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Deepak Kapur

Shackled by rotten customs and conventions...

"The railway compartment has all the likeness of an oven," thought Mr. Bhim Das, who was as uneasy as the other passengers in the compartment. The compartment was a wonderful bouquet - as any general compartment of Indian railways is - of persons of different shapes, sizes, shades of brown and black, religions and castes.

But Mr. Bhim Das thought differently. He was especially wary of a person of low caste who was sitting just opposite to him. It was crystal clear from the person's appearance. All his attention was concentrated on not being touched by that man, even to the slightest possible extent.

"Religion is like a week thread, it can break any time," spoke irritated Bhim Das to himself. Presently that man took out a plastic jar filled with water and started to drink the water. But that jar being wide mouthed, the water could not quench his thirst, rather it spilled and cooled the chest behind his torn shirt.

The man looked around desperately for a glass. Suddenly terror took over Bhim Das. A steel glass was popping out of his over stuffed bag, which was placed beneath his seat.

"What if this man asks for my glass," mused Bhim Das and started looking out of the window with a side-glance on that man. But this did not happen. The man got a disposable glass from another passenger and drank the water with intent.

Out of courtesy he offered the water to other passengers also, including Bhim Das. Bhim Das shuddered at his proposal. Now the train entered the state of Rajasthan, where the word sweltering for hot seemed lacking in something. Slaps of hot air mixed with sand fell on each face, making their pent-up frustration more vivid.

Meanwhile Bhim Das took out his bottle from his bag but the little amount of water left in it could not soothe his throat. Next three desolate stations could not provide him with water.

In desperation he turned to other passengers for water. Nobody obliged him, either out of necessity or because of plain indifference. The same low caste man again offered him water. Bhim Das hesitated but his thirst urged him to avail of the opportunity." Such exceptional cases of forced misconduct must be forgiven by God," spoke Bhim Das to himself. He took the jar from the man and drank the water in his steel glass with convenience.