Ernakulam-Barauni Express, Katpadi railway station.
A few days back
He woke up when I got in.
“Katpadi thaana?” (Is it Katpadi?) He asked in Tamil, rubbing his eyes.
“Yes.” I answered, as I pushed my luggage under the berth.
“This train was supposed to be here at 3,” he said in Malayalam.
“Late aayathu kondu enikku ee train kitti!” (I got this train because it was late!) I replied in Malayalam.
“Aaha! Naattil evideya?” (Where’s your place?)
“Working in Chennai?”
“I am also working in Chennai.”
“You are from?”
“I am from Kannur.”
And we started a chat on the nostalgic trips to home. For him, it was twice-a-year affair. For me, thanks to the compensation off facility in my office, it has become almost once in two months.
“I have to get down at Shornur and then catch a bus to Kannur. Trains to Kannur is not that frequent,” he said.
“Isn’t bus trip tiring?” I asked.
“Ya, buddy. But this is more convenient than waiting for the train. And it is faster too, unless there is some problem like break down or strike,” he explained.
“Ya, strike. Who would know better than one from Kannur?” I said, remembering the news reports of the bloodshed between the hindutva cadre and the leftists, which had been an annual affair once.
“Kannur town is relatively peaceful, buddy. It is the interiors that are troublesome. Areas such as Nadapuram and Panoor… I am from Panoor. You know the area, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. Panoor was notorious for local-made bombs, and many blasts too.
“The rift between the political parties has affected even family ties. A Marxist won’t go to the house of a BJP man for any function, not even for the last rites of a family member,” he said.
Back in my place, social ties were not affected to this extend by politics. Ours was a family of Left supporters, and my father’s uncle was a noted Kerala Congress leader!
“Even areas are segregated as Marxist and BJP dominions. Marriages in between a Marxist family and a BJP one is quite unthinkable,” he continued.
“How would you know which area are you in?” I asked.
“That’s simple. If the flag at the next junction is red, you are in Marxist area. If it is saffron, you are in BJP area.”
“How would they treat outsiders?” I asked.
“You have to change according to the area you are in. There is an unwritten rule in the BJP area that there should be lamps in front of very houses on the Janmashtami day. Once there was a newly transferred postmaster who went out of town on the day. There was not even a bulb burning in his house that day. The house was ransacked the next day and he was beaten to pulp. He promptly secured a transfer the very next week.”
“Which side are you in?” I asked him.
“Buddy, I had a tough time staying away from politics. Luckily I found a job and got out. There are many who have lost their family, career and sometimes lives,” he finished with a deep breath.
This was nothing short of a shock to me. I had heard about the social segregation in North India. Weekly reports come to my office about the social discrimination faced by the panchayat presidents in Madurai because they were Dalits. But in Kerala?I was always proud to be a Malayalee. Maybe he exaggerated. Maybe he was biased. But if it is true, then shame on me!