Written by Renu Thapa, 22, Nepal
The New Delhi Railway Station was surprisingly quiet today, there weren't many passengers and I didn't spot a lot of coolies too, but the crowd outside the station was terrible as ever.
Before boarding my train, I took a mini walk across platform 7, and just like Harry Potter living under the stairs, I spotted someone hiding under a huge blanket below the stairs. Normally I would not care but it was 38 degrees outside. I knew something was wrong with that person so I crouched and hushed.
"Hey, Are you okay?"
The blanket moved a little but I got no reply.
"I am sorry if I bothered you but...anyway, take care”, I said.
Just when I was walking away the person hiding inside the blanket spoke. "Food, I want food."
It was a woman. I turned back and looked at her, she looked pale. Her hair was cut disproportionally, eye bags were noticeable, freckles were easily visible and one could easily say that she was starving for days. She wore a bright yellow saree with tiny mirror studs stuck on it.
"Uh, sure. What do you want to eat, ma'am?"
She pointed at a stall where a man was frying hot fresh bread pakoras.
"Can I have that? And some water too."
"Umm, (I hesitated) Sure."
What a crazy lady, ordering me around like she is my boss! I murmured but I had to cut some time before my train would arrive on the platform.
I got two bread pakoras and a bottle of mineral water for her and on my way back, I noticed that she was peeking outside her 'secret place' and looked petrified.
"Here, have some", I offered her the food.
She had draped that huge blanket around her face. Quickly, she snatched the food bag from my hand and ate all of it, heartily. I could tell that the bread pakoras were quite hot but she didn't flinch a bit, maybe she was starving. While eating she kept looking at my outfit and I was getting paranoid about it.
"Alright, ma'am. I-"
"I don't have money to pay for the food, instead you can do something with me or my body. Do you want to come inside? I won’t mind, you know."
I was appalled for a second there and couldn't believe what I heard.
She kept chewing the last of the bread piece and very carelessly nod her head.
"Come inside or is this too open for you?"
"Wait... no! no! I gave you this food because you looked hungry not because I wanted something. Why did you say that?"
"What's your name?"
She licked her fingers after finishing those bread pakoras and rubbed the excess oil on her blanket.
"Because you look new. I ran away from those streets in Paharganj, sir and I have met plenty of men but no man ever behaved like you. I can tell that you are nice."
At this point, I was feeling bad about her, and the fact that she thought this was normal, scared me.
"I am Amit, ma'am. Are you okay? Can’t you go back to your place?"
"Amit, Sir. I was a victim of the visa fraud racket. I thought I was going to Dubai but the agent threw us on the streets of Paharganj. I ran from the hotel two weeks back but I need money to go back home and money is not even the problem. The agent knows everyone, he will find me one way or another."
“Oh!”, I said.
"You don't have to pity me, I pity myself and curse my luck enough but at the end of the day, I have hope. I hope I can find my way back home someday. Oh look, your train has arrived, sir."
"Huh! Oh, yes, But what if you complain to the police about this?”
"Who do you think is making me stay here till now? They can't resist me and I get food and a place to live. Just this morning the station master stopped by, he got what he wanted and I got a place to stay here at least till tomorrow."
It was 38 degrees outside and the platform was boiling, but a wave of cold air touched my face. I got goosebumps all over my body and just stood there like a statue.
It was time for my train to leave, the driver blew a horn and the train slowly started moving.
"Sir, your train is moving. Thanks for the food and in case you want to help, go help my friends from the streets of Paharganj. Some of them still dream of leading a normal life. I have hopes too but I know it is impossible."
She draped that blanket around her body, again and curled inside the stairs.
Meanwhile, I was just standing there with thousands of questions inside my head. I was questioning my privilege there. My train was moving, my mind was running all over the place but my feet couldn’t move, it glued to the station platform.
I turned back, looked at the lady one more time, and thought to myself, "One world but so many different stories"