Sunday, June 29, 2008

Green, Yellow, Red, the journey ahead...

A thoughtful story i read somewhere in the blogosphere....
It had been years since Siddarth took a local train back home. He had forgotten the counter at which to get a ticket, the platform to board. Everyone around him seemed to be hurrying up either out of the station or rushing to catch a train. Siddarth stood there with a ticket in his hand and staring at the display board. He finally spotted the train that would take him to his destination. His car had crashed and he dreaded taking a bus. He did not want to hang out of a crowded bus with his laptop bag and a blackberry in his pocket. He was sure a catch if he were ever robbed. He knew an auto rickshaw will cost him a lot that he could save it up for the petrol for his car. His calculative mind finally decided to take the train.
He stood at the platform looking at either side, not realizing which side the train was about to arrive. He held his laptop bag close to him and studied the watch every now and then. Everyone around him seemed to have a life that was the same, day after day. Nobody looked as anticipated as Siddarth. Nobody kept looking at the empty tracks or the train that never arrived. He was worried, not about the delay in train, but the crowd that he will have to wade through and find a place to perch. To safeguard his belongings. To get off without a crumpled shirt or someone else’s sweat all over him. He dreaded the feeling. For a moment he thought he would toss the ticket on the tracks and hire an auto rickshaw outside the station. Before he could make up his mind, the train arrived and even before he could realize, there were more people from nowhere who were thronging towards the train. All Siddarth had to do was stay close to the crowd. In few seconds he was inside the train and luckily the train was not as crowded as he had imagined. It almost seemed empty all of a sudden. He held the bar above his head as the train moved. His other hand was tightly pressed against the laptop bag. His journey home began with not much fanfare. At the next station he was able to find a place to sit beside the window. He immediately placed his laptop bag beside him so that nobody else would sit in that little space in between him and the little guy who sat next to him.
The next station was the most crowded and Siddarth did not even want to look out to see the crowd. He was happy to have found the place because his destination was the last in that trip. He kept staring at the empty tracks outside the window. It was dark and he could hardly see anything. His train began his journey again and the darkness outside was now moving.
Someone nudged his bag and he looked up to see a man standing next to him. He did not tell anything, but looked at the bag as if signaling to move it. Siddarth did not budge. He looked out of the window again and just before he was supposed to be lost in his thoughts, the man lifted his bag and sat down in that little space in between Siddarth and the little guy. Siddarth immediately pulled his bag close to him and placed it on his lap. The man must have been in his early thirties. He was wearing a white shirt and a white trouser and black shoes. He looked run down. Maybe he was drunk. Siddarth was not feeling at ease. He smelled liquor on the man, but it was just Siddarth’s imagination.
The journey resumed in silence, but not for too long.
“Comfortable?” the man asked Siddarth.
Siddarth nodded his head and turned away to look into the darkness outside the train.
“Stocks?” the man asked.
“Are you a stock broker?” the man asked.
Siddarth in a noticeably irritated tone, “No! Software engineer”
“Ah!” the man said as if to be judgmental.
It irked Siddarth and wanted to know what that “Ah!” meant. Siddarth looked at the man and read his face. It was not a happy face. The man looked tired. “Maybe that is how I look too” Siddarth thought to himself.
“Tiring day nah?” the man asked.
Siddarth decided to remain silent. He looked beyond the man and looked at the little boy who sat in silence.
“The traffic was terrible today. I was late” the man said.
Siddarth was sure that the man was not drunk but he was freaking him out. What if he was a psycho? What if he threatened him with a knife and snatched away his belongings?
“Ye..yes” Siddarth said as if he was unsure.
There was silence again.
“You know, sometimes it is very difficult to get to your destination on time. A life depends on your timing. But…” the man went into a thoughtful silence.
Siddarth looked at the man and saw tears brimming in his eyes. The man looked at the little boy who was still lost in his own world of silence.
Siddarth was hesitant to start a conversation with a man who had already freaked him out enough.
“but… people do not understand. It is the !@#$%^& traffic”, the man was now abusing the traffic and the drivers on the road.
“Who are you? A cab driver?” Siddarth asked and then thought to himself if he really wanted to prolong a conversation with a verbally abusive man.
“I’m an ambulance driver” he said.
“Ah!” Siddarth said in a judgmental tone. This time the man looked at Siddarth wanting to know the meaning of his “Ah!”.
“It is a very difficult job” the man said.
“In the traffic, next to a VIP’s convoy, it is the ambulance that gets more attention and space” Siddarth said as if the ambulance drivers were the privileged ones on the road.
“Wrong. Your perspective is wrong. I would not blame the people on the road. But on a rush hour, where is the space for an ambulance to wade through hundreds of vehicles in this city?”
“But people do respect the emergency of the people inside the ambulance and you cannot blame them at all. Even if someone wants to get home really quick, they still take a chance to leave way for the ambulance” Siddarth said in a defensive tone.
“I respect the people on the road. They pave way. Sometimes I think they are God. There are some who just follow an ambulance so that they can reach their destination quicker with the little space that an ambulance gets as a privileged vehicle on the road”
“Oh yea, I cannot deny that. What sad lives those people should have to follow the emergency of an ambulance just because they can move out of the traffic themselves”
“It is not an easy job. Very stressful. Everyday, some part of the city, someone is crying for a life. I can still hear cries of the people inside my ambulance. It is all about emergency.”
Siddarth was all of compassion for this man now. He decided to remain silent and listen to this stranger in the train.
“Sometimes I reach on time. I save a life. I save a life because I was fast, because the traffic let me move, because someone would have prayed in the road that the person inside the ambulance should live long, because the people around the patient inside the ambulance cried so loud that I just rushed on time, because there is God!” the man ranted.
“Sometimes I fail. I would not be able to help. The patient would have died even before we reached the hospital. The patient would have died just after reaching the hospital. Sometimes I blame myself that I could have been a little faster. Maybe the traffic could have been more controlled. Sometimes, during the rush hour it is chaotic and a huge ambulance does not have the space to move at all. Those are times when I really had thoughts of quitting the job.”
“You sure are a brave man” Siddarth said as if it would be consoling.
“I think so. I was a brave man. I saved lives. There were times when people would run back to me and hug me and tell me that they had saved their parents, their kids, their grand dad. They would give me money. I have also faced the wrath of the family members if someone died before we reached the hospital. They would think I was the one who killed the patient. It was not the traffic. It was not the condition of the patient. It was just me. Initially it hurt me. I got used to it later. Now I know it is part of my job. I try. I do not give up”

“People at the traffic too have their own responsibility” Siddarth said.
“Not all know about it. Tell me, you too drive your car don’t you. During those peak hours, honking like crazy, talking over the phone…” the man said. He folded his hands and waited for Siddarth to speak.
“Yes, but that has become the way of life. I used to take the train earlier when I was at college. Then when I got to work, I took my office bus. Then I had a bike. As I walked up the corporate ladder, I kept changing my mode of transportation too” Siddarth said.
“Signs of prosperity”
“Precisely” Siddarth snapped. He did not like that part of the conversation.
“A selfish self-obsessed software engineer who cannot think beyond the US dollars, an apartment, the monthly EMIs, sophisticated cars, bank balance, client meetings, sub-ordinates who report…” the man went on.
Siddarth did not stop him. Here was a man who summarized Siddarth’s life in just about 15 minutes.
“… weekends at the beach. Or maybe to a 2 hours movie, but the time you spend to get to the theater is more than the movie time itself. Annual vacation outside the country. Frequent business travels….”
“and?” Siddarth now smiled at the man.
“It is like a race right?”
“Yes!” Siddarth said in an affirmative tone.
“Sad life right?”
Siddarth smiled and looked out of the window. It was still dark and he had not realized how many stations had passed by then.
“So what is a happy life according to you?” Siddarth asked the man.
“I don’t know. I cannot define it. I save a life. I’m happy. I don’t get there on time and help save a life, I’m still happy, because I tried. Although mine is a simple life, it is still a race. A race to save someone else’s life. A race literally on the road, to beat everyone on the road, to wade through the traffic and reach there on time. Just that I race for others, not my own.”
“Hmm… makes sense. I race for myself. For those luxuries in life. My clients who would not understand the delays at work, but I race for myself so that I can save my ass from firing. I run from home to work during the wee hours to just catch up on a video conference. End of the day, I just save my work. My life”
“We almost lived the same life. I save lives by driving them to their safety zone. You race to get yourself to the safety zone.”
“You think it won’t continue anymore?” Siddarth asked.
The man smiled at Siddarth with a raised eyebrow.
Silence fell upon their journey again. After a while Siddarth turned around to see the man ruffling the hair of the little boy who was seated next to him.
The man looked at Siddarth.
“This little boy was on my ambulance. I tried very hard. I raced through the rush hour madness. The traffic was notorious.”
“Oh! He is safe now. You must have done a brilliant job. But how come you both are on this train now”
“I still can hear his mother’s shrill cries. I was not able to concentrate on my driving. It was as if my mind had already departed. I wanted this boy to live. To reach the hospital before he gave up. Just as I was close to the hospital, this little boy gave up. His last breath was in my ambulance and his mother cried aloud. I lost my control and the ambulance ran over the pavement and toppled over a few times. The red siren was all that remained of the ambulance. It kept raising the alarm until people came running for help. The same red siren, that helped me save many lives, didn’t help my life”
Siddarth’s face drained. He was motionless and kept listening to the man.
“I saw someone pull out this boy’s mother. She seemed to be walking. They put her in an auto rickshaw and I saw it disappear into the cloud of dust. I saw someone run to me. I saw more people running towards me. I closed my eyes. I was in pain. I gave up too”
Siddarth closed his eyes for a moment to recollect what had really happened.
He was rushing to his office as he had a videoconference with his client. He was on the phone giving instructions to his subordinates on what needs to be completed before the conference call. As he had taken a quick left, he saw a flash of light hit him. Before he could realize he saw an ambulance roll by his side and he was rolling inside his car the other way. He remembered seeing a woman being pulled out of the ambulance. He remembered someone running towards him. He remembered jetting out of the door himself. He was in pain and he gave up. He fell flat on this face, his laptop bag still hugging to him and his communicator was still on.
Siddarth opened his eyes quickly and looked out of the window. There was still darkness outside. The darkness will never cease. He turned around to look at the man and the little boy. They were lost in silence. A long journey was ahead.

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