The One-Rupee Coin
Some incidents become part of life. I have experienced such an incident. But I am unable to settle whether I should feel wretched or fortunate.
Whenever I recall it, it brings tears to my eyes. Of course, it is painful, but I can say with conviction that it gives fullness to my life.
It goes thirty years back when I was a college student in Delhi. Summer holidays were about to begin. Mummy had been insisting on me for a trip to Patna. She was asking me to give a visit to Auntie. I tried to convince her some other time, but Mummy was not ready to listen to anything further on the topic.
So many times, I had been listening to Mummy and how Auntie helped her.
It did not mean that I was not willing to pay my respect to Auntie. She had always been kind to me. She was as respectable as Mummy to me, but I had never been comfortable in her commanding presence.
Besides, our college colleagues had a planned trip to Darjeeling in the summer holidays, which I was not ready to sacrifice.
Mummy was determined to ruin my Darjeeling excursion, and I had no choice.
It was Sunday. Mummy accompanied me up to the main door and reminded me, again and again, to take all care on the journey. I promised to obey her instructions and walked up to the main road to catch a bus. While waiting for the vehicle of commutation, I looked up at the sky. The white patches of clouds in the blue sky appeared to me as if they were surfing in the ocean. The honking bus caught my attention, and I left the carefree clouds to enjoy their sports copiously without being the least affected by my staring at them. The buses were exceptionally overcrowded. I hired an auto rickshaw for New Delhi Railway Station.
Auntie Ruby gave me a warm welcome. She has been living alone in the mansion since the sad demise of her husband and only son in a car accident. It does not mean that she is the lone person in the house. The mansion is full of servants and maids, but none of her relatives lives there with her. Her husband has left a fortune of millions to her, and she manages everything with confidence and absolute authority.
I knew that Auntie loved and adored me as her son, but I had not expected so much affection and warmth from her. There was no trace of her authoritative attitude I was so worried about.
Human beings are complex characters. And I always fail to judge them properly. During my stay, I realized that the servants and maids in that house were as good as close relatives. They do not perform by any command but by devotion to my aunt.
Not one week, but I had to stay there straight two weeks. Auntie was asking me to stay there for some more days. Somehow I took her leave and promised to see her next summer. Despite my resistance, she gave me a bag full of cookies and cakes, a fifteen-litre water carrier and a wallet stuffed with twenty crisp hundred rupee banknotes.
While touching her feet, I saw tears welling up in her eyes. She did not try to wipe her tears with the corner of her sari as my mother does.
The train was on time. It began to move, and I settled down in my allotted lower side berth. All the berths got occupied in no time except two of them. The vacant berths were opposite me on the right side.
I looked out through the windows. The train was passing through the meadows. The sun was already on its way to cooling down. The tiredness of the day-long journey was unmistakably visible on its face. Yes, the sun was about to set.
It was around 9.30 PM. The train stopped for a few minutes. It was not a big station, but a crowd of passengers were waiting on its platform. The train started to gather momentum, and suddenly my attention got diverted to the vacant berths, which were not unoccupied any more.
The two beautiful girls were there. There was hardly any difference between them, at least in their appearance. They must have been twins.
Slowly one after another, the passengers began to make their beds to sleep in, and quickly the snoring became the only prominent sound of the compartment.
As per my old habit, I woke up early in the morning and freshened up. While I was trying to engross in the novel, one of the twin girls came to me and asked for my permission to sit on my berth as all the passengers were sleeping except me.
Naturally, I obliged her with my utmost pleasure. I was right that they were twins. She was Anika, whereas the name of her sister was Ava. Both were studying at Medical College in Patna. She was an early riser like me.
After some time, Ava also joined us in conversation. Within hours we mingled very well. We shared the snacks, water and our views on various subjects.
The number of passengers in the compartment was getting thinner as the train had been closer to its destination.
Anika was wonderful. I began to like her but could not dare to ask for her address or contact number.
I wished to spend more time in their beautiful company, but the train was eager to reach its destination to steal my happiness.
Ultimately, the train reached New Delhi Station. Our friendship was so short-lived. We came together up to the taxi stand. Before our departure, Anika handed over a small packet to me.
“What is it?”
“A departing gift from a friend.”
“May I open it right now?”
“Not at all. You will open it after getting home.”
I was curious but did not open the packet in the taxi.
Mummy asked me many questions about Auntie Ruby, and I tried my best to answer all of her questions, but she was not satisfied with my answers. Sessions of questions were to be for many periods; I was sure of that.
At midnight, I opened the gift packet. It was a tiny golden coin – case having a one-rupee in it. It reminded me of the beautiful face of Anika, a wonderful co-passenger who accepted me as her friend. I put the coin – case carefully in my study table drawer and locked it.
Summer holiday was over, and I came back to my hostel.
In every summer holiday, I used to look at it every morning like a ritual.
After some years, I finished college and got a job.
Mummy selected a bride for me, and I got married as well. Everything was going fine.
One day Mummy came to my room suddenly and saw the coin – case in my hand:
“Have you purchased something for your wife?” – she asked.
“No.” – I replied.
I told her everything about that incident. Mummy held the one-rupee coin in her hand and examined it. She was serious. She handed the case back.
“What is the matter?” – I asked.
“You should have told me earlier,” she said; and left the room.
I was at a loss to see my mother crying. When she recovered, I requested her to tell me everything. Mummy informed me that Anika is no more. I was shocked.
Mummy knew Anika’s family. She asked me why I did not contact Anika. I explained to her that I did not have her contact number. Mummy revealed to me that the contact number was in the gift. I re-examined the coin and cried; the number was on the tail of it.
Mummy asked me to free the soul of Anika from the bond of my friendship by throwing the coin into the river.
I touched the coin, kissed and threw it in the river with trembling hands and moist eyes. Somewhere the train was whistling.