It happened in a flash. The nerve endings fired, the synapses contracted, the body leaped and responded like an efficient well-oiled machine, as if trained for just such an eventuality.
It was all over in seconds, before rational thought could parse the stimulus, the action, it’s ramifications and consequences. Sense making and analysis were indulgences which he knew were the prerogative of those who would never have done something like this. Yet Sunil was feeling a bit crushed. Physically, his clean but unremarkable features furrowed at the sight of his scruffed clothes and grimy hands. He had wanted to look good today.
What young man would risk his life and limb for an old doddering fellow? So scruffy that he seemed just one step above being termed a beggar. The man had been saved in the nick of time, just as he was about to slip his step and fall into the tracks. In the melée for the last train of the morning, it would have been easy to miss the sight of a near-vagabond disappear into the treacherous tracks. Yet, of all the hundreds who were there on the platform, it was Sunil whose reflexes were the quickest.
In moments the train shuddered out of the station, with only that particular coach being uncharacteristically uncrowded with only that old coot managing to stay focused on getting onto to the train. Those who were in that part of the platform seemed so transfixed that they realized the impact of Sunil’s act on their own routines only after the train doors clicked shut and it gathered momentum.
Among the onlookers there was a frisson of thrill. Catching a near-death in their midst, miraculously transformed into a heroic save, was far beyond the average morning commuter’s daily quota of excitement. Women fawned over him pressing their pillowy bosoms into him as they kept touching him in what would been considered inappropriate places. Men too crowded round him slapping his back, pummeling him, hugging and lauding him loudly in the choicest words of refined praise, tinged with what could be considered wholesome mock-abuse.
Sunil was naturally shy and he found his personal space under attack as he fended their advances rather ineffectually. But the appreciation didn’t abate. The next train was not due for quite some time.
There were people dancing around him, taking pictures and asking him to pose for them. Who would have thought that there could be such a large congregation of jobless people on the bustling platform of this city! And for what? Just one moment’s reaction to a random stranger’s accidental action.
What if Sunil hadn’t seen? What if he’d seen but stayed on course in his determined bid to get a foothold in a relatively empty coach? Or what if he’d tried to save the old geezer and missed? And unbidden the thought followed – what if the old man in his panic, had managed to take Sunil down with him?
He shuddered when that thought caught up with him. His nebulous connect with his surroundings snapped as he imagined his parents back home in Kanpur being officially and coldly informed of their bereavement. And what would Savita have done. For the first time that morning the full ramifications of his impulsive action hit him. But what could he have done? Watched as an overeager old man got swallowed by a hungry train? And the train? It couldn’t have left the station if it ran over a man, could it? So anyway he wouldn’t have been able to make it to that appointment he has promised Savita he would keep today. If he didn’t meet her old man today, Savita had threatened that she wouldn’t marry him.
Gradually there was a bit of a lull. People made all manner of gracious gestures and, short of offering him monetary rewards, had bestowed numerous encomiums on him. How many ways could they laud him and in how many ways could he thank them? Slowly Sunil began to flex himself, testing his limbs which had been thoroughly patted, slapped, thumped and caressed.
As he stood straighter, he saw a person standing by – leaning on a pillar, watching him. Sunil stood on tip-toe and boldly waved a hand at the person. And he waved back. With his graceful fluid movements, Sunil escaped his ring of admirers and glided across to the older man.
“That was a very brave thing you did, son. Only an exceptional human being could have done it. I am happy today to see that there are such youth in this heroic country. You just saved a life and have heroically reaffirmed our faith in heroism. Your parents must be proud of having a remarkable son like you.”
“Erm, Mr. Joshi, umm, uncle, my name is Sunil. Sunil Singh. I was here to meet you today. Maybe Savita told you, we are colleagues and I love your daughter and we want to get married, with your blessings.”