Man vs. Fruit

June 29, 2006

Man versus Fruit

The train is leaving the station. I lie down on my upper berth and fan myself with my Cine Blitz. Bipasha Basu moves towards and then away from me, with every flick of my wrist. Story of my life.

 

Peanut shells on the floor, Milk Bikis packet wedged in the space between the seat and the wall, ceiling mounted fans that roared back the urine saturated, dried fish putrescence back down on the masses below, heartbreaking graffiti on the sidewall – ‘Shilpa love Suresh’, with the ‘love’ scratched out. I adjust the backpack below my head and ponder why.

 

I look down at the laughter from down below. A group of students have taken over the compartment, filling my cube and the next three. An hour of listening to random chatter about girls, semester exams, job interviews and girls.. I make out that they are engineering students from Bihar heading back to their hostel after an industrial tour to Calcutta.

 

The conversation settles into a comfortable cadence. The group is ganging up on one guy. Make mental note of new theory that every group needs to find an outsider inside the group to pick on, to feel secure and to bond better. Realize theory sounds too familiar to be original. Make another mental note to stop making theories on one data point. Also get to know the loser’s name is Jignes.

 

Train pulls up at a station. Another small town on the West Bengal border thanking its stars its not in Bihar. Stretch my legs on the platform and light the cigarette I was saving for after dinner. Its just about lunch time. I buy mineral water.

Scavenging urchins laughing and playing between compartments one moment, and pulling a sorry face and rubbing their belly just before they approach a window the next. They ask me for the mineral water bottle, vital links in the recycling chain. I throw it to them. Now they want money. I pucker my lips (universal sign for ‘I am so sorry’) and pull my pant pockets out. Mistake -half a kit kat drops out. They fight on the division like sharks.

 

I look around. Puri-Cholawala’s business is roaring. One look at the crusty chole and dried Cilantro on top, and I want to take my chances in the shark fight behind me for the kit-kat. The college students seem OK by it., and are que’ing up, fighting over who owes whom money for what. Complex calculations and three year financial histories are brought up and heated arguments ensue. I buy a packet of Bon-Bons and watch.

 

Jignes is in the train, beside the window, taking no part in the chola war. He doesn’t owe any one money it seems, a pity, owing money is a sure sign of popularity when you are in college. He hails the water melon vendor sitting in front of us, swatting flies that are settling down on her cut slices. She asks him if he wants a slice. He wants a whole melon. He picks one. She gets it over to his window and says 20 Rs.

 

20 bucks! No way he says. I move closer to the window. Jignes looks angry after being pushed around for the last hour, he’s not going to take anymore from a melon seller. Looks like it could be an interesting fight, though the vendor and I know he doesn’t stand a chance.

 

10 bucks he offers. She doesn’t bother to reply. He says the melons look unripe. She looks up and down the platform. 14 and no more he says. She goes back and puts the melon back on her pile. Fine, says Jignes, and goes back to sulking in his seat. He’s relieved the rest of the bunch haven’t noticed his surrender, to give them more ammo for their arsenal against him. I’m disappointed.

 

The guard waves his flag. I get back into the train. The fighting engineers seem to have come up with an optimal solution and troop in after me with their leaf wrapped food packets. They hit their berths and dive into their sludge with gay abandon. Jignes looks on at them hungrily, and then looks out at the melon seller longingly. He makes up his mind, calls her over and grudgingly gives her 20 bucks. She smiles and hands over the melon he had picked. The train pulls away from the station.

 

I look over and see a comedy of epic proportions unfolding. Jignes has his hands outside the window, holding on to the Watermelon. There’s no way he can bring it in. The window is barred and the bars too narrow. The melon seller and the poori cholawala are rolling with laughter on the platform. The urchins think its a game and are jumping up trying to tap the melon out of his hands. The window is too high.

 

The rest of the engineers are too busy with their lunch to notice at first. Jignes is using his body to shield the melon from them. And then, one of them, the ring leader, looks at the window. His jaw drops open and a chola rolls out of his open mouth. At first he thinks its too good to be true, a mine load of Jignes jokes, so rich, that he gets giddy with the thought. The rest of the pack catches on quickly. Meanwhile, Jignes is furiously trying to manipulate the melon into fitting it through the window bars and salvage some pride. Not a chance, the bars are too narrow.

 

The train is moving at a fast pace. The engineers’ station is at least 45 minutes away. They’ve woken up their friends in other compartments and the berths around me are filled with vultures swooping in on the action. Three of them want to know if they can get on to my berth. I shoo them off. I have a ring side view.

 

The rivers of sweat from Jignes’s arms are making the water melon slippery. I want to believe in him. 45 minutes is not too long if you rest your hands and you’re careful not to knock down any telegraph poles.

 

15 minutes of eternity go by. Jignes battles bravely with his melon with an air of nonchalance, studiously ignoring his classmates’ merciless wise cracks that whiz by him at the speed of unformed thought. The nerds are debating if the cantilever beam stress formulas they learnt in class apply to the situation. Wagers are made. Jignes is at 12 to 1 in chole currency. He knows he cannot hold on for another half hour. He looks hopefully at the chain hanging just beyond his reach, does a quick mental arithmetic comparison of years of ribbing, trauma and psychiatric counseling versus 500 Rs and 2 months in Jail. He decides on the former.

 

The engineers still show no mercy. Jignes pleads with them to help him out. Lets form a chain of hands and pass it from window to window, and then get it in through the door, he begs. The ring leader quells any wave of relief efforts from potential party poopers with a snarl.

 

Looks like Jignes is taking it personally now, am I the only one who sees a new light in his eyes? Another 20 minutes of combat go by. The pain is excruciating. Jignes will not accept defeat. The party has mellowed down, they are looking at him with awe. Some of them even want him to win. In a little while, a tentative Jignes! Jignes! Jignes! chant goes up.

 

Jignes is beyond consciousness. He is Ahab, the watermelon the whale, he is the old man, the fruit his sea. He puts his hand all the way out and pulls it sharply back in, trying to shatter the melon against the bar. Not a dent on the green monster. I knew I shouldn’t have paid 20 bucks, the melon was unripe, his confused mind thinks. The train stops for a signal, beside some shanties on the side of the track, just before the station. Not too long now. The Jignes chant is thunderous. The ring-leader is confused and is pushed back. Jignes’ arms and face are white, his hands purply-red.

 

The train starts again, and slowly pulls into the station. Jignes doesn’t care anymore. His fingers slowly let the melon drop. It bounces off the concrete platform and a beggar-child picks it up and offers it proudly to its mother. Someone pulls his hands back in, another sprinkles coke on his face, and a third clears the berth for him to lie down on. The others hang on uselessly, knowing there’s a moral in this somewhere, but not sure where. I get back to Bipasha Basu.

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2 Responses to “Man vs. Fruit”

  1. Anand Says:

    Very nice. Takes me back to college days – first rate writing. You a professional? Want to be?

    Mail me. I work in gaming, and could use talent.

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