After attending a Sanskrit conference at Bhubaneshwar where he was one of the honourable invitees, he was to return to Madras. Reaching the Bhubaneshwar railway station, he boarded the Howrah-Madras Mail, occupied his seat, spread his bedding on the lower berth allotted to him by reservation in the first class compartment. Within minutes he started poring over the pamphlet issued to him at the conference.
As the train screeched to a halt at Khurda Road, the next junction, a TTE got into the compartment. Deeply engrossed in the pamphlet, the aged passenger did not take notice of the railway official. The query, “Show me your ticket please,” turned his attention towards the man in white pants and black coat. Dipping into the two pockets flanked on either side as also on the front of his shirt he made a shakedown for the ticket but to little avail.
His search drawing a blank, he looked desperately at the TTE admitting he had lost the ticket. “I am sorry, please alight or else pay for a fresh ticket together with the penalty,” dictated the man in uniform. Ill at ease stood the septuagenarian clad in a white shirt and a dhoti worn in Panchakacham style—adopted by priests with a parting between the legs, the garment tucked affirm at the back—lost for words. “Where are you coming from?” questioned the man in uniform, probably with some compassion for the gaffer who, in a plaintive voice, said where he was coming from and the purpose of his visit.
A burly middle-aged man watching the predicament of the hapless, helpless golden ager from the upper berth volunteered, “Hello, how much has he to pay?” Scribbling something on his pad, the official quoted a figure that was inclusive of the ticket fare and the fine. Pulling out his purse, the youth advanced the amount to the ticket examiner. Thanking the co-passenger no end for his timely assistance the man of over seventy summers asked him, “Please let me know your address; I will return the amount to you soon after reaching Madras”, courteously. The day the old man reached home he sent the amount by money order to the kind-hearted gentleman.
The greybeard was none other than my father who recounted to me the incident when I had been home on leave from an Air Force station. There are by all odds measly good Samaritans among us who as if by providence come to our succour out of the blue. Thank heavens! It was to our good luck that in the pre-cell phone era, no onlooker could feel over the moon, shoot the incident on a mobile phone and post it on social media.