The train was late, a full hour late for the record. I was bristling in irritation. Cursing the Indian Railways, I tried to delve deep into Suketu Mehta’s “Maximum City”. I was reading about the narrator’s experiences in getting a faulty plumbing fixed that the seat opposite to me got occupied. To my immense luck that day, I was not surprised not to find a youngster in the seat. On the contrary, it was a man old enough to be my father. He was tall, I noticed, sporting a neat white shirt and grey pants. The shoes were patent leather. A prominent gold crucifix shone on his neck.
” To Kochi?”He asked in crisp English.
I stammered “Yes! Well, not exactly, my tickets are for Kochi,” not used to being talked to by strangers.
I looked intently on to his face. He was handsome with his salt-and-pepper hair and a very good physique, giving him the benefit of his age that is. It was his face; it bore an ugly scar, right across his right cheek
“A rich Achayan* who probably had some business rivals.” I noted mentally.
“No”, He replied, smiling, as if reading my thoughts,” It was an accident.”
I turned a bright shade of beet root.” I didn’t mean to be judgmental,” I said looking guilty and hastily closing my book.
“Hello. I am Jeremiah George. Everyone calls me Jerry. You can call me Uncle Jerry.” He offered an introduction.
Still dazed out of the embarrassing behavior from self, I managed a feeble introduction of myself, “I’m Radhika Krishnan” (I did not add, everybody calls me Radical Krishnan. Duh! ).
Though a planter by profession, an extremely rich one at that, Uncle Jerry was a mechanical engineering graduate. He graduated around the time when getting a job was not easy in India. A political storm was brewing in India with the emergency declaration. No matter how qualified one was; the jobs were not there. A “No Vacancy” board hung perpetually over every office.
Uncle Jerry worked for a couple of organizations as an intern and then as field engineer. It was sometime in 1979, he got an offer to join the merchant navy. He was all set to sail, having cleared the interviews and the routine health check up. “Job Ahoy!” young Uncle Jerry had screamed at the shipyard after receiving his confirmation letter.
Uncle Jerry thanked his stars and as advised by his mother decided to pay a tribute to God. On the day before sailing, when his fellow sailors decided to go for a movie, Uncle Jerry borrowed a friend’s bike and went to a nearby church. The patron saint of the church was known to be the protector of sailors. He prayed for a long time in the silence of the house of God. He asked Him to protect and provide.
It was around six in the evening by the time he left the church. The sky was dark with clouds. The wind was blowing hard. ”Monsoons!” Uncle Jerry said looking up at the sky where rain was raring to shower down. By nature, a careful driver, he drove slowly back to his lodging. Rain pelted down in big drops, not having any place to take shelter, left with no alternative, the young man continued driving. Suddenly a bright light flashed across his face followed by a clamorous thunder. Uncle Jerry was blinded for a moment, only a moment, and sometimes a moment is all it takes to loose everything. He lost his balance and fell head along on the road.
When he opened his eyes, he was in the hospital bed with his mother sitting next to him. He was in pain. More than the physical pain, the sorrow of his inability to sail hurt him the most. Many a day, lying in the bed recuperating his broken bones he cursed Lord for being heartless. If he had gone for the movie with his friends, he would have been onboard in the high seas. Uncle Jeremy thought sarcastically as he ran his fingers over the scar he was to have for a lifetime,” Lord, I had come to ask for your blessings, you blessed me for a lifetime with a scar.”
I stared at the scar and was chilled by the unfairness with which life had treated him. “To tell you the truth, now this scar is a reminder of His irrefutable presence in my life!”
Before I could ask how or why, he continued, kissing the golden crucifix,” Did you know which the ship I was to sail with was? It was Kairali, the ship owned by Assesse.”
Kairali, it rang an ominous bell. An episode every Keralite wished had never happened. Color drained from my face and a sliver of pain shot through my chest. ”Kairali…, the ship that...”
“Athe Kutty**, the same ship that went missing on the high seas without a trace in July 1979.With 53 people on board, till date no one knows what happened to it.”
I looked out through the rusty train window bars, letting the enormity of the entire narrative sink in. I watched the houses, lampposts, roads and trees rush by, as the train trundled forward. “A dream job, an accident and a revelation,” I closed my eyes murmuring,” Strange are Thy ways”
Uncle Jerry called out, “Hey, we are reaching Kochi.”
Uncle Jerry helped me with luggage to the platform. He was waving at me as the train started to move,” God Bless you my child!” I waved at him, eyes moist. I stood on the platform, waving, until the train was not but a speck on the horizon. Then the rains tumbled down from heavens above, washing away the remnants of all doubts, if there were any.
*Achayan : is a term used to address elder males belonging to the Saint Thomas Christians or Syrian Malabar Nasranis, irrespective of denomination, hailing from central and southern parts of Kerala corresponding to the former Travancore kingdom.
**Athe Kutty: Yes, Child
Kairali, a merchant ship, which left Kochi Port, was declared missing as on July 3, 1979. No details are available as to how the ship went missing or no debris found to date. My father lost one of his classmates to the dark episode. I hope we do find an answer to this.
This post was written for:
Do not look surprised. My middle name is AmbitiuousDreamious. Okei. That was a PJ.