This happened at Coimbatore Railway Station. I was waiting for my train back to Bangalore. I was about lunch time. I was carrying a heavy bag and had just put it down on a bench on the platform. There was this little girl (of about 10-12 years of age), her head shaved, thin, with dark lips and sharp eyes. She had with her a box of railways’ food (which most of us despise because it is utterly tasteless).
She asked me, “Akka, where will the train go?”
I asked, “The train that is going to come on this platform?”
“It goes to Bangalore.”
She asked, “Akka, will there be buses from there to Ranipettai?”
“Ranipettai? Why? Do you have to go there?”
She nodded, “Hmmm.”
“I am not sure if there are buses to Ranipettai from Bangalore. But there are buses from Chennai.”
“Chennai? Will the train go to Chennai?”
“The train that is going to come doesn’t go to Chennai. It goes to Bangalore. There will be some other train in some other platform that will go to Chennai. Ask somebody which platform and get into that train.”
She thought of something and nodded and said, “Ok.”
There was something about her that made her look very vulnerable. It was probably her dress – it was a very old, dirty, cotton dress. Or probably because she was bare-footed; I felt very bad for her.
I added, “If you get into the train to Chennai, get down at Katpadi Junction and go to Vellore bus stand. You will get buses towards Ranipettai from there.” I had known this information because I had been in that route a couple of times while visiting a friend’s house in Andhra border. Otherwise I wouldn’t even have known that a place called Ranipettai even existed.
She was trying to grasp the words. “Katpadi? How far is Katpadi from here?”
“6 hours in the train that goes towards Chennai.”
“How will I know when Katpadi has come?”
It was then that I realized that the poor girl might not know to read boards. I told her, “Ask somebody to tell you when you reach Katpadi.”
“Will it be night when I reach there?”
“It will be around 7:30 in the evening when you reach there. Then go to Vellore bus stand and get a bus, ok?”
She nodded, but didn’t speak anything. I wanted to know what was wrong with her. Why was she alone in a railway station when she doesn’t know anything? Where were her parents? Has she run away from her home? I couldn’t stand it.
I asked her, “Who is there at Ranipettai?”
“My mother and my one big sister and small brother. My father passed away, no?”
“Ohhh, then how did you come to Coimbatore?”
“My mother didn’t have any money. She sent me with my uncle to work here. He was a very bad man. I came out of his house without his knowledge. I want to go back to my mom.”
And then she showed her feet – there was burn marks on both her soles. I wondered how she managed to go through such torture at such a young age and what an impression the world has left on her fragile mind.
And then she said she was hungry. I asked her to eat the box of food that she had by her side.
She said, “This is for my mom. She wouldn’t have eaten anything too. I am taking it for her.”
It killed me. She herself hadn’t eaten anything since morning (and it was already almost 1pm) and she was taking food for her mom whom she will meet very late that night (if she manages to go all the way without any further obstacles).
I told her, “The food will get spoilt by the time you go home. So don’t let it go waste. You eat it. You can buy something for your mom later.”
“But I have only 10 rupees.”
I was shocked. She didn’t have a train ticket, she has to take the bus from Vellore to Ranipettai after that and she had only 10 rupees and a packet of food in her hands. I didn’t know what to do.
At that time, the lady who was cleaning the platform came up to me and said, “This girl has been here since morning. I feel so bad for her.”
I told her, “Please tell her when the train towards Chennai will come. But she doesn’t have any money with her. How will she go?”
She said, “She is a small kid. She can travel without a ticket and even if someone asks, she can say she has come out of her house and they will understand. They won’t harm her. There is a train to Chennai at 2:20pm. I will put her in that train.”
My train was just pulling into the station. I knew it will stop at the station for 5-7mins. I had to find my compartment and board into it. I had 5mins to do that. I started walking towards the place where my compartment was most-likely to be when the train stops. But my mind was with that little girl – that helpless, powerless kid who has seen and been through what she was not supposed to at that tender age. I realized I wouldn’t have any peace of mind if I left her there, knowing I could have helped her.
I could not go back and wait for the Chennai train to come or go and buy a ticket for her – I cannot miss my train to go to Bangalore. My train had already come to a stop and I had to walk a little further to my compartment. I turned back and walked in the opposite direction towards the girl. I took out a few bucks from my purse and gave it to her and asked her to keep it for her ticket expenses and asked to get some more food for her.
Those few bucks will probably remain the best-spent money of my month. I felt a lot lighter. It was as if that one paper was weighing my bag down and now that I had given it to her, it felt lighter and easier to carry. This is not exaggerated one bit.
I am still worried about her and now, at work, I am thinking if she would have indeed reached her home safely, met her mom and I hope she is not sent to such filthy uncles in the future.