I am just getting used to traveling by the Chennai metro rails. Or any metro rails for that matter.
We shifted our house a week ago close to Mambalam and I have learnt that the easiest and fastest way to commute to office is by the train. By which other mode of transport can you cover 10 kms in less than 15 minutes, in Chennai?
Moreover there were no traffic signals. No early morning bargaining on auto fares. A first class season ticket would cost me a meagre Rs. 320 and I am good to go for a whole month.
Yet, I was sulking this morning. It was a morning to get cosy after the heavy showers. I overslept.
And was late for work.
As I de-trained at the Egmore station, cursing the rains, which had turned the platforms into a dingy, stinking mess – I saw a fellow-passenger.
A blind man who with the help of his long cane, kept touching the platform every now and then, was trying to figure out whether the next step was safe. I was amused.
And soon, I was following him.
I wanted to help.
However, typical of the educated, tech-savvy, value conscious, urban adult I was, I wanted to make sure he deserved my time and attention.
I waited to ensure that he was blind indeed.
His cane went on tapping it’s way into a filthy dustbin and then came out, as if revolted by the stench.
‘Hmmm… must definitely be blind then’.
I wanted to help.
But then, a website tells me that the train I came in, has the capacity to carry 1580 passengers at a time. So, why me?
As I was lost deep in thoughts, I saw a good Samaritan help the blind man go up the stairs. The steep and narrow staircases are a daily nightmare to me in spite of having a corrected 6 by 6 vision, thanks to my spectacles! However, the good Samaritan seemed to be in a hurry and left the man half way through. Meanwhile, the daily conflict between passengers trying to go up and down the stairs was reaching its climax. People kept pushing or pulling each other as they held on to their larger-than-life luggage.
I struggled to keep up.
The blind man had reached the top of the stairs and climbed on to the bridge, which connected all the platforms. He continued at a slow pace, tapping away with his cane. Farther down stood another blind man, begging for his daily alms. Someone, I was used to seeing and ignoring every day.
The first blind man was walking right into the latter one, who seemed completely unaware of the imminent danger. I thought they may collide. So did everyone else, yet they just walked by.
I wanted to help.
But, then the two men somehow knew. They gave a cry of acknowledgment to each other and the first one stepped to the side. And continued his way ahead.
I could be a spectator no more. I went ahead and held the man by his shoulder. And tried to show him the way. He immediately stopped tapping his stick, trusting me – a complete stranger, to lead.
I asked him where he was headed to.
‘Anna Salai. How about you?’
I kept pressing his shoulder and mumbling to turn left, right, walk straight and he followed like an obedient student. Suddenly, he offered me his palm and said,
‘Can you hold my hand instead?’
The feminist in me was awakened. Why would he want to hold my hand? Does he want to feel the softness of my palm and derive some sort of sexual pleasure (is there any?) from it? Or is he part of some gang which kidnaps, rapes or kills vulnerable girls like me? Will he drag me into a black mini-van, abduct me and turn me into a blind beggar myself?
I shrugged at the thought of it. Yet, I reluctantly offered him my hand.
As he held on, I noticed that his hands were weak. That hold to him was only an assurance that I would not let him fall. It told him when to stop and when to slow down. It told him that I wouldn’t just abandon him half way, but would get him to where he wanted to go.
‘Where do I leave you?’
‘Please take me to the bus stop just outside the station. The bus numbers are 27D and 21A.’
I guided him out of the station, as amused onlookers stared at us – the unusual duo.
A '21A' bus was just pulling out of the bus stop. I desperately waved trying to tell them that a blind man wanted to board the bus. The driver smirked and sped away.
I waited with him, hand-in-hand, until the next bus came in. People swarmed around the doors, to be the first ones to board and alight. We were lost in the chaos. I somehow managed to let him get on to the bus and then let go. He was lost into the crowd of passengers.
No words were exchanged.
And I walked on.
I did not feel bad though.
The blind man had no privileges.
For, we all live in a blind world.