Editor: Read Chapter XXXV here.
Teji leaned back on the comfortably padded seat as she enjoyed the train ride, her second on a Mumbai local. Whoever said Mumbai trains are always crowded and uncomfortable had obviously got something wrong, Teji thought, though the women sitting around gave her dirty looks every once in a while. Obviously, that was because she was so badly dressed whilst all of them seemed to be rich, well dressed and very comfortable in their skins. Her previous ride on a Mumbai local train just after attacking Sampat had not been so enjoyable. That train was really crowded, and she had had to stand, though mercifully that journey had been very short.
Teji alighted from the train at Dadar. A voice booming out from the train’s public address system had been announcing in English, Hindi and Marathi the stations beforehand and she did not even have to ask anyone for help to get down at the right stop. She patted her bag once before getting off to make sure that her pistol was safely inside. Just as she got down, she was accosted by a man dressed in white who waved at her mildly and stood back with an arrogant air, as if she owed him something.
Teji ignored him and walked away, but the man was persistent and said something sharp. There was such an air of authority about the man that Teji was forced to turn around and face him. Also, a woman who had been on the train with her stopped and stared at her for a few seconds before moving on, but if Teji expected some support, she was disappointed. Instead, the woman looked at the man in white as if he were doing something right and Teji was a criminal.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asked him in a firm voice, though her legs trembled.
‘Where’s your ticket?’
Oh! Was it just that? Of course, she had a ticket.
Teji took out the ticket which Holambe had given her from her bag and handed it over to the examiner and waited for the man to apologise for having troubled her. Maybe he thought she was a ticketless traveller.
‘This is a second-class ticket.’ The examiner had an I-knew-it-all-along sort of look.
Teji didn’t understand and gave the examiner an exasperated and perplexed look. ‘What more do you want, she asked?’ It didn’t help that her Hindi sounded so very different from the patois spoken in Mumbai.
‘You travelled First Class,’ the examiner pointed to the compartment she had alighted from, which had First Class Women written in large, fading letters. ‘And this is a Second-Class ticket.’
It took Teji a few seconds to figure out what the examiner was saying and then the relatively luxurious compartment and everything else made sense. Under her breath, she cursed Ravi and Holambe for not explaining to her about different types of compartments and how to differentiate one from the other. From outside, all compartments looked alike, didn’t they? She wanted to tell the ticket examiner that where she came from, such class distinctions didn’t exist. What would they do with her, she wondered. Ticketless travel was bound to end in jail, she knew.
‘Follow me,’ the ticket examiner said as he indicated a corner to which he wanted Teji to move to and took out a note pad to write out a receipt for the fine she would have to pay. Teji debated for a second and decided that she didn’t want to go to jail, not when she had a pistol in her bag. She had no doubt that at some point she would be searched and once the revolver was discovered, she would be charged with something other than travelling first class with a second-class ticket.
Teji moved forward swiftly, chopped the examiner on his neck with the side of her palm and took to her heels. She ran around fifteen paces unmolested, before two young men who had seen her hit the examiner started to give chase. They also shouted out details of what she had done. Soon a mob of around fifteen men were chasing her and she was surrounded from all sides.
The first man to touch her grabbed her from behind and got an elbow in his ribs. The crowd retreated for a second, unsure as to how to tackle a woman who was so bold. Teji, however, realized that there was no escape since the crowd was unlikely to make way for her though they hesitated to lay hands on her. A train was drawing up on the neighbouring platform and Teji saw her chance.
She took out her pistol and waved it at the men blocking her way, who magically melted away. As soon as the train stopped, Teji made her way towards a compartment which was full of men. She once again waved her pistol and all the men inside rushed out as quickly as they could. Teji got inside and waited for the train to move, but it didn’t. Surely, there was a mistake. Mumbai locals never stopped for more than a few seconds, she had been told by Holambe and Ravi. Slowly she realised that she was the reason for the train’s immobility. She jumped out of the compartment which had become a trap, wondering where she should hide. The entire platform was empty and she could hear policemen rushing into the station from various points.
Suicide was an option but she didn’t want to throw in the towel too soon. She had had a number of close calls in the past and it was quite possible that she wouldn’t get out of this one alive. Someone was ordering the policemen to take up positions all around her and she saw that more than one rifle was pointed at her. Ever since the 26/11 attacks by terrorists from Pakistan, most public places in Mumbai, especially railway stations like Dadar, swarmed with armed policemen. There were so many of them and if they wanted to, they could have killed her easily. She knew that once a senior police official arrived and started to issue orders, she wouldn’t have long to live.
Not far away was a stall selling food and bottles of water. Teji decided to hide inside, but when she got there, she saw that a young boy and an older man were there, cowering in fear. She hadn’t planned to take hostages, but when an opportunity presented itself, there was no reason why she shouldn’t take advantage of it.
‘Come outside,’ she ordered them, and they came out slowly, looking petrified. Teji went inside the stall and made the two human shields stand just outside either side of the stall. A few policemen came within twenty feet of her and took up positions under whatever cover was available. Someone started to make announcements over a microphone and Teji didn’t understand what was being said at first, until she realized that she was being called upon to surrender. Like hell she would.
As she leaned back, Teji found her back pressing against a sack which held something pointy, but not very hard. She turned around and saw that it was full of carrots. She pulled a carrot out and started to eat it, the crunching sound carrying much farther than it would have under normal circumstances.
‘Do you want a carrot?’ she kindly asked her hostages, but they were too scared to reply.
Featured Image(Cover): Nisha Joseph
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