The train was chugging along. We had crossed Ongole and the lunch was over. Passengers were sleepy .It was hot in the second class three tier compartment. The fans did not help. I was then I noticed tears trickling down from the eyes of an 11 year old girl in the opposite berth. The middle aged man in a faded jeans and T shirt and the woman by his side with a large bindi and pan stained teeth who were presumably travelling with the girl did not give me a favourable impression. He was admonishing the girl I could gather from his tone and the way his eyeballs turned. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep but kept my ears tuned towards him.
“Tvaraga thinu” (eat quickly) he was telling her in Telugu
“Vendam” (no) she pleaded in Tamil and started sobbing
“'Edisthe, champestha ninnu'” (if you cry, i will kill you) .She did not reply “Verevallatho matladaku” (don’t talk to others) he spoke sternly. The girl looked at me possibly to see whether I was listening “Kallu moosuko” (close your eyes) he chided her
I suspected that this girl did not belong to him. She looked from her dress and demeanour that she came from a middle class family unlike this coarse couple. As both he and his woman companion were awake I could not talk to the girl. The more I looked at the sobbing girl my suspicion grew stronger and I decided to help her out.
I turned to my wife and started speaking to her in Tamil though the words were addressed to the girl.
“Answer me by doing what I ask you to do. Do you belong to the couple by your side? If you are not, close your fingers of both hands tightly”
The girl immediately closed the fingers of both hands. I was encouraged. Luckily the couple could not follow Tamil.
“Are you being taken away by them against your wishes? If so place one palm of yours on the other.” I asked pretending to talk to my wife. She also mumbled some reply to make it appear that I and my wife were conversing.
The girl immediately brought the palms together. “Can I help you to take you away from them? If you agree then close your eyes three times in quick succession”. I found her doing the same.
“Wait. Do not get down with them as the train is stopping. If they force you scream loudly and refuse to move. Meanwhile I will get help” I said.
I went to the exit door and got hold of ticket examiner. I told him hurriedly what I saw and heard. I sought his help in saving the girl and nabbing the culprits. He readily agreed and sent one man to fetch a policeman sitting in the adjacent compartment. When I rushed back with ticket examiner and the policeman, I found the girl talking animatedly with couple in Telugu.Taken aback
I asked the girl in Tamil “What is this? You said that you were being taken away against your will. I ran to fetch you help and save you”
The girl turned to the man sand said “Naina(dad), what is this man telling me in Aravam (Tamil).He has been staring at me and talking to his wife about me all the time”
The ticket examiner asked the girl in Telugu pointing out to the man and the woman ”Who are these people?”
She replied in Telugu “My parents. Why, what is the problem?”
Both the ticket examiner and the policeman turned to me and said “Sir, you look decent. Why do you suspect innocent people and trouble us? Can I see your tickets please?”
I shrank in shame. Why did this small girl play a trick on me? Is she really the daughter? She feigns ignorance of Tamil when she understood earlier. I was in a quandary.
My wife was upset.”How does it matter which girl gets kidnapped or not? Why did you have to interfere and get humiliated like this? There is something more in this than what meets the eye in this” she said in disgust.
The train stopped at Tenali where we were bound for .We got down hastily in embarrassment. When I turned at the last moment to see the girl, she winked at me with a mischievous smile.