Due to the last- minute booking, I could get only a top berth in the Cochin mail. There were two ‘pious’ people on the lower bergth, middle aged, healthy; pious, going by the parallel and horizontal marks on their foreheads! Their topic of discussion hovered around the food offered as prasadam and I could safely guess that they were on a temple tour. Anticipating an obligation from those devote men, I inquired whether one lower birth could be swapped with my upper one.
“Oh, Sir, I wish could,” one of them looked pathetically at his right knee and moaned, “severe arthritis Sir, here, here.”
He pointed his finger to show me the exact location, where the pain was torturing him.
“Cho, cho, apply some balm;” I advised and turned to his friend. “Left knee is problematic for you, I presume,”
“Precisely,” His astonishment was unconcealed. “How did you know that, Sir?”
“Golconda Hakim’s blessings,” I pulled out a small brass casket from my pocket, showed it to him, raised it to my head level, as a mark of respect and put it back in the pocket.
He looked at me as if I was the real Golconda Hakim, stood up for a moment and sat again, convinced by my look, which in no way resembled a Hakim. However, he started pressing his left knee. It was obvious that either his pain had increased or the arthritis had manifested for the first time.
Two more people were watching us. My friends and neighbors Gopalan Nair and his wife Ammini, who were also coming along with me. Ammini who had worked as my PA and then as section officer, knew almost all my secrets but my mentioning the Golconda Hakim perplexed her and her eyes and raised eye brows revealed the natural tendency of a woman to know the unknown of a known person. She instantly developed a new respect for me and offered her lower side- birth, but her husband admonished her with a stern look, “you expect me to carry your 70 kg load and push you to the top birth?” He had a point. He was thin like a pencil!
Having failed in my attempt to obtain a lower birth, I clambered up the small ladder to the amazement of the two pious men and the moment I had perched safely on the top, the one who developed sudden pain on his left knee, raised his head and enquired, “wonder, how you managed ?”
I pulled out the brass casket again from my pocket and put it back silently.
“I have visited the cell in the Golconda fort, where Badrachalam Ramdas was imprisoned”
I could hear the conversation of the pious men below. ” I remember having seen this man along with a Mulla near that cave.”
“Who knows the secret of caves and the saints who live there in? I have not seen his Guru but that brass case has something special in it. Ah, my pain is slowly increasing.”
” He is saintly, no doubt, we should have offered him one lower birth”
” We should have. Shall I wake him up?”
“Who is this Golconda Hakim,? The Nair couple too wondered. “I have never heard his name’
” I knew all the secrets of my ex-boss but how is that he never told me about the brass casket and why is he not parting with it, sticking to it, even in his sleep?”
” Ammini, the casket might contain some choornam, herbal powder to help his sleep or some sacred ash.”
” Has ‘Swamy’ fallen into the narcotic bin? But how narcotic induces sudden pain by waving the container from a distance?”
” Oh, he was fooling them, for not parting with a lower-birth”
The divine sleep was hugging me close to her chest and I don’t recall the rest of their conversation, but woke up soon, hearing Nair’s yelling.
“Swami, will you please stop that snoring and come down to see what is happening here?’
” What is your problem, Nair? I am snoring through my nostrils, not yours,” I replied without moving from my birth,
“In fact I was just humming to myself”
“Damn with your humming,” Nair had a valid reason to wake me up. “Ammini is struggling with pain. She says that you are responsible. Just come down and see.”
“Nair, pull the alarm chain if it is labor pain or wait till the train reaches the next station”
I advised in half- sleep but suddenly his claim that I was responsible for the pain shook my nerves. Nair’s words were atom bombs. A 60 + woman could afford to bring out another life to this world but in what way I was responsible for her untimely, though noble act?
I wanted to jump down but my alert mind reminded me, my date of birth. Somehow, I did succeed to come down, without stamping the head or leg of those sleeping in the lowest births but not without pulling down the blanket of the woman in the middle birth. She opened her eyes and shut them instantly as if it was natural for men of my age to indulge in such misadventures.
I can tolerate any act of women but not their closing their eyes after a look at me.
The first thing I did soon after reaching the ground level of the compartment was to have a good look at Ammini from top to toe and was relieved that it could be any other pain but not what I suspected.
“Thank God, Ammini. You are OK. When Nair said that you had labor pain, I became panicky”
“I never said it was labor pain and your American ear- aids, at times, add words unnecessarily” Nair was in a bad mood but I was happy to learn that my ear aids not only were good in deduction but in addition too. “She had stomach pain and your iddlies bought from America and stored in Indian fridge were responsible for that. Anyway, give her some choornam, herbal powder from your casket to relieve her pain ”
” Sorry, Nair. I can’t help your wife,” I was firm and looked at my pocket to make sure that the casket was safe in there.
“Who is your Golconda Hakim and what does that casket contain? I want to know right now” Ammini’s voice was gaining momentum.
” Like a street dog, did I not follow you in your Himalayan trip?”
” Nair followed us carrying your luggage and you walked ahead and stayed back or disappeared while paying the hotel bills.”
” Did I not accompany you to the ashrams of every holy man, including Nithyanandha and have you so far concealed any secret from me?”
” Nithyananda discarded you as too old to meditate'”
“Swamy, look. If you don’t tell me who your Golconda Hakim is and reveal the secret of the brass casket, I am going to reveal one by one, every secret of yours to Ammalu. And remember I was your P.A for 25 years.”
That threat worked and I had to come out with truth.
‘’Ammini, a Hakim, a Unani- medicine practitioner in the Golconda area, was running an elementary school in his clinic where his fourteen children were the students. He called me for hoisting the National flag during the last Independence Day, so that he could take a picture of the event and submit to the Government in support of his claim for an aid to his school. I readily agreed as I am not likely to become the Governor of a state and hoist the National flag. In the presence of the Hakim and fourteen students, I raised the flag, children did the march past, we sang the National anthem but at the critical stage, the photographer developed an urge to pee and ran away from the scene. The Hakim ran after him, caught him and pushed a pill into his mouth. The photographer instantly was at ease, the ceremony went on well and within a month the Hakim received the Govt aid asked for.
As a return gift, the Hakim Saheb, brought this brass casket with a few pills in it and advised,
‘’a person of your age need this. During night travels in a bus or if compelled to occupy the top birth in the train, if you develop a sudden urge to empty your bladder, just push a pill or two into your mouth, below the tongue. For another 3-4 hours, you can travel comfortably’’
And before leaving, the learned Hakim gleamed and added, ‘’carry the casket when you go for a flag-hoisting too”.
I raised the casket above my head as a mark of respect, and clambered the upper birth again, thanks to the Hakim Saheb’s mesmeric gift.
I looked down and noticed that the woman on the middle birth was moving on her sides uncomfortably. Here eyes were swollen.
”Any problem, madam?” I inquired.
‘Can I have a few pills from the casket in your pocket,? Her voice was unsteady.
‘’The way to the toilet is blocked?” I asked.
”Not that Sir, labor pain. I want to hold on till the next stop”.