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The movements of the running trains were always present like the screams of an old lady. The Bhubaneshwar Railway Station was sinking in the sea of noise produced by the trains moving in and out. The cleanly wiped platforms were sparkling. The bridges running over the rails played criss-cross.

A group of eighteen young ladies wearing dresses of different colours and shapes were sitting in Northern corner. Near their feet lay bags with their belongings. They also looked like sacks of different colours. Two more young ladies were yet to come from Kurrack village. If they came, the strength of the group would be twenty. They were in a jubilant mood and were letting out their happiness in shrill tones. It seemed that they were ready to enjoy some festival.

BalaBathra took big food packets and put them on the floor. “Now you have vegetable biriyani. As soon as you reach there, you will get chicken biriyani. He put the packets containing raita nearby. The food packets covered in glittering papers kindled their hunger, and they were looking at them with eager eyes and watering mouths.

“If you want anything else Rajanikanth will fetch it!”

“Rajanikanth! Here too?”

“Here, Odisha Rajanikanth. In Tamil Nadu superstar Rajanikanth will buy for you!”

“Wonderful!”

“Rajani take care of them. When will the girls from Kurrackcome?”

 “In an hour!”

“If they come to get them food packets. There’s still five hours for our train to leave. I’ll go, take some rest and come back soon.”

“Where will you go?”

“I will go to the lodge where I usually go. I’ll come surely an hour before the train’s departure. The tickets are with me. The tickets for only four people are yet to be confirmed.”

“For the two people from Kurrack?”

“We can put them in the general compartment. We will put them along with our people. We can adjust. Others are put in different coaches- in three coaches. The train departs from here. There’s no need to hurry. We can board the train leisurely and sit comfortably.

There were some older men and women, too with the young ladies. They had come to see them off.

“You are going to a new place to work. You should be calm and should not indulge in any mischief. You should always think that you are from a far-off place. You won’t get our food there. You must train yourself to eat what you get!”

“Can’t we cook by ourselves?”

“All of you will get a hostel. Why cook then? You can eat different varieties. Rajani nodded his head in agreement. BalaBathra left with a big bag.”

“There is a waiting hall. Let us go there and eat.”

 “There are five hours for the train to depart?”

“Then we can have a nap too!”

“Don’t sleep too much! You’ll miss the train!”

“How can we?”

“You better dream about your new place… then you won’t be dragged into sleep!” Carrying their cloth bags and food packets, they went to the waiting hall. The sat on the long benches facing the wall.

“Sahib, come! come! To which place this time?”

“Tamil Nadu…to mill job! I have to catch the train… I just want to take some rest before the journey.”

“Shall I get you a room?”

“If there is any room nearby, give me. I can lie there for some time.”

“Then you can go to room No.108. There is already a group there. You can take some rest there. Don’t you want any room then? Is it ‘Thalikkuth Thangam!’ scheme?”

“This is the ‘Sumangali’ scheme…in this, we convert the young unmarried woman into the married ones!”

“If you don’t make them married, won’t they become old ladies?”

“Some help we do… what we can, you know!”

“Three thousand for each?”

“Only two thousand! If the fellow is from a nearby place, only a thousand as commission. If he continues to stay there for more than a year, I may get another five hundred. I must go to the mill and wait to collect my commission. I must identify my people. Some may even weep. Some even plead to take them back.” They will talk about hiding so many facts. Only ‘water’ in 108?”

“Powder too I think! Be careful. Don’t exceed your limits!”

When BalaBathra climbed the stairs, he felt very tired. Those eighteen girls were from four villages. The screams and cries of their parents when they had sent them with him were like that one hears in a death house. His nose swelled, and he felt like sneezing. The ceaseless wandering in search of young ladies had made his body hot. He could not sleep tonight too as he would be travelling. If he slept for some time it would be nice, he thought.

He climbed the stairs up and looked at the opposite room. There was some pungent smell coming from that room. He inhaled it and felt that it spread all over his body. He thought that the smell of the hashish cigarette would bring in some good sleep. He stood by the side of the room.”

“Anyone born as a man must see the sea!”

“Why?”

“Sea is the best way to understand the vastness of the world!”

“Is the water we swim in now is not the sea?”

“This is like a lake or a pond!”

 “Come! Come! Which sea are you going to cross this time?”

 “We must cross the sea here, go to the place where there is another sea and then from there to another place!”BalaBathra said.

“Madras!”

“Yes! Madras. After that, five hundred kilometres!”

“Young ladies?”

“Yes! They want only ladies. It’s very difficult to catch young ladies!”

“Your eyes resemble those of a sea crab. You catch the young girls easily. Come on, sit for a round!

A woman took her dupatta and wiped her tears off. She had come to see her daughter off. Her mother gave her a lot of advice as she was going to a far-off state and earn money to feed her family.

The train came and stood in the last platform even when there were 45 minutes yet to leave. They said it would start at the right time. If she knew which compartment, she could enter and sit comfortably and keep her luggage in the proper place, she told Rajanikanth, “He’ll come soon. The tickets are with him. Only he knows which compartment.”

Rajanikanthtried to contact BalaBathra through his cell. But

nobody took it. The ringing stopped. He was staying out for more than an hour. He might be in some lodge… which lodge he didn’t know! This was the first time he was coming with him. BalaBathra took him with him, saying that he should learn the tricks of the trade.

Like those girls, he too was young… an unemployed graduate. His native place was a hundred miles away from Bhuvaneswar.

He wanted to get into some job and stick onto it. For now, his job was to hunt for the young girls about whom BalaBathra hinted at and to net them by asking whether they would like to join a scheme that would help them get married. He caught five girls in that group of twenty. BalaBathrahad also promised him that he would give him his part of commission too. That gave him some hope. BalaBathra had told him that he would pay him that amount after he returned from Tamil Nadu.

The two girls from Kurrack wept loudly. He consoled them: “Others are waiting for eight or nine hours more than yours. They have come earlier. We were waiting for you people. Why are you in a hurry, now? Sahib will come before the train leaves. Don’t worry.”

 Almost all the girls whiled away their time by walking on the platform, along with the coaches, peeping into them through the windows and heaving a sigh looking into the unoccupied seats.

But soon they started shouting as though they had lost all hope. As there were no calls from BalaBathra, they demanded Rajanikanthhis number. He gave. But their calls were also in vain. The murmurs slowly grew into expressions of intolerable irritation. Then it developed into moans and then into cries of frustration.

When people heard their cries, they started looking at them. Small crowds gathered at the entrance of the waiting hall and then dispersed.

Then Lal Bihari saw them. When others enquired and went away, he came inside and sat amidst them. They explained everything to him in detail, even as people in a death house would explain everything to the enquiring mourners. He took note of the names of their villages and consoled them not to cry. Rajanikanth left them unnoticed and sat at a distance as if he wanted to escape.

Lal Bihari searched for him with two girls uttering his name loudly. But it was of no use. Rajanikanth hid his face, and they could not find him. He thought that it was enough if he went to the waiting hall as soon as BalaBathra arrived.

Lal Bihari knew where they were going for employment. Opening his laptop, he was able to gather the details of that place. It was earning a foreign exchange of 30,000crores annually. It was estimated to grow into 1,00,000 crores in 2020. Lal Bihari knew about the ‘Sumangali’ scheme. When he typed that name in Google, he could find pathetic stories of innumerable woman.

Rajanikanth also gave to Lal BihariBalaBathra’s number and told him the details. He dialled that number. The recorded voice from the other end said that the phone was switched off. In the meantime, the train had left. Lal Bihari contacted the local police. He also informed the local newspapers that a group of young girls had been kidnapped and they were crying because their agent had vanished.

It seemed that things were going out of control. The photographers and the reporters from the local newspapers came there, took photographs and gathered news. They took photographs when their cries pitched up!

Lal Bihari is a social worker. He has a group of volunteers. He

stamped the whole episode. Just for the sensation, it would create he dubbed the incident as a Kidnap and not as a journey seeking employment.

When the police entered the waiting hall, LallBihari told them that their train had left, BalaBathra’s cell was switched off, and it was better to send those young ladies to their native places.

 It was only after four hours after the train had left, the girls left crying and screaming. They tried to contact BalaBathra repeatedly, but his phone never gave any response.

The police took Rajanikanth with them. His body shivered and did not cooperate to walk with them. Rajanikanth experienced severe pain, and suddenly he remembered how he had to run from pillar to post to get his hall ticket. He did not know why that incident came to his mind then. He remembered telling his friends, after that incident, “My body was paining severely as though it was beaten heavily!” He got his hall ticket only after undergoing many pitiful and painful experiences like the attendance problem, ‘take-diversion’ problem, N.O.C problem- all these had made getting the hall ticket a nightmare. Now BalaBathra too had made him wander too much, he thought.

Suddenly, the policeman who taken Rajanikanth to the police station slapped him on his face. He was thrown off from the plastic chair he was sitting on.

“His phone number is switched off. Whom else do you know?”

“Only BalaBathra took them!”

“This is kidnapping. Who else are there?”

“This is not kidnapping of ladies Sir. They are taken to work in a mill.”

 “Aren’t there enough people there?”

“As the numbers were always insufficient, they were taken there frequently.”

His body that received the blows began to ache. “Why this murderous ire? The girls are going to the land of murderous attacks. And what I am experiencing now is also a sort of murderous attack. How to escape from this, I don’t know. I must find some means to escape the deadly blows. Why this trouble has come to aBhuvanswaraite,” he thought. When he entered the final year, he started growing a beard. He lied that he was making an attempt to act in films… only Hindi films. When his hair and beard became ugly, he shaved them off. Had he left them unshaved he would have received more blows. When he had long hair and a long beard, his chest appeared a bit swollen; many doubted whether he was man or woman. His chest was also experiencing heavy pain now.

When he was with BalaBathra two days ago, he bought him a beer. He was talking with somebody in English and Hindi. He told him in which train he was coming to Coimbatore. When BalaBathra went to the toilet, there was a call from the same number. It was a landline

number. Rajanikanthsuddenly remembered that he had made a note of that number. He shouted, “Sir!sir!”

“What? Was the broker found?”

“Sir, he might be lying somewhere after drinking heavily. I don’t know, Sir! He was talking with somebody in that mill. I’ve got the number, Sir!”

A team of the local police was already camping at Coimbatore to catch a killer. They were given the number.

“Can I go, sir?”

“The broker must come! Or you stay here until we get some information from Coimbatore.”

He tried BalaBathra’snumberagain and again, but his cell was silent. He remembered that he had put in some new Apps on his phone. It had the sound of dog-bark. It could convert the human voices into barks of dogs. Rajanikanth thought that he had become a dog too!

Lying on the rough floor gave him more pain than the beatings, Rajanikanth thought. He had heard about some severe and cruel punishments like ‘horse-shoe treatment’ and ‘rolling-roller treatment’. Such punishments would produce excruciating pain in every inch of one’s body. Why have they asked him to stay? He must be there till BalaBathra was caught. He must inform his family; otherwise, they would make him stay there forever, he thought. He suddenly remembered that there’s some charge still left in his cell.

What would have happened to BalaBathra, was he lying somewhere unconscious due to heavy drinking? Or had he

completely lost himself with a heavy dose of hashish, Rajanikanth mulled over. He felt that it would be better if somebody called him.

 Suddenly his cell went on ringing. The number was new. He thought that he should attend. He switched his cell on. It said, “You’ve abandoned us!”

“Who are you?”

 “Subhatra! I stayed in the railway station yesterday, all day! Don’t you remember me?”

“Yes, Yes. I remember!”

“That broker abandoned us!”

“I also don’t know what happened to him!”

“Don’t you know really what happened to him?” Suddenly he heard the sound of heavy weeping. Then it dwindled into voiceless words.

“I myself was staying in the police station throughout the last night. I’m still here!”

“But the broker should not have lured us into employment and then abandoned us like this!”

“It seems he abandoned me also! No information from him. You at least have reached your place safely!’

After some time there was a glittering in his cell. Then that too vanished. He found that it was BalaBathra’s number. Rajanikanth called that number again. He got the same information that it was switched off. What would have happened to him? Had he regained

his consciousness, Rajanikanth thought.

He tried the same number repeatedly in vain.

He ran to the inspector who had come for the morning duty. He extended his cell to him, saying, “I received a missed call from that broker’s number, sir!”

“What broker? What case?”

Rajanikanth did not know where to begin. He said, “Mill broker, that Mill broker, sir!” The inspector asked him to stand away at a distance by waving his right handoff. Rajanikanth believed that he would call after he made a study of his case.

The C.I.D officer, who came from the inner room, sat on a chair in the front. The decorative lamps from the Dargah in the opposite side were still shedding light even in the day time. The crowd was slowly growing bigger. Was that Friday? He was certain it was not a Sunday. He had reserved a train ticket to Bhuvaneswar that Sunday. Even if he forgot, his wife would not. He was teased by the thoughts of his young wife. Now he had this mill-case. They have instructed from Bhuvaneswar to come only after making a thorough enquiry. But nothing had materialized so far.

“Do you know Rajanikanth?”

“The superstar?”

“Rajanikanth from Bhuvaneswar!”

“I don’t know!”

“BalaBathra”

“I don’t know!”

“Would he used to fetch people for employment in your mill?”

“No, Sir! We already have enough people locally available here. There is no need to recruit anyone from other states, Sir!”

“But only those people are in large numbers.

“Yes, Sir! But they’re enough.”

“We have got your mill number from the broker whom we had arrested!”

“You mean the landline number, Sir. It is in our mill advertisement too.”

“That broker had talked to this number even two days ago.”

“I don’t know!”

“Don’t know him?”

“No, sir!”

“There is a rumour there that they have been kidnapped. But it seems that they have come for millwork.”

“I don’t know, Sir! Here we have surplus employees already!”

He received this reply from the mill’s supervisor with some tension. But Abayu got the same information from one of the partners without much ado.

They decisively said that they were not involved. Abayu told him that they could send an enquiry team to the mill and talk to the girls from Odisha and Bihar… they might get some additional and useful information. But he objected to it saying, “It may take another three or four days! My newly wedded wife would bemoan, ‘Have you abandoned me?’”

Smiling, Abayu was thinking about how he should make an interesting reply to that!

***

Written by Subrabharathi Manian

Translated by P. Ramgopal


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Comments   

0 #1 subrabharathimanian 2020-08-17 07:13
com. thanks
the translator is Pro. Ramgopal .pl ,mention this
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