The Woman on Platform 8 – Ruskin Bond
It was my second year at boarding school, and I was sitting on platform no. 8 at Ambala station waiting for the northern bound train. I think I was about twelve at the time. My parents considered me old enough to travel alone and I had arrived by bus at Ambala early in the evening. Now there was a wait till midnight before my train arrived. Most of the time I had been pacing up and down the platform, browsing at the bookstall, or feeding broken biscuits to stray dogs: trains came and went, and the platform would be quiet for a while and then, when a train arrived it would be an inferno of heaving, shouting, agitated human bodies. As the carriage doors opened, a tide of people would sweep down upon the nervous little ticket- collector at the gate and every time this happened I would be caught in the rush and swept outside the station. Now tired of this game and of ambling about the platform, I sat down on my suitcase and gazed dismally across the railway tracks.
Trolleys rolled past me and I was conscious of the cries of the various vendors -the men who sold curds and lemon, the sweet meat seller, the newspaper boy-but I had lost interest in all that went on along the busy platform, and continued to stare across the railway tracks, feeling bored and a little lonely.
'Are you all alone, my son?' asked a soft voice close behind me. I looked up and saw a woman standing near me. She was leaning over, and I saw a pale face, and dark kind eyes. She wore no jewels, and was dressed very simply in a white sari. “Yes, I am going to school,” I said, and stood up respectfully; she seemed poor, but there was a dignity about her that commanded respect. ‘I have been watching you for some time,’ she said 'Didn't your parents come to see you off?' 'I don't live here' I said. 'I had to change trains anyway, I can travel alone.' ‘I am sure you can,’ she said, and I liked her for saying that and I also liked her for the simplicity of her dress and for her deep soft voice and the serenity of her face.
‘Tell me, what is your name?' She asked. 'Arun,’ I said. 'And how long do you have to wait for your train?' 'About an hour, I think. It comes at twelve o'clock.’ Then come with me and have something to eat.
I was going to refuse out of shyness and suspicion, but she took me by the hand, and then I felt it would be silly to pull my hand away. She told a coolie to look after my suitcase, and then she led me away down the platform. Her hand was gentle, and she held mine neither too firmly nor too lightly. I looked up at her again. She was not young. And she was not old. She must have been over thirty but, had she been fifty, I think she would have looked much the same.
She took me into the station dining-room, ordered tea and samosas and jalebies, and at once I began to thaw and take a new interest in this kind woman. The strange encounter had little effect on my appetite. I was a hungry school boy, and l ate as much as I could in as polite a manner as possible. She took obvious pleasure in watching me eat, and I think it was the food that strengthened the bond between us and cemented our friendship, for under the influence of the tea and sweets I began to talk quite freely, and told her about my school, my friends, my likes and dislikes. She questioned me quietly from time to time, but preferred listening; she drew me out very well, and I had soon forgotten that we were strangers. But she did not ask me about my family or where I lived, and I did not ask her where she lived. I accepted her for what she had been to me — a quiet, kind and gentlewoman who gave sweets to a lonely boy on a railway platform...
After about half-an-hour we left the dining-room and began walking back along the platform. An engine was shunting up and down beside platform No.8 and as it approached, a boy leapt off the platform and ran across the rails, taking a short cut to the next platform. He was at a safe distance from the engine, and there was no danger unless he had fallen; but as he leapt across the rails, the woman clutched my arm. Her fingers dug into my flesh, and I winced with pain. I caught her fingers and looked up at her, and I saw a spasm of pain and fear and sadness pass across her face. She watched the boy as he climbed other platform, and it was not until he had disappeared in the crowd that she relaxed her hold on my arm. She smiled at me reassuringly, and took my hand again: but her fingers trembled against mine.
'He was all right,' I said, feeling that it was she who needed reassurance. She smiled gratefully at me and pressed my hand. We walked together in silence until we reached the place where I had left my suitcase. One of my schoolfellows, Satish, a boy of about my age, had turned up with his mother.
'Hello, Arun!’ he called. 'The train's coming in late, as usual. Did you know we have a new Headmaster this year?' We shook hands, and then he turned to his mother and said: 'This is Arun, mother. He is one of my friends, and the best bowler in the class.’ 'l am glad to know that,' said his mother, a large imposing woman who wore spectacles. She looked at the woman who led my hand and said: 'And I suppose you're Arun's mother?'
I opened my mouth to make some explanation, but before I could say anything the woman replied: 'Yes I am Arun's mother.' I was unable to speak a word. I looked quickly up at the woman, but she did not appear to be at all embarrassed, and was smiling at Satish’s mother.
Satish's mother said: 'It’s such a nuisance having to wait for the train right in the middle of the night. But one can’t let the child wait here alone. Anything can happen to a boy at a big station like this, there are so many suspicious characters hanging about. These days one has to be very careful of strangers.'
'Arun can travel alone though,' said the woman beside me, and somehow I felt grateful to her for saying that. I had already forgiven her for lying: and besides, I had taken an instinctive dislike to Satish's mother.
'Well, be very careful Arun,' said Satish's mother looking sternly at me through her spectacles. 'Be very careful when your mother is not with you, and never talk to strangers!'
I looked from Satish's mother to the woman who had given me tea and sweets, and then back at Satish's mother. 'I like strangers,’ I said. Satish's mother definitely staggered a little, as obviously she was not used to being contradicted by small boys. 'There you are, you see! If you don't watch over them all the time, they'll walk straight into trouble. Always listen to what your mother tells you,’ she said wagging a fat little finger at me. 'And never, never talk to strangers.'
I glared resentfully at her, and moved closer to the woman who had befriended me. Satish was standing behind his mother, grinningat me, and delighting in my clash with his mother. Apparently he was on my side. The station bell clanged, and the people who had till now been squattingresignedly on the platform began hustling about. 'Here it comes,' shouted Satish, as the engine whistle shrieked and the front lights played over the rails.
The train mowed slowly into the station, the engine hissing and sending out waves of steam. As it came to a stop, Satish jumped on the footboard of a lighted compartment and shouted, 'Come on, Arun, this one's empty!' and I picked up my suitcase and made a dash for the open door.
We placed ourselves at the open windows, and the two women stood outside on the platform, talking to us. Satish's mother did most of the talking.
‘No don't jump on and off moving trains, as you did just now,' she said. 'And don't stick your heads out of the windows, and don't eat any rubbish on the way.’ She allowed me to share the benefit of her advice, as she probably didn't think my 'mother' a very capable person. She handed Satish a bag of fruit, a cricket bat and a big box of chocolates, and told him to share the food with me. Then she stood back from the window to watch how my 'mother' behaved.
I was smarting under the patronizing tone of Satish's mother, who obviously thought mine a very poor family: and I did not intend giving the other woman away. I let her take my hand in hers, but I could think of nothing to say. I was conscious of Satish's mother staring at us with hard, beady eyes, and I found myself hating her with a firm, unreasoning hate. The guard walked up the platform, blowing his whistle for the train to leave. I looked straight into the eyes of the woman who held my hand, and she smiled in a gentle understanding way. I leaned out of the window then, and put my lips to her cheek, and kissed her.
The carriage jolted forward, and she drew her hand away.
'Goodbye, mother!’ said Satish, as the train began to move slowly out of the station. Satish and his mother waved to each other.
'Good-bye,’ I said to the other woman, Goodbye — mother ...'
I didn't wave or shout, but sat still in front of the window, gazing at the woman on the platform. Satish's mother was talking to her, but she didn't appear to be listening; she was looking at me, as the train took me away. She stood there on the busy platform, a pale sweet woman in white, and I watched her until she was lost in the milling crowd.
About the Author:
Ruskin Bond is a short story writer, novelist and poet, the favourite writer of Indian children. His first novel, Room on the Roof, was published when he was still in his teens. This novel won him the John Rhys Memorial Award in 1957. He also writes about children and the simple hill folk of Uttarakhand. Simplicity and fluency of language and an insight into human nature are hallmarks of his style. His major writings include An Island of Trees, A Bond with the Mountains and The India I Love. He has also been honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Indian literature.
inferno (n) – a place or situation that is too hot chaotic or noisy
heaving (v) – to raise or lift with force
dismally (adv) – cheerless
serenity (n) – that state of being calm
encounter (v) – brief meeting
clutched (v) – grasped (something) tightly
imposing (adj) – grand and impressive in appearance
embarrassed (v) – felt awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed
nuisance (n) – causing inconvenience or annoyance
staggered (v) – walked or moved unsteadily, as if about to fall
wagging (v) – move rapidly to and fro
resentfully (adv) – feeling or expressing bitterness or indignation at having been treated unfairly
grinning (v) – smiling broadly
squatting (v) – crouch or sit with one's knees bent and one's heels close to or touching the back of one's thighs
hustling (v) – push roughly; jostle
shrieked (v) – uttered a high-pitched piercing sound
mowed (v) – moved slowly into the crowded station
patronizing (adj) – treat in a way that is apparently kind
obviously (adv) – in a way that is easily perceived or understood clearly
jolted (v) – pushed abruptly and roughly
Choose the best answer.
1. Satish's mother handed to her son ____________.
a. bag of pencil
b. bag of vegetables
c. big box of chocolates
d. cricket ball
Ans: c. big box of chocolates
2. The train would come at ____________.
a. one o’ clock
b. twelve o’ clock
c. two o’ clock
d. eleven o’ clock
Ans: b. twelve o’ clock
3. The strange lady gave ______ to Arun.
a. coffee and vadai
b. tea and bajji
c. tea and samosas
d. black tea and cake
Ans: c. tea and samosas
4. Arun was sitting on platform _________ .
a. no. 7
b. no. 8
c. no. 4
d. no. 3
Ans: b. no.8
5. Satish and Arun were ________ years old boys.
Ans: a. 12
Match the following.
1. woman in white - mother of Satish
2. train - boy of same age
3. bowler - dressed simply
4. Satish - waves of stream
5. spectacles - Arun
1. woman in white - dressed simply
2. train - waves of stream
3. bowler - Arun
4. Satish - boy of same age
5. spectacles - mother of Satish
Identify the character.
1. I am glad to know that.
Ans: Mother of Satish
2. Are you all alone, my son?
Ans: Strange lady
3. Yes, I am going to school.
4. He is one of my friends.
5. Goodbye mother.
Answer the following questions.
1. Where was Arun sitting?
Ans: Arun was sitting on platform no. 8 at Ambala station.
2. What was the expected arrival time of the train?
Ans: The train would arrive at the midnight, 12 O’ Clock.
3. What were the sights Arun had seen on the platform?
Ans: Arun saw a tide of people, the cries of various vendors and the newspaper boy.
4. What did the vendors sell?
Ans: The vendors were selling curds and lemon, the sweet meet, the newspaper.
5. How did the woman appear?
Ans: The woman had a pale face and dark kind eyes. She wore no jewels and was dressed very simply in a white saree.
6. Where was Arun travelling to?
Ans: Arun was traveling to his boarding school.
7. What did the woman buy for him?
Ans: The woman bought samosas and jalebis. She also ordered tea for Arun.
8. What was the advice of Sathish’s mother?
Ans: Sathish’s mother advised Arun to not to talk to strangers
9. What were Arun’s last words?
Ans: Aruns last words were “Goodbye – mother”.
10. What was the reaction of the woman at the end?
Ans: The strange woman held the hand of Arun and she smiled in a gentle understanding way.
Arun – Small boy on the way to school
Sathish – Arun’s friend
Strange lady – One lady who accompanied Arun while his waiting for train in platform 8
Sathish’s mother – Sathish’s mother accompanied Sathish while he was on the way to the school.
1. Arun was in _____ year at the boarding school?
Ans: 2nd year
2. Arun was waiting for _____ bound train?
3. Why were Arun parent’s didn’t accompany him?
Ans: They consider him to be old enough to travel alone
4. What was Arun doing to make the time pass?
Ans: Pacing up and down the platform, browsing at the bookstall, or feeding broken biscuits to stray dogs.
5. Arun was sitting on
Ans: his suitcase
6. Why Arun was unable to reject the strange lady’s request to have something to eat?
Ans: Before Arun was going to refuse, the lady took him by her hand and Arun felt that it would be silly to pull his hand away.
7. What were the things Arun said the lady when they were in the dinning?
Ans: Arun said about his school, his friends, his likes and dislikes
8. The time spent by Arun and the strange lady in the dinning room is?
Ans: about half-an-hour
9. When the engine was shunting up and down beside platform No.8, and as it approached, who leapt off the platform and ran across the rails, taking a short cut to the next platform?
a) Arun b) Sathish c) another boy d) All the above
Ans: c) another boy
10. “Did you knew we have a new headmaster this year”? – Who said these words to whom?
Ans: Sathish to Arun
11. When Sathish’s mother enquired about the lady who she was, what were the answer given by the strange lady?
Ans: She lied that; she is Arun’s mother.
12. Did Arun forgave the strange lady’s lie and his mother?
13. What was the reply said by Arun when Sathish’s mother advised that, he should not talk to strangers.
Ans: He said that, he like strangers.
14. Arun and Sathish placed themselves at the _____ windows in the train.
Ans: Open windows