Monday, 30 January 2012


All characters in this story are imaginary and bear no resemblance to anyone dead or alive. All incidents except historic incidents are fictitious. Names of places are actual but are only incidental to the story and not purported to convey specificity of places, police station etc.

Chewing the end of the pencil, he used to sit on a rock under the pine trees, and try to write poems and his other thoughts. The vistas of his mind used to open up just as the exquisite valley would open below him when the white curtain of the mist would part. His eyes would never get tired of the ravishing beauty of the hills, especially after the rains. Many years later, when Suraj would sit in front of a computer screen, in his two room flat in Chandigarh, he'd think of how imaginative his world was in Dharamshala, a town in Northern Indian state of Himachal (An abode of snow) in comparison to the computer world. Unlike watching it on YouTube, when a song would play in his mind, he'd imagine the scene with every line as if he had the power to direct it.

The name Dharamshala translated to 'a spiritual dwelling' and Suraj believed in the meaning of the word. He was crazy, he thought. When his friends would play pithhoo, gilli-danda and football, he was to be seen dangling his legs blithely from the rock - his rock - reading a book or scribbling in his note book. His note-book was the best friend that he had; he could pour his heart out to it. It wasn't dated and hence it couldn't be called a diary, but it was dear to him and he could write even the most secret of his thoughts in it. He kept it hidden under his clothes in his wardrobe, where, he thought, no one would ever look.

He loved the town of Dharamshala and particularly the redolence of pines and the summer flowers. But, he didn't like a number of things about his surroundings. His dad, he felt, was a carbon copy of Hitler - a strict disciplinarian, though minus the hair-brush moustache. Suraj could never figure out why his father thought he had sired a duffer, with intelligence worse than that of a donkey. One of the favourite pastimes of his dad was to indulge in "discussions" with Suraj regarding the latter's future plans. Most often than not, these discussions, such as the way they were - one sided and peremptory - always led to heated arguments. And then, his father would take it out on his mother for not being concerned about bringing him up in a manner in which "brilliant children" with "great future" were to be brought up.

Generally, his mother would maintain a stoic silence whilst being on the receiving end of his father's frustration at not having a son who was at all interested in "becoming something" but having one who wasted time on day-dreaming. But, once in a while, she'd talk back, however meekly, and question his father's correctness in blaming her for everything including even snafus in his office. On those occasions, it would invariably result in a shouting-match (or shouting-mismatch since his mother was no match for his father in screaming). Frequently, it ended up with his father beating her up black and blue and she sobbing into the late hours of the night. On those occasions Suraj would cower in his bedroom and think of what he could do to improve his mother's ill treatment.

Suraj had other thoughts as well. Lately, after he came of age, he would lie in bed and let his hand and imagination play with the instrument of his desire. His favourite imaginary scenes with his imaginary consorts were those whence the risk of discovery would be the greatest. For example the scene that brought him to peaks of ecstasy was being crouched up with her in empty classroom and just about escaping discovery by the principal on his rounds. Once or twice, such flights of fancy or fantasy had resulted in avoidable stains on his bed sheet. He had to go to the toilet to bring a wet towel and try to wipe away the stains of - what he thought as - his depravity. Imagining that "brilliant" young boys with "great futures" would never stoop as low as to masturbate would fill him with tonnes of guilt he found too heavy to carry. However, on other moments, he had to admit that his occasional sojourns into the world of his carnal desires provided him not only with escape from his wretched surroundings but also gave him an engine to see how far his imagination could go.

One day, Suraj got his matriculation exam results. He had spent a lot of time pouring over his books in the preparatory period, burning the proverbial midnight oil. However, the results were not matching his imagination simply because the teacher had expected answers as given in the book, whereas Suraj had used his prolific ingenuity. Even whilst answering History related questions, his mind always worked on what could have been. For example, the teacher had underlined in red his complete answer to the question: name the events leading to the partition of India and formation of Pakistan. The question carried only 5 marks out of 100 but, Suraj had written a complete essay about how people and communities and nations react when faced with compulsions, biases, and mob mentalities. He had become so engrossed in his theory that he had omitted to write the specifics of Indian National Congress, Muslim League, Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru. His exposition - which the teacher called 'composition' and 'figment of imagination' - was read out in the class and everyone jeeringly laughed.

The train was now going over a bridge. He had got into it at Vadodara at about 9 PM. He would reach New Delhi at 8:30 AM. Rajdhani Express connected New Delhi, the national capital, with various state capitals, eg, Kolkata Rajdhani that connected capital of West Bengal with New Delhi. His was the Mumbai Rajdhani that had started from Mumbai at 4:40 PM. The train was going at a steady speed of about 120 kmph; all appeared to be well.

Suraj's father was a man of action. Jeering, taunting, mocking etc appeared to him as pursuits of idle minds. He was not averse to using his heavy hands and thrash the daylights out of Suraj for his consistently low marks. Late in the night, as Suraj lay in his bed, with bruised ego and lips, he avoided the demands of his carnal desires and just lay there thinking. An idea sprouted in his mind and refused to go away. In every which way he looked at it, it appeared to appeal to his rebellious mind.

He started stealing petty cash from his father's wallet and from the wardrobe where his mother kept her jewellery, clothes and money. One day, he had enough to take him to the city of Chandigarh. In the night he packed a bag. The excitement of starting a new life and running away from his wretched one kept him awake the whole night. He had planned to leave at about 5 AM when no one would even see him as he would open the front door noiselessly. However, at some point in the night, he had dozed off and when he got up it was already 5:30. He quickly went through his morning ablutions, making as little sound as possible and then lowered the bolt from the front door. Just as the door opened, he felt a rustle behind him. It was still dark; and there stood behind him an apparition. He nearly died of fraught; but, on closer look, it turned out to be his mother in her sky-blue nightie. He loved her a lot but knew not what he could do for her. Once, when his dad was about to hit her, he held his father's hand and got thrashed with her. Her looks changed from surprise to pity to resignation. Her looks said, "Go, son; you have a life ahead of you". He left with a heavy heart.

He had been to Chandigarh earlier but now it was abode of his choice. He searched for and found Ranjit's house. Ranjit was a friend from his earlier visits. He was smart, suave, lanky boy, with sprightly stride; everything that Suraj wanted to be. Ranjit helped him search for a room at Rupees two hundred per month and gave him dinner. Ranjit had made several abortive attempts to get past SSB (Services Selection Board) and join the armed forces as generations of his family had done. He was, however, as much a dreamer as Suraj and played on guitar songs that Suraj wrote. One of the best that Suraj wrote was: 'I Will Follow You'; all their friends liked the song and concluded that Suraj and Ranjit had a great future ahead in a music group. However, the music scene in India, especially for Western pop music, was dismal as a career option. Still, they sang their favourite song together in parties with such words as:

Wherever you go, I will follow you.
In high or in low, I will follow you,
I love you and so, I will follow you

During one of these parties, Suraj met Rehana, daughter of a retired Major. She simply came close to Suraj and cooed in his ear, "I will follow you". Suraj initially thought of her as being an invasion in his private world. But she had many winning ways. One of these was that she could wink alternately with both her eyes; which, instead of looking vulgar appeared innocent. Then, knowing that he had run away from home, she would bring small gifts for him such as helpings of plum cake that her mother had made. She also lent him all of two hundred rupees as the first month's rent. They also went to see a movie in Jagat theatre 'Pakeezah' (Pure) and mentioned to Suraj that she too was Pakeezah. They returned to his room after the show and very clumsily, since he had no experience whatsoever, made her let go of her physical Pakeezah status. Whilst he was a nincompoop, he noticed that she was some sort of an expert and guided him about what and where. He thought of it as her ebullient nature of putting her complete heart and soul into anything that she wanted to do. It was the same with her paintings; if she imagined a naked man, she would paint the imagined Adonis boldly and without inhibition.

His father searched for and found him one day and tried to take him back but all his emotional blackmail including the one about his mother being ill failed. Suraj told him that he never missed anything about Dharamshala. He lied, of course, because he actually missed his spot under the pines where he wrote some of his secret poems about birds, skies, sun and moon, and of course the sea. His father left with the ominous, "I know one day you'd realise your mistake and come back." Suraj had no intention of doing so. If at all, he wanted to go to sea: "Join the Navy see the world; Join the Navy meet the girls". However, he had poor eye-sight (Rehana helped him get his eyes tested and get him a pair of spectacles) and was rejected in the SSB at Meerut. One of Ranjit's and his common friends, Taranjeet, had his father in the Railway recruitment board. He was made to appear in a test and was selected as a Locomotive Driver recruit. He was to however undergo training at Ambala, a training that would last for nearly two months.

He had halted the train at Ratlam at 45 minutes past midnight. The Assistant Driver Suresh Kumar was a Malyali and very good at all auxiliary equipment of the electric engine and in calling out the signals, which he confirmed audibly and mechanically. An idea occured to Suraj to drop Suresh at Ratlam only but then he knew that Suresh would report to the authorities and he would surely be stopped from carrying out his plan some eight hours away. So when Suresh wanted to dash across and get some cigarettes, he told him to get some cigarette for him too and proceeded with his job despite his inner turmoil. Suresh raised his eyebrow at Suraj's request for cigarettes since he had never seen his senior smoke.

Only he knew how hard he worked (something his father would have never suspected him of doing) and how hard it was not to be in constant touch with Rehana, his love, his life. He'd take a bus to Ambala, about an hour away and return to Chandigarh in the evening. It would have been cheaper to stay in Ambala but then he would become a successful locomotive driver without the driving force of his life: Rehana. Their love-making was great too and rarely did he have the need to use his towel as a mop for removing signs of his solo exploits.

The prospect of becoming the driver of a locomotive appealed to him. ("God", he thought, "What a name? Nobody would have had more loco a motive than his".) He would have preferred going on the seas to distant places; but, since he couldn't do that because of his eyesight ("Why couldn't they check my inner sight?" he thought) he had to resign himself to doing it on land. He thought of the railway track as something that was intended to channelise his wanton energies whilst off-training and off-work he could get into his bird mode and fly. His songs about love and Rehana had become more sacred and secret but still his friends would get to hear some new song or the other and tease Rehana about being in relationship with "a useless, good-for-nothing poet". She would laugh with them but she thought of him as the world's best poet. She told them that if a Ravi could join the railways and become a great music composer in the Hindi films; one day, they would see her Suraj too as a great lyricist.

The LR training was tough. LR is a Learning Road training for about two months. The separation from Rehana became longer and he hardly had any time to write. However, the day the training got over and he was made an Assistant Driver was the most joyous day of his life. He could have travelled back to Chandigarh in plain civvies but he wanted to surprise her. He travelled in his khakis. They had a party after the party that Ranjit and friends had arranged for him. In the wee hours of the morning as she lay in the crook of his arm, both still awake, he whispered to her that now that he was a man and a bread-winner they could get married.

Her father, Major Ismail Mohammad was gentle with them: he told them, very calmly and clearly to get rid of the hare-brained idea as quickly as possible. "What do you think you are doing? Enacting a scene from Bobby". He won't hear of any other arguments, "If you are good friends, just stay so without complicating matters. I have been in an armed force of India that is totally secular. But, you have no idea of how our society looks at inter caste marriages." They took a bus to Dharamshala. His mother gushed over him and Rehana but his father was his old cantankerous self and passed the imperial judgement, as always, "Over my dead body."

They came back and consulted their dear friend Ranjit who had become a Contractor supplying spares to the railways. Ranjit said with wisdom much ahead of his age, "Of course, you can get married in mind; but, you will require to face the society and have things like ration card. Let me see what I can do."

Ranjit arranged for them to be married in a mandir (temple) and then took them to the Chandigarh Municipality Office to get the marriage registered. Photographs were taken and they were both married. The landlord of his room decided to honour them by holding a 'Langar' (Community meals after recitation from the holy book of the Sikhs Sri Guru Granth Sahib) for the whole colony. Sardar Charan Singh, the landlord and his wife (no one knew her name but called her as Bibiji) did a bit of ceremony for them to enter their room.

Suresh was looking at him oddly. He had a reason too as he watched Suraj take a puff on the cigarette he had lit for him. Suraj was standing near the door and smoking, his mind racing with the train. He thought of a thousand people sleeping peacefully in the train. They would only be worried about if the train would be on time. None of them could have even imagined what Suraj had already thought. He tried to imagine the lives of all these people placed in his hands; young kids with their mothers, old men, executives, high society women in First AC compartments. Would they have ever thought....he puffed at the cigarettes to quieten his mind.

The probationary period was both an ordeal and fun. He was to be an Assistant Driver of Goods Trains; a Grade C driver that is. It was boring to take rakes and rakes behind him and go at steady speed without seeing anyone for long hours. However, it was still fun looking out and seeing fields, trees, birds, cattle, rivers, rivulets, hills, plains, monuments etc. He had started writing again. He worked very hard to qualify as a Driver but his senior liked another boy Raj whose dad was also in the railways. Also, Suraj had not shown much inclination at being party to the corruption in the railways; something that Ranjit told him was rampant since Ranjit was on the receiving end of it. Hence, people around him were quite wary of him. Indeed, rather than talking ill of the corrupt railway officials, they had already started talking about holier-than-thou Suraj. He was always on the other side of arguments and discussion.

Finally, after he was long overdue he became a Driver. He wanted to change over to Passenger trains but there was a long wait. There were favours to be done; money to be paid underhand and he wasn't up to it. He had to travel great distances and sometimes away from Rehana for many days (this depended upon the schedule - a Link in railway parlance). He graduated from writing about her and their love to his reactions to what he saw: rampant poverty and rag pickers, people's civic sense, corruption and the country losing its very soul. The nation had been galvanised as a cohesive force in 1971 War with Pakistan under the mercurial Prime Minister-ship of Indira Gandhi. But, he couldn't understand how the same Indira Gandhi could lose her balance and impose another Emergency on the people for almost two years from June 1975 for a selfish reason that her own election was challenged in a court. These were very tough times. People didn't understand that a train being late is not the fault of the driver alone but of the complete system. Even though he was the driver of a goods train, he was under tremendous pressure and could hardly meet Rehana. She had taken a teacher's job in a school and she supplemented her income by selling her paintings. She often told him, when after doing his mandatory 8000 kms per month he would return to her, that being a woman and alone in the Indian society wasn't easy. Also, Sardar Charan Singh had come home to tell her that some people had started talking about it that she wasn't a wife at all but a keep or mistress. He also said that though earlier dormant, the communal forces of pre-independence were surfacing again and everyone was passing remarks about their not joining any religious or political group or organisation and generally keeping to themselves.

The fact was that Suraj had learnt to keep by himself when faced with violence at home. Now, he and Rehana had made a choice to keep to themselves when faced with Indian society becoming increasingly more corrupt and violent - A Dangerous Place. In 1984 Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own bodyguard Beant Singh in retaliation against her ordering the Army Operations (known as Operation Blue Star) at Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Finally, after a long wait he was assigned to Passenger Trains. His duty was on the Amritsar to Ambala local sector and since he was not on Mail or Express trains he had to stop at all stations and his train had the least priority. He had all the time in the world to hear all the news from everyone and the gory details of the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi. He started writing about these things in addition to his poetry and songs. He couldn't help Rehana much during her pregnancy during those days but, fortunately, he was given leave in December when she had to deliver. Just as they had predicted, it was a baby girl and they named her Dori. Everyone commented upon the strange name Dori but his their near friends understood that she had bound them in another thread (Dori).

He took out his wallet and looked at their recent picture, Rehana, Dori and he on an outing in Yadavindra Gardens at Pinjore; the picture was taken in front of Rajasthani Mughal style Sheesh Mahal. Dori was as tall as both her parents and was a very beautiful girl indeed with sharp features. If only he could save her, he thought with regret.

A few years later when he applied for becoming a Mail or Express Train Driver, he was told that his performance needed to be improved. He had published a lot of his poems and articles in the Railways journal as well as elsewhere and had annoyed a lot of people, including his seniors. To his utter horror he discovered that they held his writings against him as dereliction of duty, i.e., by writing during his duty time. The trigger for this was because one of his poems was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India and all his colleagues and seniors were simply jealous.

Meanwhile he was more and more witness to the wrong-doings everywhere, the sycophancy, the juggling of accounts etc. For example, they asked him to sign for an inflated quantity of diesel which he refused to do. Also, they were fed up with him for never filling up wrong claims of overtime etc in which the Accounts people had their cut. His relationship with the Guards, at the best of times, were suspect since the latter was at times, in collusion with the Train Superintendent, at the front end of corruption.

There was hardly any part of India he wasn't sent to since the drivers with 'pull' were always given easy Links and kept close to their home town. On many of these journeys he thought of the pine trees and his favourite rock. When his father died, the news came to him as a telegram since he didn't have a phone at home. He rushed home and attended the funeral and took a long leave to be at home with his mother and take Rehana and Dori with him. His mother told him that his father had forgiven him but ego had prevented him from calling him back home. His mother got very fond of Rehana and Dori and made a huge fuss when they left for Chandigarh. Finally, she extracted a promise from them that one or the other would visit her with frequency not exceeding two months.

It was difficult to get a name like Dori registered. At the school they insisted on knowing her religion, caste etc. Both Suraj and Rehana felt that whilst they prayed to Ishwar and Allah in their own manners, they couldn't impose either religion on her until she was big enough to study various religions and choose herself. Finally, the teacher refused to admit an "irreligious" student in his school, irrespective of the fact that Rehana taught in the same school. Suraj and Rehana were to make their first difficult choice. Each insisted that it should be the other's religion, even if only on paper. Finally, in order to settle the issue, for the first time in his life, Suraj told a lie that her father, Major Ismail Mohammad, before he died, had taken a vow from him that the religion of their child would be Islam. If it weren't for the fact that Suraj never lied even under great stress, she won't have believed him. Dori was admitted in the school as a Muslim.

He halted the train at Kota at precisely 20 minutes past three AM. He had five hours left to put his plan into action. Yes it could be done. He had to first get rid of Suresh, his assistant and then he'd have the train to himself to do what he wanted with it. There was the Guard, Hoshiar Singh, to be thought about operating the Emergency brake but he was sure that by the time Hoshiar would realise something was wrong he would have accomplished what he wanted to do.

Even though the Railways have a well laid out progression policy but his rectitude stood in his way. It had taken him years to be promoted from C Grade (Goods Trains) to B Grade (Local Passenger Trains) to A Grade (Long Distance Passenger Trains) to finally A Special Grade for Mail, Express and Super fast trains. His contemporaries had made it in half the time.

Dori was the apple of his and Rehana eyes. His mother too had come closer to Dori. She, therefore, grew up in a very loving environment. Unlike Suraj who was suspicious of everyone Dori grew to be trusting. After matriculation she chose to prefer a career in medicine. She did her Pre-Medical in Chandigarh but had to go to Medical College in Amritsar to pursue her medical studies. She was unlike her father even in studies and scored the maximum marks everywhere. She, therefore, saved her parents the mortification of giving money underhand to get a seat in a medical college. In any case she knew that her father would never even think of it let alone approve of that.

On the day she left them to go to the Medical College in Amritsar, her father published his first book of poems. These were the best fifty poems out of three decades of writing. It took so long because the publishers refused to publish it unless he gave their reader underhand money. He wanted to title it simply 'India as Seen by a Railway Driver'; but, the publishers laughed at it and finally agreed to publish it under the title: 'Scattered Verses'. The cover carried his picture in his Driver's uniform, which made Rehana and him very proud indeed.

It was coming closer now. The train slowed down near Swai Madhopur and Bayana and was approaching Mathura. His plan had to take place between Mathura and New Delhi, in less than three hours time. He was unusually quiet that night. Suresh had tried his best to engage him in conversation but had eventually given up. Bayana signals too were sighted, called and repeated but Suresh was already suspecting that something was amiss especially when Suraj lit his fifth cigarette of the night.

Dori had passed out of the Medical College too with top grades. She was selected to pursue Cardiology as her specialisation, She was the happiest thing in Suraj's life; someone who would counterbalance his attitude towards corruption, thuggery, communalism, despair that had set up in the lives of majority Indians. Being different from majority people Suraj and Rehana were always at a disadvantage since not just good things in life, even morality in India came to be seen as what the majority wanted. And majority, as Suraj knew, had not displayed any discipline in their individual and collective lives. In the meantime, there was no hope for the country. Its much touted growth was a mirage. Suraj had come across many cases of people hurling themselves under trains in total despondency and he had often wondered what made people take their lives and those of their fellow beings. To top it all nepotism and corruption had become ways of life. Somewhere along the line, gradually but surely, the politicians, in their vested interests and vote-bank considerations had divided the society along communal lines. Whilst one major party was doing it overtly, the other major party, in the name of 'secularism' was often playing with fire and appeasing minorities.

As they approached Mathura, he ordered Suresh to slow down the train. They read out the signal and passed the station at a slower speed of about eighty. The time was coming closer. It was still not bright enough being winters. Having started from Mumbai on the 25th January, the train was to arrive at New Delhi at 8:30 AM on the morning of India's 63rd Republic Day. The President would be getting ready to take the salute and soldiers would be marching down the Rajpath together with all other signs of a vibrant India.

The day when Dori became a full-fledged doctor was the best day of Suraj's life. The three of them celebrated it by being together, by themselves, the way they liked it most. They went by cable car across the Ghaghar river at Timber Trail hotel at Dhali, on the way to Shimla, and spent the whole day looking down from the Shivalik hill at the city of Chandigarh. Suraj was again reminded of the captivating scene from his rock in Dharamshala looking down at the valley spreading out to scores of kilometers during clear visibility days. They hugged each other and took turns in taking pictures on his digital camera. Rehana was very beautiful but Dori had exceeded her mother's beauty.

Her first posting was in a village near Ropar. She took up a room to stay with another friend from the same batch: Komal. It was destined, Dori thought, that they be together since all through their six years of Medical training they were together.

Fed up of India's rampant corruption, Anna Hazare had started his movement to ask for a strong Lokpal Bill in parliament. Suraj had felt that the parliamentarians would never let such a bill be passed since how can the thieves be asked to check their own thievery? The movement however inspired many young people and Dori was one of them. They were fired with the zeal to see an India free of not only free of corruption but have a more participative government affording rights to its people as enshrined in the Indian constitution.

Getting rid of Suresh between Mathura and Faridabad wasn't difficult at all. As they went over a bridge, Suraj simply kicked him out. Suresh must have been so surprised that he didn't even scream. In any case, being an air-conditioned train, no one would have seen or heard him. It was another hour and a half to reach Faridabad and then the train was to go at slower speed to reach New Delhi through a series of signals. What would they think after the crash? Possibly, they would like to check his Muslim connection through Rehana. But, they won't be able to find her. He had made sure of that. It would be days later that they'd discover her body. They would finally reach the conclusion that it was one of the terror organisations: SIMI or LeT or perhaps the Maoists had claimed him because of his pro-poor views, often published. They would never know. Even the PM had spoken about it that some of the so called 'law and order' problems that the country faced (eg, Maoist related) were actually problems of poor governance. And, what governance could you expect from the self serving masters whom the constitution had actually given the moniker of 'public servants'? Ha.

The India Against Corruption procession was largely peaceful. However, two men from the parties not supporting Anna Hazare movement had deliberately set two Punjab Roadways buses on fire. Suddenly, there was a procession gone horribly wrong. There was stampede to get away from there with people sensing trouble. The police thought of this as an uncontrolled riot and resorted to lathi-charge and bursting of tear-gas shells. Those who didn't or couldn't run away were rounded up and hustled into buses and taken to Police Station.

Suraj slowed the train at Faridabad. He had less than an hour to go to put his plan in action. It was just a matter of gaining a few minutes by maintaining speed higher than recommended. He would be asked to stop at the 'outer' whilst the train on already on the platform cleared away. At such close range none of the safeties won't work. How often in the manuals and in practice he had gone over the Emergencies and the Fog conditions that are prevalent around Delhi in winter months. He had gone over the drills of Automatic Blocks (train speeds to be restricted to 30 kmph) and Absolute Blocks (train speeds to be reduced to 60 kmph) several times and the procedure for erecting sand bag barriers for a train with the driver being incapacitated. Many times, in the thick fog if he couldn't see a Stop signal, they would explode small detonators to bring his attention to a Stop Signal. However, as per his plan, the ignoring of the Stop signal would be done at such late stage that they won't be able to do anything about it; even Hoshiar Singh as the Guard won't be able to help with the Emergency Break. He would thus approach a train already at the station with great velocity. The explosion as the two trains would collide would be tremendous. Happy Republic Day. India, of Ambedkar's dreams:
a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic providing Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity to all its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, religion.

Suraj clenched his fists everytime he thought of India's downright corrupt police and now increasingly corrupt judiciary. As far as the police was concerned, all incidents are invariably incidents from which they can make some underhand money, be it rape, robbery, theft, traffic accidents or even murder. Initially, when Dori and Komal were rounded up they were handled by women constables. But, in the police station there was a sleazy sort of atmosphere. According to the police, anybody who entered the police station had done something wrong and hence needed to be taught a lesson not to indulge in such things in future. None of the police stations in the country has a system of dealing with sensitive matters with sensitivity. The SHO on duty asked them to wait whilst he dealt with petty thieves and ruffians. His way of dealing with them was reinforcement of his being a superior authority passing judgement over people's morals and values. The system had emboldened him to accept bribes openly. Dori watched this for sometime. Not being used to such open exhibition of corruption (immediately after an anti-corruption rally) she approached the SHO boldly to tell him that she had seen him accept money from the petty thieves and that she was going to report.

He looked at her with exaggerated calm and asked her name. She told him that her name was Dori. "Ah", he said, continuing with his exaggerated restraint, "Dori, you want me to check your mori (hole)". She moved to slap him and he held her hand with great force and he suddenly became challenging, "Show me your ID card". She showed him. He glanced over it with depraved interest and suddenly his eyes lit up, "Muslim? No wonder you burnt two buses and I caught you red-handed." She was shocked at the turn of events and took out her cellphone to call her father and her friends. He snatched the phone from her and slapped her hard, "Now listen to me Dori with mori; I have enough witnesses and evidence to put you behind bars for several years."

By this time, Komal had got into action and started protesting loudly and banging her fists on the table that all this was illegal and her friend, a news reporter, would write about it and ruin him. He looked at Komal with renewed and contemptible interest and told the constables on duty to bring the two girls into the inner room for "further investigation".

The train was passing at slow speed at Tughlaqabad. There was thick fog earlier but it appeared to be clearing up. He called out the signals to himself and repeated. A thought went through his mind about the passengers in the train; they would have to be sacrificed for no fault of theirs. But, he reasoned philosophically that, many times, people are victims of circumstances for no fault of theirs. In order to get over the advance guilt of mass murder, he took out Dori's letter for the umpteenth time to read about the incidents before, during and after the "further investigation". Once again, he went over the explicit details of not just the gang-rape but also the drunken laughter of the lecherous policemen. When they tore the clothes away Dori screamed, "Leave me you bastard; I could be your sister". And the policeman responded leeringly in Punjabi with double-entendre, "Main tanh anna haan; mainu kuchh nazar nahin aaunda" ( I am Anna (blind); I can't see anything)

Dori came back to her room well past midnight having been dropped there by a policeman in a jeep. He was one of the many who carried out the "investigation". She was too weak to walk but somehow she opened the door and went inside. She stumbled to the desk and took out sheets of paper and started writing. Her mind was made up about what she was going to do. She reasoned in the letter that she didn't expect to get justice; no, not in present day India. They would suspend the SHO and the team and an inquiry would start, like all other inquiries in India. The media would go into various angles of the story -sleaze and all - and everyday break-news about some new fact having been unearthed. A national debate would ensue for a few days about the treatment of women in India. And then, a minister or two would come out with statements implying that the women deserved to be molested due to provocative clothes they wear. Rape had killed her bodily and mentally but media and 'further investigation' would, she asserted in her letter, kill her many times over.

The train was passing Okhla now. He could hardly see the signals now; not so much because of residual fog but because of swelling tears in his eyes that made his glasses misty. They had discovered the mutilated body of his daughter from the railway track in the morning, having been hit by a train that had gone over her. He rushed to Ropar from Chandigarh with Rehana. Rehana had gone into coma after seeing her bundle of joy having been reduced to pieces of flesh, bones and dried blood. Suraj received the body from the mortuary after signing the requisite papers. They arranged for burial at the cemetery in Chandigarh. It is only when they went to the village to get back her belongings that he found the letter tucked in his book of poems called 'Scattered Verses'. He instinctively knew that his daughter would have left her last communication to him there. The police had ransacked the place earlier but surely they wouldn't have looked in her books. It would have required them hours to ransack hundreds of books to find the letter. "Dear Pa", the letter began and ended with, "I know you love me immensely and would find it hard to continue with life without me. But, I beseech you to do so. Our country, our world, is changing, and the bird called Hope would make our lives better, fuller, more just and equitable. Gradually, you won't even miss me."

Finally, they had reached the "outer" at New Delhi. He called out the stop signal and repeated it but instead of stopping, he suddenly picked up speed.....the Dori that held his life had broken.....

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