. Can I consider the discommoding matter as concluded now?

G: You just bought yourself passage along with boarding and lodging to the Thane jail with that money of yours; do you know, young man?

S: What? Not happy with 25 rupees? I can jack it up by two more rupees that I had kept aside for emergencies. But that’s tops – you know the ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ kind? (Part of the script fed to me)

G: Don’t make it worse for yourself than what it is. Do you know whom you’re talking to? (Not part of the script fed to me)    

S: I thought I did. You’re not what you are? (I wasn’t getting metaphysical)

G: You know why I’m not in my uniform?

S: Wanted to ask. Laundry did not return in time? (Flippancy was not on my mind)

G: We’re from the vigilance squad, on duty in this section for last three weeks. The railways had received lot of complaints about irregular travel being allowed in this section, perhaps in unlawful exchange for some consideration. We were asked to take over and get to the bottom of it. So, here we are. (I didn’t know where I was. The sweat-glands went into an overdrive beyond the demands of the prevailing sultriness)

S: (It took a minute to find my tongue) Er, I’m terribly sorry. Wasn’t updated on what was happening in these parts. You know I wasn’t buying favors for myself.

G: Well, for that reason, I’ll not take you in. Stay clear of trouble. Keep your nose clean. You’ve a long way to go yet. (I was beginning to see him in different light)  

S: Thanks, very much. (Was the closest scrape ever with the law and lucky to get off without a nip) I’ll be careful. But I’m genuinely worried about the gentleman and his attendant. (Co’s interest reasserted itself, self-interest receded and sweat-glands reverted)

G: I’ll pass it up this time. (The stern look did not soften up)

S: You’ve a heart of gold to make a metal-detector go off like a civil-defense siren. (The ‘metal-detector’, as you might have guessed, was not part of my original profusion of thanks) Could I make the announcement to the affected party?


The guy in civvies got up, looked at me for a moment and walked away over the vestibule to the adjacent coach.


I was not given to breaking into whoopee at moments as these. I pulled Co’s attendant back into the safety of the cubicle and updated Co on the hard-earned pardon, sparing him the details. He touched my hands and looked at me – that made all the trouble worth. Relieved he was, elated he was not – not his wont as I read him.


The next half-hour was spent in collecting things back into their hold, visiting the toilet for the last time and generally getting ready to leave. At the last read, the protagonist, in his diabolically clever plot against the cat, was holding back on adding the vet-recommended vitamin supplement in full measure to the poor creature’s dinner. What did the cat do must wait until the book came out in the next outing.


The train puffed and sighed into Dadar station. As it came to a halt, peering thru the window, I saw a throng of people outside on the platform, many carrying garlands in their hands, big badges pinned to their chest – the usual spectacle one was treated to when a politically important person arrived. I regretted being in the dark about someone of prominence being on-board; I did not tell you I was an avid autograph collector. I was intrigued when an out-sized reception-committee from the throng jumped onto our very coach, squeezed itself into the passage-way, and unexpectedly poured into our cubicle. As I scampered to a safe corner, I saw Co disappearing under a mound of garlands. That was the last I saw him from up close. The crowd-on-board briskly emptied itself out with Co lodged somewhere in there and coalesced with the crowd-on-platform. And with uncharacteristic nimbleness, the mass moved away inexorably towards the exit, as I stood heavy-footed on the platform craning my neck to get a glimpse of Co. On his way out, I could see him, once or twice, turn his head and look around. Was he trying to find me?


I made it to the cab-stand with my 27 rupees in pocket, not sure how I felt. I learnt from an on-looker that Co was a spiritual guru to a sect in the north. As the cab took off, I was overcome with a vague sense of loss that continued for a few days; while some background process in the mind thankfully captured the pieces and packed them into lasting memories to chew and cherish. If there was any message for me from Co, the youth and inexperience missed it out completely. But then memories are more easily carried than messages.     










4 Responses to Playing the White Knight for the first time

  1. Nithya says:

    Good anecdote! One meets the most random and interesting people while traveling in Indian railways. This post captures that. The higher priced the travel, the more boring people get. I once didn’t have a hotel booking and had to stay as a paying guest in a dingy little room. Met some really interesting, fascinating world travelers.


  2. Subha says:

    Part 2 is very nice. The conversation between S and G is witty and imaginative. I would have prefered if the concluding paragragh in part 3 was longer and had more explanation.


  3. gopal says:

    Yaadon ki Baarat of a train journey.The genuineness in your efforts & its results must have definitely far out weighed the fact that you didnt know who C was. Perhaps that was the best.
    You have really kept the tempo on throughout the journey of three Parts !

    But then ,finally ,life is one beautiful train journey ,in which ( to quote your words )one is left // heavy-footed on the platform ( of life )// & others for whom we might have done umpteen things, move ahead without even turning around to have a glance at us,isnt it ? !!

    Well wrtten Raghu


  4. Nana says:

    was interesting ! Conversation & exchanges between S & G were indeed interesting and inquisitive


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