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ANURADHA BHATTACHARYYA

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 4/15/2017 |



Manasa loved the tunnels that she passed on her way to Pune. Initially she counted them adding 13 of them until it became dark. In the twilight, she lost count and dreamily looked out of the train window at the mist laden greenery surrounding each hill. It was her first trip to Pune and she was full of expectations. The train slowed down and rumbled into the Pune railway station. It pulled up at a platform that resounded with calls of passengers. Manasa saw a group of tourists. They carried backpacks and looked lost. They climbed out of the compartment and inhaled the warm air sonorously. Manasa copied them and tried to identify the smell. She slung her bag over her shoulder and stepped away from the train. A stream of passengers went to her left. She surmised that it must be the way to the exit and entered the stream. She was dazed at the beginning. It was a long walk along the train. Afterwards, near the exit, the crowd scattered and she could see outside.

Immediately outside the station were a host of rickshaws. The drivers left their vehicles and towed near the passengers to negotiate the fare. The passengers walked as if they would make it to their destinations on foot if the right fare was not accepted.

Manasa smelt the air once again. This time she recognized it as the smell of pineapples. Sure enough, she saw to her right a huge pile of pineapples, grapes and strawberries on a cart. The man behind the cart was busy spinning a wheel and the juice oozed out of the spout of the juice maker in quiet gushes. The sight itself rejuvenated Manasa.

Her first impulse was to have a glass of fruit juice from this vendor. But she hesitated. She was supposed to take a rickshaw to KP. Her boyfriend Dileep had excused himself. “I can’t come to pick you up, dear. I have a lecture to attend.” He had said on the phone. He instructed her to go to lane 5 of KP. “Say, ‘KP, Lane 5’ to the rickshaw-walla; ok?”

Manasa looked about her. Further right was a cart of bananas. She smiled to herself. It was quite apparent that the seller had a good time. The cart was almost empty and the bananas were scattered in sets of 2 or 3. She screwed up her nose and darted her gaze from one cart to another, unable to make up her mind. The fruit punch or the fruit meal, she thought aloud.

Glued to the spot, she recalled a recent taste of fruit juice. It was in Hyderabad. She had insisted on a use and throw plastic glass as a precaution. The juice seller had served her fresh juice from 3 oranges. The freshly peeled oranges were dropped into the funnel and the baton went after it. The wheel turned and juice oozed out into the sieve and disappeared under it.

Manasa remembered the pungent taste of the dregs of that orange juice. She regretted it immediately. Standing in front of the Pune railway station, she involuntarily shook her head and spouted a silent cry of dismay. Not the juice. The bananas are safer.

Suddenly her phone rang. She fished it out of her handbag and smiled. It was Dileep’s call. He said, “Wait there; I am on my way.”
Manasa hung up and looked about. There was no place to sit. She sensed passengers rushing out of the station again. There must have been another train. She turned round to look. Yes, there was a fresh gush of people at the exit. She did not wish to be bumped about. She hurried out of the way. She went to the right where the banana cart stood.
“Can I have some bananas please?” she asked.
“Rs. 50 for a dozen.” replied the seller.
“No. I just want to eat 2 bananas now. Or, give me 3 of them. That will be of Rs. 10. No?”
The seller took 3 bananas and a plastic carry bag. Manasa thought that she did not need the carry bag because she would eat the bananas immediately and trash the peels. She was conscious that plastic bags were non-bio-degradable and should be avoided. She said, “I don’t need the bag. Thank you” and walked away.

One by one she peeled the bananas and ate them. Clumsily she held all the peels in her hand. She looked around for a trash bin. The sky was totally dark by then. There were street lights. The rickshaws made their way out to the main road. The busses on the road roared with impatience as the passengers alighted. Many hawkers cried out their wares fearing that the day would end soon.

Manasa looked desperately around. She noticed small pieces of peels of fruits and stubs of vegetables lying under the carts. She noticed a cluster of plastics and papers lying at the bottom of the steps. She craned her neck and observed the place around the bus stand nearby. She looked across the road managing to gaze through the chink between 2 busses. All the while it buzzed in her head that there was no trash bin in the vicinity.

Dileep arrived. Manasa spotted him from a distance. It gladdened her heart. She looked around and spotted the same banana cart. Swiftly she walked up to it and asked the seller to give her a plastic carry bag. He did and she put the peels that she had been holding in her hands into it.
Dileep came closer and asked, “What’s that? Bananas?”
Manasa’s heart lighted up and she started chatting brightly. She did not answer Dileep’s question directly. She talked about the train, the tunnels and the crowd that always made her squirm. Then they climbed onto the rickshaw which Dileep had hired.

The plastic carry bag hung from Manasa’s wrist all the while. Dileep was too absorbed in her talk to notice it or ask about it again. He looked forward to dinner. He felt that it would be better to go to an eating joint before turning homewards. Once home it would take too long before they could think of going out again for dinner. So he directed the rickshaw-driver to a restaurant.
Manasa climbed out of the rickshaw sprightly. As Dileep paid and pulled out her bag, she exclaimed, “Where’s your house?”
“We’ll have dinner here and then go to the house. Ok?”
Ok, said Manasa in her head. As soon as she took a seat in the restaurant, she undid from her wrist the plastic carry bag with the banana peels in it and put it on the table. Dileep asked, “What’s this,” forgetting his first impression that those were bananas in it.
“Oh Dileep! These are bananas I had eaten at the railway station. Imagine! There were no trash bins around. I did not know what to do with the peels. So I just put them in this bag and carried it with me. Aren’t people practicing ‘Swachchha Bharat’ in Pune? The whole place was littered with trash.
Dileep was astonished. He exclaimed, “There’re only banana peels in this bag!?”
“Oh yes, wait…” said Manasa and hailed the waiter, saying “Excuse me please, could you throw this in your trash bin?”
Dileep smiled and said under his breath, “Only you are practicing ‘Swachchha Bharat’ over here I guess.”

ANURADHA BHATTACHARYYA

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