Guwahati,

Fiction

The Route of Lynching

 

The train, Samta, takes two and a half hours to reach Hazrat Nizamuddin. It hurtles through Mathura - where my family lives - then Kosikalan, Palwal, Ballabhgarh, Faridabad to finally reach Nizamuddin. Every day, the train makes the same journey, as if it's Sisyphus on a pilgrimage to Hazrat Nizamuddin. This is the same route I travel, from Mathura to Nizamuddin whenever I visit home. Junaid was travelling on the same route but in opposite directions - from Nizamuddin to Ballabhgarh - when he was murdered in a running train.

At Mathura, I climb into Samta and settle down, pushing my luggage away on an empty seat. The train picks up speed. I take out my earphones and put on Einaudi, while watching electric poles, one-room houses with falling cement, congested traffic and little ponds rushing behind me. Junaid while come in my direction from Delhi instead would have noticed slums, half naked kids and passing trains. Train landscapes never flatter their cities. 
Samta pushes through the thick rural vast lands of western UP. Through the window you can see winds playing on the green crops of rice. You can see lines of Eucalyptus trees guarding the crops from the hurtling trains. Neem, Mango, Babool, scattered everywhere. Occasionally you can spot men, with turbans on their heads, sitting under trees with bamboo staffs. Their eyes gliding over the buffaloes grazing nearby. Sometimes you will find ponds filled with buffaloes, their heads coming out of the water and their dark oval backs floating like carcasses. 
As Palwal is about to come, you can reckon red brick houses with large white advertisements written on their walls. Advertisements of Dr Sheikh, Dr Raj, and many others, all claiming to treat hidden ailments of sex-impotence, premature ejaculation, frequent abortion, and 'the mistakes of younger age.' Insecurities run deep and wide in these lands. Signs of unconcerned middle class are everywhere: houses with iron railings, shops with sachets of tobacco and kids' sweets hanging on strings, chemist shops with glass doors, kids playing unsupervised, men on bikes, and women heading somewhere with covered heads. The sun, still strong, has kept most of the dwellers enclosed behind the cold brick walls, sleeping on cots under wheezing summer fans running in exasperated circles.
Lying on a hospital bed, under a wheezing summer fan, Junaid was dead when he reached Palwal. It was Palwal, the nearest city from where he and his friends were thrown out of a train by his Hindu co-passengers.
As the Palwal station appears, you can see the summer bareness spreading all over it. There are ten platforms occasionally marred by few walking figures, mostly hawkers with their canisters of water, Samosa and tea, waiting for some packed train. Samta slows down a bit and I can spot few teenagers in school dresses sitting on the stairs that join platforms, holding their school bags to their frail chests, hands fervently tapping on their phone's screens. They are waiting for trains that would take them to some place of importance. I try to gauge their faces; how can you spot religion on faces? I wonder. What would make a compartment full of grown men kill a young boy? Why religion divides so deeply the India's heartlands? 
The train again picks up speed. It doesn't take much time for the Asaoti station to arrive. It's a small station, the kind you would miss if you turned your head to see what physical ailment the new beggar in the train has. It is so small that the scene of Junaid taking his last few breaths (Deep, shallow?) in his friend's lap seems inconceivable. The small head, the shirt soaked with blood oozing out of his stab wounds, torn jeans, gasping for breath, all of which doesn't seem believable, that it all happened on this platform. It's such a small platform.    
The repetitive series of red brick houses with white advertisement continues unabated after Palwal. When you see the old brick houses outside, the scene would have been same when inside Junaid was being beaten mercilessly up by a compartment full of people. Fists, legs, boots, bags, anything that could hurt without harming oneself was falling on his hands, on his elbows, shins, stomach. He didn't see the slum colonies dwelling by the tracks. He didn't get to see the frail, malnourished dark-skinned children with pot bellies squatting on the rails; otherwise he would have noticed that this country doesn't really care for anyone. The stench of rotten flesh coming from outside could have told him that may be this is not about religion, this is something else. Something deeper and stinky. But you see, violence is a big distracter. Junaid was busy trying to save himself, he didn't know he would not survive this. 
The train runs on leaving Ballabhgarh station behind in a hurry. Junaid was supposed to get down here for his village where his family was waiting. He hadn't told them when we would come. Somewhere someone is still waiting for him.
After Junaid's friend had called him saying, "Please come. Some trouble has occurred," Junaid's father must have come running to the Ballabhgarh station that day. You can imagine the exasperation on his face when he couldn't find the train or Junaid anywhere. The train must have been in a hurry. The train probably couldn't bear to show a tired old father on a month long fast, the lynching of his son. 
When the father had run back home to break his fast, so that he can run around to find his son, someone had taken out a knife in the train. Men were hitting Junaid with their feet, fists, pulling his beard, calling him names, while the stuffed bags he had brought from Faridabad for Eid were lying confused in a corner like terrified children. The contents of the packet didn't know what was happening. Junaid wouldn't have known either. 
As Samta runs along, Faridabad arrives as a surprise. The train suddenly halts so that the crowded station of old Faridabad can engulf you in slowly. Faridabad also brings a slight relief that Delhi is near. 
One and a half hour gone. People in my compartment are sleeping already or yawning. I feel like stretching up a bit too, something Junaid might have done too when he would have boarded here and settled down somewhere, possibly near to where I am sitting. He must have been very excited, as kids are after buying new things for a coming festival. Eid is a big day after all. 
What would he have bought for himself. Or his mother? A set of bangles, or clothes? He has an elder sister. What had he brought for her? What expressions was he imagining on his sister's face when he was buying something for her? Did he buy anything for his Abba or was he afraid that Abba would be annoyed that he son spent so much on things he doesn't need? Did he buy a new pair of white Kurta Pajama for his father and him? Eid means new clothes. Was the money he had brought clutched tightly, given to him by his Ammi? Or was it his first salary? What did he feel when he was sitting on this seat where I might be sitting right now. How excited was he after buying everything? What were his hopes for Eid? Was he smiling? Was he clutching onto the package or did he keep it away in a corner? How heavy was this Eid? 
What did he think when he saw the faces of all the men sitting along with him, who were later going to kill him?
 
 The train starts moving slowly.
A chain of catering workers moves through my cabin, calling for travellers to buy tea, Samosas, ice-cream, and taking orders for dinner. Hawkers enter the train selling tea and biscuits. Did Junaid buy tea? Did he have enough money for a tea? I spot a lanky, shabbily dressed boy around 15 years of age, selling sweetened pumpkin-Petha-a delicacy of Agra. How did Junaid look like? I try to remember but nothing comes into my head.
The hustle of the hawkers slowly settles down, many a passenger enter the train and make home on spaces they can find. The compartment is packed as the train starts moving. I fell back on my seat and take a long breath.
Delhi starts with a smell. The inescapable smell of garbage, excreta and an occasional rotting animal, that forces itself into your cabin and settles down for some leisure time, making everyone sitting inside turn uncomfortably on their seats. I watch the garbage of affluent Delhi that has been accumulating for so long that now instead of Dung mushrooms it has sprouted out colonies of plastic slums where black tanned kids defecate sitting on train rails, playing with stones. 
Trying to evade the glaring poverty sitting on the outskirts of Delhi like an adamant cow, I turn my gaze inside the compartments. I see men and women from all walks, sitting restlessly. Kids clamouring for attention or some toy they just spotted on a hawker. Were there kids in Junaid's compartment? Did they deserve it, like Junaid, to go through this? I see all these men and women and wonder, what was Junaid thinking when he saw the men and women sitting in front of him? Did he know they were going to kill him? How does it feel to sit face to face with people who are going to stab you to death in an hour? Was there a premonition? Did he adjust his large bags for people to sit?
We will never get to know any of these answers, just like we will never get to know what lay inside the bags Junaid had bought for his Eid. The bags were lost somewhere on the train journey, just like the young Muslim boy who loved reading books.
Every major city has a river that guards it and stands as a beacon for those who come to it. Nizamuddin station instead, has a runnel of smelling sewer called Jungpura's Nala. This also marks Samta's destination. The station is filled with people, carts full of cargo and luggage, bookshops, hawkers, red coolies, and two iron bridges passing over the station connecting all the platforms.
It's 5:15 in the evening. The sky is clean, with a red glimmer of an exhausted sun. The summer breeze has turned cold. The bustle of station is matched by chirruping of birds coming back home. A female voice blares from the station speakers, repeating the arrival of Samta express. 
I realize its Thursday today. It's a Qawwali night at Nizamuddin Auliya's dargah tonight, the holy shrine that gives the station its name. I realize a qawwal is going to cry tonight looking at the skies, while a package lies unopened in gutters of some unknown railway station.
Author's Note: The story came out from the awareness that the regular paths we follow in our lives are marred by so much of seen and unseen violence. When I got to know about a lynching taking place, not in some rural areas of saffron land but very closer to where I live and travel, it terrified me. It made me aware that we all are one opinion away from being murdered in daylight without any consequences. The lynching of the young boy named Junaid is still waiting for justice.