Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Death By The Railway Tracks

I feel some of you may not be able to digest what I've written here with regard the content and how I've described most of it. So don't read ahead if you feel you won't be able to complete it.

Don't cry / Don't raise your eye / It's only teenage wasteland

The Who’s Baba O’Riley blasted through my headset as my train gathered speed. I was hanging by the gate of the train and it had just left Dahisar towards Mira Road. I love hanging out the train between Dahisar and Mira Road. The open expanse allows for a lot of breeze, the train moves persistently fast, and nothing beats it when there’s good rock music playing. Just that today, the train screeched to a sudden halt as soon as it left Dahisar.

Usually when such a thing happens it is mostly because someone pulls the chain; mostly as a trick, rarely because of an urgent need. The train, most often, begins moving after halting for around fifteen seconds, but this time it remained stationery for over a couple of minutes. And then the Guard’s voice arrived over the train intercom. He announced that the train would stay in its current position for some time as it had run over a person and he requested the people aboard the train to not get down and walk on the tracks.

A few attendants and officials arrived with a stretcher after ten minutes from Dahisar station, which was roughly a five minute walk from where the train now was. The main official approached with torchlight as the train and its surroundings were engulfed by the darkness. He beamed the torch underneath the train to locate the ‘dead body’. And I don’t exactly remember what my reaction was when he came and stood right next to our coach; right next to the gate I was hanging by, pointing out that the ‘body’ was lying exactly under where I was standing.

He summoned his attendants to come quicker. They pulled out the ‘body’. Blood was oozing from the back of his head. One of the officials said that he was alive, and in all probability he would live. A miracle? Maybe. He was, after all, living. And in one piece. After coming in front of an 80 km/h train.

The train started moving. I put my headsets back on. The drumbeats of Blondie’s Maria filled my ears. Was I just indifferent or what?

It wasn’t the first time that I saw a dead body (though technically this one wasn’t, yet); one that had been through an accident. Train accidents and I are old friends; we’re not close, but we meet each other often. My earliest recollection of a train accident was when I was below the age of ten, perhaps. I remember seeing one at Dadar station. I remember the body being carried away to some distance while the person’s shoes and bag were still at the spot where she (Yes, I think I distinctly remember that person being a woman) was hit. I also remember another one when I was a kid, but this time around I was inside the train and looking out the window at one more life taken.

When I entered college, my affair with train accidents increased. I started jumping into running trains while it entered platforms so that I could catch a window seat. I have dragged myself along the platform at least five times till date. I have had my sandals dropped underneath the train too. And yet, I still do the same everyday.

I remember that I was at Borivali station once and I was just getting down the staircase when a train was leaving the platform. A man hurried to get in. He almost got a foothold and the other passengers tried to hold on to him but he went under. Right in front of my eyes. It did not help that I was listening to Rihanna’s Russian Roulette while this happened. I avoid that song whenever I board a train now.

I’ve been witness to not just train accidents though. Last year, at a usually not-so-busy signal at the junction where a road connects Azad Maidan to Cross Maidan while passing through Fashion Street, a taxi ran over a man and did not wait to help him. Fortunately, some shopkeepers and others from the public came forward to help him but it didn’t seem like he would live. I ignored it, spoke about it to my friend who saw it too; she later admitted that she wanted to slap me and tell me to shut up. That accident had shaken her up. I, evidently, was not harrowed (though I did write a poem about the incident).

So is it that I’ve seen death by accidents so many times that I’ve become numb by it? Is it that I don’t care anymore? Or perhaps as they say, sooner or later, everyone has to die. I’ve had a friend die in a train accident. I’ve had my uncle die in a train accident (much before my birth though) and yet nothing changes. Tomorrow morning I will still jump into the train. To be as comfortable inside, and not realising that I’m putting into danger the ‘comfort’ of my life. Am I not affected anymore? I don’t know. Maybe I am.

And yet,

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou
 art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

                                                 - John Donne


  1. I know how it can feel to come across an accident. I've been lucky (rather, unlucky) to have only witnessed one, maybe two railway accidents. One I distinctly remember the head being neatly severed from the body as if the man had deliberately put his head on the tracks.

    But my association goes back to when my mum would tell me about accidents she had witnessed on her way back from work. Maybe it helped her deal with it, but she would make it a point to tell me about it. Her own colleague committed suicide in a similar fashion when she was around. She also told me about the time she risked her own neck to pull someone out from going under when the woman slipped and fell.

    If nothing else, listening to these stories have helped me decide if attendance in Jane's class was more precious than my neck and I'm grateful for the lesson :)

    And yes, this piece sent shivers down my spine early in the morning. Well written

  2. It's unfortunate that you've to face these situations. I've seen accidents myself, while returning home as late as 4 in the morning.

  3. its sad(perhaps necessary tho) that you had to experience such situations. God bless

  4. Nice....
    Life is short...When I witness such things all I say is "Thank God it wasn't me"...
    A selfish reaction..But yes.. that's life..