K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: On the day I left Gulbarga for good, upon completion of my studies and internship, I rode to the railway station from my room on my bicycle. To make things easier for me, my friends had taken my luggage in a cycle-rickshaw a little earlier and were waiting for me on the platform.
As I entered the platform and approached them I saw uniformed men of the Police Band standing in formation a little distance away. Before I could ask someone the reason for this, one of my friends told me that an important Police Officer was arriving by the train and the band was there to receive him.
The train soon arrived and we waited for the alighting passengers to get down before I could board it. But I saw no sign of any VIP getting down which seemed rather strange.
All my friends loaded my luggage into the compartment and expecting the train to start any moment, when I started bidding farewell to them, they asked me to get down with them for a moment, which I did.
All of a sudden there was the sound of crackers bursting and as if on this cue the Police Band started playing and to my utter confusion and consternation my friends grabbed me and tossed me into the air in a series of bumps.
All the people on the platform and in the train were as confused as I was over this unexpected commotion when the station master, S. Tuppadauru accompanied by the chief ticketing clerk Sunder Raj arrived on the scene.
While for a brief moment I thought that they had come to discharge their official duties and disperse the boisterous group of medicos, the station master shook my hand vigorously and congratulated me on becoming a doctor while Sunder Raj thrust a peda into my mouth, stifling any word of protest from me.
Ghani, the over-aged porter who had always carried my luggage over the last six years of my stay at Gulbarga appeared on the scene from somewhere with his toothless grin and garlanded me before bowing down to grab my feet.
Before I could dislodge him in embarrassment, Khan, the canteen contractor who used to always make the bread toast and omelettes to the perfection that I expected, during every one of my visits to his joint over the years, grabbed me in a rib-cracking bear hug.
Very soon Pandurang, the postman, Rajanna, my dhobie and Syed, my errand boy were there too, holding back their tears behind their smiles.
I am not a person given to shedding tears easily but on that occasion I simply could not hold them back. I never expected that I would get such a warm and emotional farewell from so many people after my six-year stay at a place which many people here had warned me would be comparable to hell.
A few bits and pieces of memorabilia from my past may be of interest here.
Sunder Raj the ever-smiling chief ticketing clerk I have mentioned served at the Gulbarga railway station for many years and he was one of the most obliging persons I have seen in my life. He would somehow manage to find and arrange a berth or at least a seat on all the out-going trains for all the medical and engineering students who had to go home at short notice in an emergency.
On the few occasions when he failed in his efforts he would accompany them to the compartment and request the TTEs to make some arrangement to see that they travelled in safety and comfort. And, all this he did without expecting anything in return except a smile.
Whenever anyone exhibited even the faintest trace of anxiety or impatience, his stock phrase was “zara aaram se, zara aaram se. Hojayega,” without the slightest hint of irritation.
I discovered during a subsequent visit to Gulbarga that Ghani, the porter died a few years after I left the place and now his son Haneef has donned the red shirt, toiling on the same platform. Khan is no more too but his family still runs the canteen at Gulbarga station as it has been doing over the many years before I went there.
The Raleigh bicycle I rode all through my high schooldays into medical college and out of it was bought for me by my father from a small bicycle shop just then opened by his cousin Umar at Aldur, our native village in Chickmagalur District.
It came to Mysore in a semi-knocked down state riding in the boot of our Dodge car to be immediately assembled by my father in a night-long job to meet my expectation and exuberance of riding it to school the very next day.
On the day I rode it into St. Philomena’s College for my PUC I was approached near the cycle stand by a puny man in a torn shirt and a once white dhoti who offered to engrave my name on its handle bar for a rupee.
I immediately agreed to the proposal and before the slightest risk of my changing my mind I saw him hammering away with a tempered steel nail and a flat iron bar. In almost no time at all I saw my name adorning my bike in beautiful flowing letters. I praised his workmanship and found out that he was Subramani from Chickmagalur.
He in turn was happy that I too was from his place and he offered to engrave my name on my fountain pen for just twenty-five paise. Now, before he could change his mind I placed my still unused blue ‘Mendoz’ pen which I had bought the previous evening for seven rupees, in his hand.
I was so fascinated by his deftness that I started meeting him every morning at the cycle stand to watch him at work on other students’ bikes and pens. Not satisfied with just watching Subramani at work, I started practicing his art at home with a set of self-made engraving tools much to the chagrin of my parents who felt that I was wasting precious time on useless pursuits.
But I soon discovered that I had a knack for this work too and continued perfecting it. Soon after my marriage, when my wife and I started our life together in a story-book rural hospital on the desolate edge of ‘Veerappan Territory’ I managed to make her very happy by engraving her name on all the pots and pans we bought!
This only goes to show that none of the ‘useless’ things we learn as we go along in life are completely useless! They rarely go waste and even if they do not earn us any money they certainly may earn us much admiration.
And, if this admiration happens to come from someone we admire, the effort certainly becomes supremely worthwhile!
(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece appeared)
Photograph: courtesy Wikipedia