It was a rainy morning. The Palakkad-Ernakulam passenger (MEMU) was moving like a lazy snail over the wet tracks. The week so far was very dry and no one expected a rain of this magnitude. The monsoon after playing hide and seek for almost a month, had finally surrendered in Kerala. The air was now a mix of mist and fragrance of the earth; a fragrance sweeter than any perfume brewed by man or god. The nature itself looked like a wet seductress covered in green silk.
Arya, a 23 year old MA literature student from Govt. Victoria College Palakkad, was sitting by the window seat. She was in a compartment immediately behind the cabin of the loco pilot. There were not many in that bogie. A man in his mid-thirties sitting next to her was sleeping open mouthed. He had curly salt and pepper hair and was really unkempt. He was wearing a dirty white shirt and a blue lungi with white checks. To Arya’s distaste the man smelled of liquor and sweat. He looked as if he did not have a wash for over a week. Arya did not like the man. Even though he did not speak to her or stare at her, there was something spooky about him. She despised the man from the very first sight. Sitting opposite to Arya was a rich looking, well built handsome corporate manager. He had a handsome face and a smart moustache. He was working over his IBM Thinkpad with whatever charge was left. Arya looked admiringly at him. She gathered that he was working as the manager of some pharmaceutical company since he kept making calls over his iPhone asking sales report from medical stores and hospitals. She liked his dressing sense, the elegant dark-blue Allen Solly shirt and Black trousers. His leather shoes shone as if one could comb his/ her hair looking at it. An expensive looking silver Rado watch was clinging around his left wrist.
“If at all I will marry someone, the person should look like him…” Arya thought, admiringly looking at the man.
A shadow of a smile crossed her lips as she looked at the guy. But he was so submerged in his laptop and sales figures that he hardly noticed Arya. She was puzzled, even disappointed, since she looked quite attractive and most of the men always gave her a second glance. There were some other passengers (a mix of all age groups and gender) scattered here and there in that compartment.
Arya went back to enjoying nature. She looked out of the window and consumed the beauty of Bharathapuzha (river), the thick green tops of the coconut trees swinging happily and beautiful sight of green hills kissing the clouds. Everything was getting drenched under the mystic rain. Arya felt her heart was too small to bear such beauty and would burst anytime if she kept looking at the enchanting Valuvanadan sights that flowed past her. Every living thing from a lone farmer walking with an umbrella to the numerous people over vehicles waiting beside the railway level cross seemed to whisper unknown stories into her ears. Arya always considered her lucky to be born here in Kerala.
Arya was on her way to attend her friend Nadisha’s engagement in Fort Kochi. She was dressed up well in a pretty black full sleeve salwar. She had spent a considerable time in getting her makeup done. This made look even more gorgeous. With hair cascading over her left shoulder and big drawn eyes full of life, she looked nothing short of a movie star. Arya did not like jewelry but had a thin gold chain, not more than the thickness of a human hair hanging around her neck. There was the locket with the alphabet ‘A’ written over it. On her lap was a sky blue Fasttrack bag. As the rain clattered over the windowsill and iron bars of that train, Arya thought about the mutton Biriyani she was going to have that afternoon and her mouth watered.
But all of a sudden, she shuddered at the disaster of getting drenched in rain. She did not have an umbrella. Arya had no clue as to how she would manage her expensive costume and makeup in that rain. Arya immediately Whatsapped her friend Riyaz who was working in Kochi:
“ Da Kochil mazha indo…(is it raining in Kochi?)?”
“Yes… There is heavy rain here…”
“Eda njan kuda eduthilla (I did not take umbrella.. )”
As though this was least of his concerns, Riyaz replied:
“Nannayi poyi… (Serves you right… 😛 )”
“Idiot…” she thought and stuffed her mobile back into her purse. As she looked down in desperation, she saw it. There, just beneath the handsome manager’s seat, was an orphaned, pink three-fold umbrella smiling at her.
Arya looked at the umbrella, then the heavy rain outside and then back to the umbrella. The guy with the laptop was unaware of umbrella’s existence beneath his feet. He was stamping it without his knowledge and already the cloth of the umbrella was smeared with dirt from his shoes.
She wondered if the umbrella belonged to the guy. She wanted to ask him, and then decided otherwise. In case there were no owners for that cute expensive umbrella, she made a mental note to take it. The umbrella was pink in colour and pink was her favourite.
Meanwhile, Palani Sami who pretended to be snoring open mouthed was having some other plans. Palani Sami came out of Palakkad Sub-Jail only a few days back. He was remanded for petty thefts and a few pick pocket cases. He eluded the law for a quite some time, but was caught 6 months back when he tried to pick pocket a decent looking man in a cinema hall. The decent looking man turned out to be a police inspector and on the spot he lost two of his frontal tooth. With his slimy tongue, Palani Sami touched his empty gums that stood naked now in the place of his canines. But jail life was far better than his life with Muthu Lakshmi, his wife. She would beat him head to toe for pettier crimes. So 6 months in jail at tax payers’ expense was far luxurious than life in his hut with Muthu Lakshmi. He wondered why the wretched woman had not runaway with some lorry driver or petty thief like him when he was away? With a painful heart, Palani Sami swallowed the fact that there were no takers for Muthu Lakshmi other than him. She was an absolute terror. He shivered as if 1000 KV electricity had passed through him when he recollected Muthu Lakshmi’s warning the previous night:
“If you steal again and go to jail…I will break your neck and feed you to the dogs…” She always meant what she said and that made Palani Sami tremble with fear. So he had promised Muthu Lakshmi that he would never steal again in this life. This was more out of fear than out of willingness.
Palani Sami had noticed this fair girl in Black Churidhar wearing a thin gold chain around her beautiful neck the moment he entered the train. He was on his way to Kochi to find a job. But he was a thief by birth and hence he instinctively went and sat by her side. Palani Sami was tempted to steal the gold chain from the girl. But his calculations went wrong when this Macho Manager suddenly appeared from nowhere and sat opposite to him.
“Mangoose mandeyaa… (monkey head…)” , he seethed and cursed the guy in Tamil.
If this guy was not there, Palani Sami would have snatched the thin gold chain from the girl’s neck and jumped out of the train when it slowed down near Mankara railway station. It was one of the most beautiful railway stations that had thick forest on both sides of the rail track. It would be impossible for police or anybody to catch him once he ran into the thickets. But now, this guy with laptop looked very alert and meant business. He looked so broad shouldered and strong that Palani Sami feared to execute his plan.
Palani Sami looked at the guy and then his forearms.
“One smash and I will be nothing more than chutney for his idli…” He shuddered at that thought. Palani Sami noticed that it was raining heavily and regretted for not having an umbrella. Well he never needed one, ‘coz he was more habituated to stealing than buying. He wondered what he would do with no umbrella, nobody seemed to carry one.
As he secretly opened his eyelids and looked around, his eyes caught the pink, dirty three fold Umbrella staring back at him. Suddenly that Umbrella took the shape of Muthu Lakshmi and barked at him:
“You think of touching me… I will break your cock and make pickle out of it…You bastard…”
And Palani Sami shut his eyes tight. He feared that Muthu Lakshmi would jump out from under the seat and smear chilli powder in his eyes. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. Then he slowly looked at the space bellow were the Macho Manager sat. Miraculously the umbrella was just umbrella now and not Muthu Lakshmi. Palani Sami let out a sigh of relief.
The train by now had crossed Aluva and was heading towards Kochi. The crowd had increased to some extent. Palani Sami was happy.
“Larger the crowd better was his chance of stealing things unnoticed.”
The Macho Manager had closed his laptop and was busy with his phone now. He was sitting with his legs spread out and looked as if he had completely forgotten about the umbrella below his feet. Now stealing the gold chain was not an option, so Palani Sami decided to quench his Klepto-thirst by stealing the umbrella. And moreover, since it was raining heavily, looting it seemed to be the need of the hour.
“Something was better than nothing…”,he consoled himself.
Slowly he stretched his left leg between the Macho Manager’s legs. His intension was to pull the umbrella slowly towards him using his feet. He would then slowly push it under his seat and away from him. And when the train stopped in the next station, he would quickly grab the umbrella and jump out of the train as if nothing had happened. Anyway, it was worth a try since the umbrella looked expensive and Palani Sami had nothing to lose.
The train was passing over a bridge and he looked at the girl sitting by his side. She was looking out through the glass window enjoying the monsoon showering it’s arrows over backwaters, creating a million ripples. So Palani Sami continued with his fruitful endeavour. He had not moved the umbrella a few centimeters and that’s when an old man, with bald head and tiny eyes, stooping near them ask Macho Manager:
“Is that your umbrella son?”
Before the Macho Manager looked down, Palani Sami pulled his left leg towards himself in a flash.
“Ohh… yes… it is my umbrella sir…” he smiled back at the old man.
“I found it lying down, so asked you that’s all…” The old man smiled at the Macho Manager who returned that smile. The Macho Manager looked even more handsome when he smiled.
“I just kept it down so that it gets dried up. Else my Laptop may get wet due to the water from the umbrella… I had almost forgotten about it…Anyway thank you sir for reminding…”
“You are welcome… the old man replied…”
Both Palani Sami’s and Arya’s hearts were shattered when they heard those words. Both of them cursed the old man.
The rain was pouring down still, when the train reached Ernakullam-North Railway station. Both Arya and Palani Sami were disappointed since their mission to finding safety under the pink umbrella had failed. The Macho Manager got out first with the umbrella in his right hand. He was holding the strap of his black laptop bag hanging around his shoulders with his left. Palani Sami got down after him. His hands started itching for a pick pocket. The itching ended as quickly as it started at the sight of two RPF Jawans holding AK 47s. The last to get down was Arya. She rushed towards the entrance of the IRCTC vegetarian hotel that already had many fellow passengers lined up in front of it. The asbestos roof seemed to offer little protection from the rain, but there was nowhere else to go. So she stood there amidst the crowd. Palani Sami being one among them.
Arya looked at the Macho Manager walking away from her in that rain, holding the pink umbrella. The cloth of the umbrella now seldom looked dirty as it was cleansed completely under those heavenly showers. She expected him to turn around and give her a final glance as an acknowledgement to her gracious beauty. Almost every guy did that. But this guy was different. He never turned back and with him, the usual thing did not happen. He walked really fast, as if some serious urgent work was waiting for him to be addressed. Pertaining to the current situation, she would have cursed all the gods for trubling her with rain at the wrong time in the wrong place. But she did not do it this time. Her heart felt soft and touched.
There was a kind of romantic nostalgia in Arya’s eyes, even though she was way late for Nadisha’s engagement. She had a new respect for the man who was so unlike other guys. There was a longing in her heart to know him and befriend him. Curiosity was the name she gave for that feeling.
There was regret in Palani Sami’s face since he had failed miserably in his attempts to steal anything worthwhile during the journey. He cursed Muthu Lakshmi for threatening him. He attributed his failures to the irrational fear a Muthu Lakshmi breaking his neck.
A broad smile beamed over the face of the Macho Manager as he walked in to that rain. But nobody noticed his glee since his face was hidden behind a thick veil of rain falling from the edges of the umbrella. When he boarded the train, he had just one umbrella in his bag. Thanks to the old man, now he had two.
Some poor soul had forgotten the pink umbrella. Little did he feel sorry for that person.
Like millions running around to make a life out of the city, he too walked into the metro hustle.
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