The 72-year-old man sitting just behind me in a railway chair car compartment had been going through family-related stress and anxieties for quite some time that were taking a heavy toll on his frail health. Advised by his psychiatrist, he was going to his younger son’s place in Delhi for wider medical consultations.
His wife was seated behind my wife. Finding in me a willing ear to share his agony, he confided that he had been advised complete rest, total peace and avoidance of anxieties.
However, ironically, during the seven-hour journey from Lucknow to Delhi, he got none owing to his three-year-old grandson, Atul, accompanying them. The hyperactive boy snatched away the peace and tranquillity of several other passengers as well. Sitting close to the old couple, we were able to understand their torment better.
Immediately after entering the compartment, Dadu (grandpa), as the child called his grandfather, had slumped in his chair hoping to get some peace and sleep, so necessary for him. But that was not to be. The boy, who was waiting for the right opportunity, was back to his antics that were first taken lightly but later resented by other passengers.
Atul asked his already harassed grandpa: “Dadu, when will this train move?” “Shortly” replied the old man in short. “How much is shortly, Dadu?”
The grandparents looked at each other and remained silent. The boy said: “Why don’t you reply, Dadu?” No response. Just then the train moved with a jerk. The little one jumped with joy, but shot off another query, “Why this jerk?”
“Why does it happen?,” The child asked in a high-pitched voice that turned many a head towards the embarrassed old couple who responded with apologetic looks. What else they could have done?
Children are endowed with an inquisitive nature and their searching queries are a normal phenomenon. But Atul’s unending questions and antics were getting on the nerves of his ailing Dadu and Dadi (grandmother).
Even as the super-fast train was running at a high speed, unbalancing passengers, the boy was moving up and down the aisle, as if he was strolling in a park. Passengers on both sides were curiously, some rather anxiously, watching the child’s carefree attitude. The old couple watched it all as silent spectators. The boy would pause near children of his age group, mumble something to them and move ahead again.
Seconds later, Atul appeared aggressive. He would pick up somebody’s bottle of cold drink, put it in front of someone else or throw it on the floor. He did the same with books and other items that he found, like a bull on the rampage.
Some annoyed passengers shouted for the boy’s guardians to rein in him, not aware that the old couple was not in a position to do so. The child was emboldened, his antics making people impatient and resentful.
Dadu felt enough was enough. Discovering a uniformed policeman occupying a seat nearby, he decided to use his presence to rein in the boy. The cop’s upholstered revolver hung across his body frame.
Catching hold of the boy, Dadu told him that the “police uncle” would lock him up if he did not behave. “Don’t you see his gun?”
He did not reply. The next moment, the boy, sneaking through seated passengers, was standing right in front of the “police uncle” who was supposed to instil fear in him. Taken by surprise, the officer was wondering about the boy’s intentions.
Suddenly, Atul grabbed the upholstered weapon trying to take it out. The boy was pushed away and reprimanded by the officer in khaki. “Hey, you little devil, do you know what it is?” he asked angrily.
“Yes, I know. It is a pichkari (water pistol)”
On the occasion of Holi, India’s festival of colours, traders make, among other things, revolver-shaped plastic or metallic water pistols to spray coloured water on revellers.
The little boy had punctured the threat, causing guffaws. The tense atmosphere turned light.
Dadu heaved a sigh of relief, so did the other passengers because the announcement said: “We are shortly reaching Delhi”.
Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.