Things took a rather grim turn in my last post when I shared this story about mental health and how crippling it can be in preventing humans from pursuing their passion or even just carrying on living everyday.

This time it is death. And hence it is going to be another sad read. The pictures have almost no connection to the story but they do illustrate the idea of open spaces where I could shoot the train unhindered during the course of the project. The very open spaces that eluded me on the day when this story took place in 2017.

This would also be my last post for the foreseeable future on 35mmc.

For some reason, I have had a lot of people share their grievances with me during the course of my project covering the meter gauge trains in India for the past 3-4 years. In the year 2017, just before the onset of the scorching Indian summer, in March that I found myself in a very awkward but grief filled situation.

I was walking between the stations of Barwaha and Mukhtiara Balwada. I was hoping to catch the train from an open field where farmers were working. Unfortunately, two things were not in my favour. The first was the lining of trees on both sides of the single line track that blocked the train so I had walked pretty far with the lack of water looking for this elusive open space where I could get a clean shot of the train. The other thing that was against me was that the section I was walking in was where the train traveled at its fastest. A blistering 75 km/h (~47mph). So catching the train up close would result in considerable motion blur.

This was the kind of space I was looking for. Where I could shoot the train unhindered even if it was traveling fast.

After having covered 4 of the 10 km I met a lady seated by the tracks. She was in her fifties going by her appearance. I stepped to the side of the tracks and passed her when she called out from behind me asking “Where are you going son?”. I told her I was looking for this open area so I could shoot the train from the field. She assured me the trees lined the tracks all the way to the next station and there was no open area ahead. I wish I had met her 4 kilometres ago. I asked her if I could have some water. She immediately opened her water bottle that was wrapped in a wet jute bag. Cool water. Three sips. Heaven.
I thanked her and just as I turned around to return the bottle, she pointed to the tiny bridge over a tinier rivulet. She  said “You see that bridge? That’s where I found my sons body two years ago”. I quickly darted a glance on the bridge and turned around to face her. I asked her “That is so sad. Did he commit suicide on the tracks?”

Stupidity often results in accidents on the Indian Railways. In the search for the unique selfie, many a young life have been lost.

She said, “That’s what authorities will tell you. But we know what a body run over by a train looks like. It gets cut into pieces. He had cuts on his body. Cuts from knives or swords. Not from a train. And there was no train passing by when we found his body”

My heart beat accelerated.

She went on. “He was a man who could lift two quintals with a single hand” Being an engineer by academic qualification, I did what I knew best back then. I did the maths. I assumed she meant the imperial quintal which was about 50kilos to a quintal. Still didn’t make sense. Her son was lifting 100 kilos with one hand. I lost track of what she said during my mental maths session but I didn’t stop her.

She continued, “The headman asked me to close the case saying I’d be killed too if I took on these people who murdered my son”

This is when her husband walked in. He was the real grumpy old man, grumpier than I have ever been on Instagram. And boy was he grumpy. He had an affinity for the Hindi swear word that could be abbreviated as MC and his sentences were littered with it. It seemed appropriate when he addressed the authorities that refused to investigate his sons murder but he extend the vocabulary to his family members too.. And that’s where it started getting more awkward.

Their latest problem was a daughter in law that could not breast feed her child. The man was furious, saying, “This MC doesn’t want to feed her child and I have to pay 400 rupees every month for powdered milk.” I thought about explaining how some babies do not latch on to their mothers and its better to feed the baby off a bottle but I knew this was a losing argument. Once she asks how many kids I have, it would become an exercise in futility, so I just let them continue.

The lady supported him by saying “And she doesn’t even want to cook or look after the child. She keeps wanting to look for a job. I regret not pushing my son to study beyond his tenth grade. His salary is not enough to support his own family let alone the two of us. My first son had a strong body so he would work hard and earn money. My second son is a wastrel.”

I am a second son too. Roaming around railways tracks like a vagabond/wastrel. But I am lucky to not have a wife or a kid that needed powdered milk. She lost her son. My son is my creativity. Or whatever remains of it. It is slowly dying too. By a thousand cuts. Bringing along this project that will be, in all likelihood, left abandoned.

The train came on time and zipped past at 75km/h. By now the lady’s workers on her plot of land had gathered for their meal. They were insistent they don’t appear in the photo and I assured them the camera would be behind them so their faces wont appear in the shot. It was sufficient. The shot wasn’t good as the sun was too harsh but the mind was kinda chaotic too. Hence I have put up another photo of a railway crossing instead. Unlike that section in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh has plenty of areas where the train passes through unobstructed views from the fields.

Few things are worse than for a parent to outlive a child. Fewer things are worse than for a mother to see the murdered body of her child. And far far fewer things are worse than having to live with an injustice, helplessly, day in and day out.

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