Saturday, May 28, 2011

Remembering Ashok

I received an SMS from Western Railway yesterday. The message said “Your hurry could lead your family to worry. Save your life for your family. Use subways and foot over bridges to cross railway tracks”. I would have instantly deleted the message as I normally do, but my mind went back – many many years ago, to a person I knew, who had died while crossing the Railway tracks…..

Ordinarily, it would seem surprising that so many deaths occur while crossing railway tracks. After all, a train is predictable – it is easily visible due to its size, it does not start or stop suddenly, runs on well defined tracks and has much less maneuverability than say, traffic on the road. Yet, statistics indicate that more than 2,000 people die every year crossing the railway tracks in Mumbai alone i.e. six per day. A few months before I was born, my grandmother died this way. And nearly twenty years ago, so did Ashok.

Ashok was nobody. Working as a peon in a government company, Ashok was as nondescript a person as one could be. He was barely five feet tall, frail, dark and wore thick framed glasses. He was soft-spoken, innocent and harmless. Qualities that made him the butt of jokes and taunts in his office. And yet, Ashok took all of it in his stride, never getting angry or upset. He seemed to have reconciled to the fact that this was bound to happen. As if the sole purpose of his existence was to give others a superiority complex. Everyday, Ashok came to office on time, and did his work diligently and sincerely, such as wiping off the furniture, dusting off the heavily stuffed files stacked in rustic cabinets, or brining tea for the staff from outside. He never complained about anything. Occasionally, he borrowed money from me. Hundred rupees, two hundred, sometimes five hundred rupees, promising to repay after the salary day. He always kept his promise. Until the last one.

One evening, Ashok left office as usual, and never returned. He was run over by a train while crossing the tracks on his way home at Jogeshwari. 

When the rich and the famous die, obituaries are written about them, praises sung, and their names immortalized. I am sure Ashok had no such luck. Except for his immediate family who must have felt his absence, Ashok was soon forgotten, and nobody spoke of him ever again.

Until this message that came to me yesterday reminded me about him again.

We all know that we are going to die one day. What we don’t know is, when and how the death will come. When Ashok left office that fateful evening, little did he know that his time had come. And for him, like the two thousand others in Mumbai that year (and every year), God chose the Railways as the engine of death.

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