It was the blue eyes that caught Raja’s attention. Amidst the pushing and shoving that was common on platform 1 of Pune Railway Station at this early morning hour, he froze all at once. How could one look at anything else after staring at Innocence in the face? An unseen force drew him towards the owner of those eyes … a tiny baby girl who seemed to lock glances with Raja and communicate directly to his heart.
Raja looked around and saw the baby’s mother, a slightly built lady not much into her twenties. Not very well to do, he thought to himself, but obviously had good taste in saris. She saw the chemistry develop between Raja and her child, and hesitantly offered the child for Raja to hold. Keeping his briefcase down, Raja picked up the girl and lost himself in the kootchie-koo of cuddling the baby. When the girl responded to his affections by smiling toothlessly and wildly flaying her arms about, Raja forgot himself and time stood still.
He came back to his senses and to the platform when a sudden burst of activity indicated the Pragati Express had arrived from the yard. Time to go, he thought to himself, and turned to return the baby to her lucky mother. The mother was gone, and so was his briefcase.
Raja was a hard working and upright young man with a logical mind that had often rescued him from difficult situations. But this situation was the toughest one of his life. He had to take the train to Dadar under any circumstances since he had an important meeting with a customer fixed for the afternoon. The papers for his meeting were in his briefcase, but that was something Raja could manage since he had sent a copy to his customer in advance. The problem was the child. He could not possibly leave her on the platform. Nor could he hand her over to the police – she was too innocent and the police force was too crude to be able to handle innocence.
The guard’s whistle and the train’s horn made the decision for Raja. He jumped into the compartment with the baby in his arms.
Throughout the journey, the baby kept Raja occupied by staring into his eyes with her lovely blue eyes. His co-passengers envied him, thinking she was his baby daughter. An elderly lady even asked him how it came about that he was traveling alone with the child, and where was his wife etc. Raja’s mind was torn between paying attention to the baby and thinking how to get out the jam he found himself in.
After what looked like a very long journey, Raja alighted at Dadar and made his way towards the taxi stand. He was still not sure what he should do about the baby. One thing was certain – whatever his decision, he would ensure the safety of the child.
As he stood in the queue for the taxi, many different ideas ran through his head. He could leave her at the orphanage. He could leave her with his mother – she seemed to have a way with kids and would know what to do. The thought of handing her over to the police crossed his mind again, but then the Mumbai police would probably argue over jurisdiction. He could just leave her somewhere, but then his heart was not made of stone. He mechanically moved forward in the queue mulling all these ideas.
Glancing around casually, he saw the police leading some criminals handcuffed to each other out of the platform. Most of them looked capable of committing crimes, but they also looked very poor. He was not sure if he should hate them or sympathize with them. And then he saw her. The same slight frame. The same yellow and pink sari. It was the same lady who had offered her child to him!
As the entourage cut across the taxi stand queue, the lady walked right past Raja. He saw no remorse in her eyes. Instead, he saw poverty and helplessness. He also saw his briefcase in the hands of the policeman leading her to the waiting van.
Instinctively, he stepped out of the queue to ask for it. But then, the thought crossed his mind that he will have to return the baby to her, and he shuddered to think that this sweet blue-eyed baby might one day in the future be caught doing something similar.
Raja froze for the second time that morning. He returned to the queue, deciding to sacrifice his briefcase in order to give a better life to the child.
Once in the taxi, Raja took out his mobile phone and called his customer to cancel the appointment on the pretext that he had missed the train. He then called his mother in Pune to let her know he is bringing a baby home. It took some time for him to explain his predicament, and at the end of the call he was not quite sure she understood.
He then asked the taxi wallah to drop him off at the Asiad bus stand. He got some biscuits and a bottle of milk for the baby and waited for the next bus to Pune.
An elderly gentleman waiting for the bus alongside him asked him what the baby’s name was. Raja looked at the smiling baby and said with a faraway look in his eyes, “Pragati”.