Rajasthan had always been a fascinating place for me, stories of courage and loyalty written in blood. The land of the Rajputs. And going to Jaisalmer meant I would be witnessing the "Thar desert" for the first time.
Thankfully it was a quiet afternoon and I had finally managed to stretch my legs .I decided to close my eyes and enjoy the local music that had floated through the air from the other end of the coach.
"Ex-cuze-meh"! A rough heavy voice startled me.
Before me was a towering man with a brown weathered face, clad in a local white attire, asking me to shift aside a little as he wanted to sit 'for a little while and get down at the next station'. I had been hearing this since morning and it had got onto my nerves.
"Jagah nahi hai! Kahi aur jayee". There is no place here, please go somewhere else.
To my surprise, this guy did not stand there even for a second and quietly walked away, quite unlike the others who had pestered me all morning. Feeling accomplished after turning him away without much effort, I returned to my preoccupation of gazing past the rusted iron rods of the window and abstaining myself from any possible body movement. A sudden commotion forced me to look inside and I found that the same guy had made himself comfortable on the opposite seat with an almost discolored shawl wrapped around him.
I found it a bit weird for someone to feel so cold on a hot day like that.
He had removed his shoes and was sitting cross-legged. A rugged dusty shoe meant he did a lot of walking. My eyes lingered beyond the shoes on the abandoned empty biscuit wrapper that had elevated itself due to the wind and was moving in a circular path nearby; when they suddenly noticed a red drop falling on the floor.
It was blood.
I did no know how to react. The red blob that fell was fresh which meant that this guy had hurt himself quite recently and was in pain. Yet he showed no discomfort or irritation. And the brown shawl made sure I did not see where he had hurt himself! A sudden gust of loo forced the edges of the shawl to flutter. It was immediately repositioned in a desperate haste by the owner. But my eyes were quick enough to register what lay beneath it and the hair at the back of my neck froze as I saw the edge of his dhoti to be stained in blood. A lot of blood.
I decided not to look at him and forced myself to count the cotton candies that had littered the autumn sky. The train was slowing down which meant Jaisalmer was near. Within minutes I could see the tracks diverging and that somehow pulled me up.
I looked inside, at his feet, near his shoes. A small pool of blood had accumulated. He had paid no heed to it and was putting his feet down. The train came to a screeching halt.
Suddenly four men in plain clothes appeared from either exits and caught hold of him. It all happened in a flash and I had no time to register and respond. The dhoti guy tried to run away and in the process dropped his shawl. The sight that unfolded were beyond my wildest dreams. His white dress had been drenched in blood, but it was not his. He sprinted with a 'hand of a woman, clad in gold bangles, cut from the elbow'. Blood still dripped from its end. The police went after the red marks which had smeared the floor!!
Train rides have been an integral part of my growing up years and have given me an opportunity to understand the intricate cultural fabric that is INDIA!
P.S. based on true incident.