I reached the railway station a little earlier than I had intended. I had a good 60 minutes to kill before my train’s scheduled arrival. After looking up the position of the sleeper coach, I crossed the railway over bridge to platform number two. The station was crowded as usual. A monotonous female voice was announcing the arrival and departure of n number of trains. I listened to those with little interest as I scrolled along the platform, looking for an empty bench to sit.
I sat down on a bench towards the end of the platform, noticing with disdain a bunch of street urchins comfortably sprawled on the platform floor not very far away from where I sat. I cautiously lifted my bag and placed it in between my legs and turned my head the other way, not wanting to invite any unwanted attention. After a minute, I plugged the ear phones in to my ears and started listening to those familiar songs in my iPod.
I was still engrossed in those well accustomed melodies when I was interrupted by a tug in my sleeve. I turned with a start, to come face to face with one of the boys.He was standing too close to me for my liking,yelling something that I could barely hear over the sound of the loud music echoing in my ears. In an impulse I moved myself as far as I could from the child , while taking off my ear phones. He looked really dirty. His pants awkwardly short and his stained shirt a shade of brown,covered in dirt. I silently wondered what color the shirt once was, but it was impossible to guess as layers of dirt loyally clung on to it!The boy looked as if he had never washed himself all his life and I felt a quick longing to pour a handful of oil onto his brownish dry hair.He looked barely 10 or may be 12, I mentally noted.
“What?” I blurted out rather unkindly.
He spoke something in a language I did not understand, must be Kannada.Even after spending five years in Mysore, I was yet to decipher the secret codes of the language.I shook my head and told him to get away,what ever he was asking for I did not intend to give him. I heard a crackle of laughter from the rest of the boys who were watching us from a distance. I shot them a glare and looked back at the boy.He looked a little embarrassed, but continued blabbering something and only words I could make out were “Please” and “Sir”.
Too eager to get rid of this little troublemaker, I took out some coins from my wallet and thrust it at him.The boy looked at the coins and then back at me and shook his head vigorously. I was little annoyed,”No more”, I bellowed.
He continued talking and I signaled with my hand asking him to stop.”No Kannada..” I told him,shaking my head.
He made a O with his lips and remained still for a moment. He then signaled to my iPod and then towards his ears.”Please Sir” he looked at me with,I bet, the most pitiful face he has ever managed to put on. I was a little amused by this unexpected request from a street boy. May be it was this element of surprise that prompted me to give him my ear phones, before even comprehending what I was doing. The boy curiously inserted the earphones into his ears as I played a song, one of the hit Bollywood numbers of the time. His face broke into a grin as he listened and he turned to the rest of the boys who were watching him with envy.He smiled at them, turned towards me and started humming along.”Dhoom?” he asked after sometime, I nodded and played him a the famous title song from the movie and he started shaking his head from side to side and mocking drum beats with his right hand.I had to smile at this funny gesture and he smiled back.
Soon the other boys joined us , a little hesitantly and I had no other option but to let each of the boys listen to the songs one after the other. They kept asking me for songs that they knew and I played the ones which I had in my collection. One of the boys, obviously the star singer of the group,sang along to one of the songs,lyrics being his own, while another showed off a peppy dance move. They talked to me using hand signals and broken English words about their world,about how they used to watch the videos in the TV placed in the station waiting rooms, how they had once spotted an actor on this very platform, how they once sneaked in to a near by movie theater.
I had no idea of the time until I heard the announcement of the arrival of my train.”My train” I told them and they all nodded understandingly. The boy who had the ear phone slowly removed it and gave it back to me, with a tinge of disappointment, but was quick enough to cover it with a wide smile. I took it back and pushed it down my pocket. I felt a rush of affection towards my new found friends. I myself was surprised with this new soft me who was torn with an intense desire to do something to please these guys.I took a few ten rupee notes from my wallet and extended it to my first acquaintance of the group. He took it from my hand and I told him “Share”, pointing to the other boys. He nodded and smiled. I walked back to the middle of the platform and to my surprise the boys accompanied me, one of them insisted on pulling my trolley and I let him.
As I walked, I noticed how the other passengers were staring at me and my ‘friends’. I smiled to myself noting how weird the spectacle would have looked to me a few minutes earlier. The train arrived and I climbed in to my coach. I looked back at the boys who were all waving at me with genuine affection. “See you the next time” I shouted over the hoot of the train, gesturing the same with my hand. As I sat on my seat, for the first time in my life, I felt I had done something worthy, no matter how silly and effortless it was!