Quirks of life

The year was 1950 and I was just a 25-year-old graduate from Kochi, my homeland, travelling in the third-class compartment of a Bangalore-bound train to look for some job, as Kochi in those far-off days was rather backward economically, industrially and almost every other field, and jobs were hard to come by. Kochi had no electricity and the only lighting available for streets and lanes was from a square glass cubicle with a wick inside perched on top of a stout wooden pole. Every evening the municipal lamp-lighter with a light, portable bamboo ladder would lean his ladder against the lamp-post, climb, open the cubicle shutter, light the wick with a match-stick, climb down and proceed to the next street to repeat the manoeuvre.

Except for the degree certificate in my hand and ten rupees donated by a close friend I was totally broke. The ten rupees of those days was equivalent to about three hundred rupees of today and would enable me to keep myself body and soul together for at least a couple of weeks, I thought. But circumstances willed it otherwise. There were three other passengers in the compartment — a half-naked young man in a torn, dirty loin cloth, an elderly man similarly clad and a grey-haired, old woman — the latter two obviously the young fellow’s parents. Ticket-less travellers, I felt sure. ‘Bound for Bangalore?” I enquired.

“Er ..yes,” stuttered the young man, “to look for some work. Severe drought in our village... crop failure... no food... we have not eaten anything since yesterday morning. With what money we had saved we bought these train tickets.” He then held out the tickets to me. Starving! Yet travelling with tickets! Honesty in poverty!

Like this young man I was also going to Bangalore to look for work. I had ten rupees in my pocket, my degree certificate and for contact the address of a Kochinite working in Bangalore for any help. But this country yokel and his parents would starve in the gutter until he found work. With that thought in my mind I took out the ten rupees from my pocket and handed it to the young chap. All three of them then fell at my feet and thanked me tearfully, and alighted at the Bangalore city station. So did I.

The contact address I had was the Central Muslim Association in Arcot Srinivasachar street and the name of the contact was Muhammad. With no money in my pocket to pay for bus-fare I had to walk the distance. I located the CMA. The gate-keeper there told me that Muhammad was a peon working in the CMA hostel. Oh God, a peon! What can a mere peon do to put me up and help me find a job? But I was about to discover that he was a peon with a heart of gold. When he learnt that I was from Kochi he not only put me up in an unused little room in the hostel but also got me some food pinched from the CMA kitchen every day till I landed a clerical job. I never looked back after that. Today, thank God, I am on velvet.

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