Thursday, March 17, 2011

of Shaadma and her tale

It was 1.30 AM in the night and the craving for tea forced me to ask the driver to stop at a Dhaba on NH3 about 65 kms before Jalgaon in Maharastra.  I had a train to catch the next morning from Jalgaon and had more than ample time to do some badly needed stretching and catch up on some food and some tea and fag.

We, me and my driver had been driving for a couple of hours and had left Nashik long back. The dhaba was built in midst of a picturesque landscape. It was on NH 3 surrounded by tall mountains of black rocks and tree. 

I didn’t ask for the menu and simply told the waiter to bring Dal Tadka and Roti. And the driver too gave his silent assent to the choice of menu with a discreet smile. If you are at a Indian dhaba and you prefer vegetarian than rest assured the best  meal that you can have is Dal Tadka and Tandoori Roti.  With time  I have developed a strong reason to believe that The taste of Dal Tadka is virtually the same at every Dhaba, be it in Bastar, Koderma,Nangloi,Meerut, Vindhyachal or Solapur. It’s the best bet you can play without caring for how it will taste. The hardness and the elasticity of the Tandoori may differ but the Tadka in dal will always remain the same.

And Like many of us, I too have a kind of liking to sit on the charpai when having dinner at a Dhaba. And this Dhaba had nothing but charpai strewn all over, where one could sit with your legs folded or lie down and gaze at the stars which were shining like small moons on a clear March night.

Even though there were not many hungry travellers yet the food was taking time and my driver had lied down on his own charpai not too far away from where I was resting. And soon enough I went into a carlag induced sleep.

My  moments of half slumber was broken by the sound of a truck that had halted at the dhaba and I looked at the truck and saw three people getting out. Two male and one female. I am sure that the two men don’t warrant a description. They were just like the regular driver and cleaner that travel with a goods truck. 

They were tired, wore minimal clothes that decency called for and were looking for some food and more sleep.

Their truck too more or less deserved the same description. Tired, savaged and looking for rest. It was bearing the registration number of Indore and had a tagline of “ Kabhie dil mai,kabhie mandir mai rehtey hain, kismat he aisee payi ki har waqt safar mai rehtehy hain”.

The woman though was much better dressed. And the one thing catching about her was the absence of any sense of vulnerability which one seems to associate with a woman who has just got down at a road side dhaba in the middle of night from a truck. The truck driver and his cleaner  after ordering the same dal tadka and roti settled themselves on a different charpai while the woman after not much deliberation rested herself on a different bed. Not too far from where I was sitting.  

Ten minutes later,my Dal and Roti arrived. And it as I had thought , it didn’t fail my expectations. The same taste that I had hoped for. It was gratifying. Post a satisfied appetite , I lighted a smoke and with a hot glass of steaming tea in my other hand I went for a  lazy stroll.

The passing of speeding trucks and the strange calmness pushed me into what we call times when we are cutoff from the happenings around you. My not so deep thoughts accentuated by the caffeine and nicotine were broken by the voice of the woman and as I turned back to see who it was, I saw the same woman who had alighted from the truck.

She in a barely audible voiced asked for what the time was to which I replied as I chose to ignore the fact that she too was wearing a handwatch.  And as I was somewhat expecting, the next question that came from her was whether I can give her ‘some money’. She said that she was going to Bhopal and it would be two days before she reaches there and for that she required money.

As she uttered Bhopal, the curiosity inside me came out and that’s how I came to know that how ‘Shaadma’ reached Mumbai and why she was going back to Bhopal.

She was a student of a local college in Bhopal living in Noor Mahal area of old Bhopal, one of the many wards that was declared affected by the gas tragedy of December 1984 .During her first year of graduation she and her beloved eloped and went to Malegaon in Maharashtra. This happened more than one year back. 

There he worked as a tailor for more than six months and she took up the job of a faithful house wife. Later they decided to go to Mumbai for a better living .Some months later she got pregnant but suffered a miscarriage and that was the time when things started going wrong. One month after the miscarriage, her husband left her didn’t return home .And after some days she found that he had gone back to Itarsi to his family from where he originally belonged. 

She waited for him for a couple of months and when things became worse and it became untenable to reside in Mumbai , she took the last option she had. To go back to Bhopal.

She knew no one in Mumbai, and had no idea on how to reach Bhopal. So she went to Dadar station, took a train which she was told that would take her to Bhopal. But she was forced to alight at Nashik station after the TTE discovered that she had no ticket. At Nashik she stayed at the platform before she took lift on this Indore bound truck for which she had to give Rs.70.

I had many reasons to believe her story and I had many past experiences to not to trust her.


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