18 May 2012

The power of 10

True, there was so much to admire in Odisha. Konark and Puri were magnificent and seeing them had been a dream come true. Nature and some fascinating history  (think Samrat Ashoka) too. But the general air of dirt, neglect and backwardness were a bit overwhelming and diluted the delight. Being an NRI had very little to do with it. Maybe, having grown up in a more developed part of the subcontinent had more to do with it.

Whatever the reason, she wasn’t very sad to leave Bhubaneshwar for the more cosmopolitan delights of Kolkata.

Now, she was at the train station trying to keep pace with the wiry porter who would deposit her luggage at the right place on the Kolkata train. An uncle, who could speak Oriya, but had to be next to the Chennai train to upload other family members, had fixed the rate with the porter and then told her, “You need to pay him Rs 30, and he will put you on the Kolkata train, so just go with him.”

So she did. After what seemed to be a fairly long time and distance traversing a few flights of stairs, they reached the correct platform. The train to Kolkata originated at Puri and would reach Bhubaneshwar station in a few minutes. But it would halt there for just about 5 to 10 minutes. So, feeling queasy at the thought of pushing her way into a crowded train carriage, while jostling with all the others who wanted to do exactly the same thing, she waited restlessly, walking up and down the platform.

The train thundered in shortly afterwards and the porter was immediately at her side with the luggage. They started speed walking towards her compartment. She hurriedly jumped in and started looking at seat numbers. Horrors, her seat was already occupied. The porter had already lowered her luggage to the ground. 

Then she found out that this wasn’t the correct compartment. Her one was still a few more bogies away. Bracing herself for a verbal onslaught, she informed the porter (via broken Hindi and vigorous gestures), that they had to search for her compartment as this wasn’t the right one.

But there was no onslaught. He just picked up the luggage and started walking at a furious pace. She understood that he was almost as scared as she was that the train would depart any minute.

Thankfully, they reached her compartment - and she found that her seat was vacant too. She heaved a sigh of relief. The porter unloaded the luggage, propping it under her seat.

She opened her wallet and then paused briefly. Rs 30 seemed too less to pay him, never mind what the uncle had said. The platform had been a long way off. And any porter who didn’t grumble about a wrong compartment and use that as a lever to higher earnings surely deserved more. She pulled out all the small notes in her wallet, and it came to Rs 40. She pushed the jumble of notes into his hand. He namaste’d her and went away.

She heaved a sigh of relief. No altercation with the porter. She was in her right seat and Kolkata was only a night away. She prepared to relax, waiting in anticipation.

But – the porter was back. He was waving the wad of notes she had given him. What now, she wondered. He hadn’t asked for anything, surely, he should be happy with she had paid him?

 The train tooted briefly and started inching its way out of Bhubaneshwar.

She didn’t know Oriya, that was true. But she understood what the porter was saying anyway. “The rate we fixed was only Rs 30, madam, you’ve given me ten more. Here is your Rs 10”.

Puri Jagannath,the Konark Sun temple and the power of ten - enduring thoughts that would from now on epitomise the essence of Odisha for her.