This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 38; the thirty-eighth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is "The Woman on Platform Number 10"
"Do you mind if I sit here?". The voice was soft and sweet. I looked up to see an angelic face that matched the voice perfectly.
"Sure", I said, picking up my bag from the bench and moving towards the end, making space for her to sit.
"Thanks", she said and smiled. A smile that lit up the entire platform.
"Are you waiting for the 2 a.m. train, too?" I ventured, certain that her answer would be in the affirmative. It was one of those stations where not more than two trains stopped per day, that too at odd timings.
"I'm not sure, actually. It all depends", she replied with a faraway, contemplative look on her face. "Why is this platform number 10? As far as I can see, and I don't have to see very far, this is the only platform in this tiny station."
I smiled as I looked at the short, muddy platform. The station master's office was a tin-roofed hut. The lone green signal twinkled in the night. "Actually, there was no station in this area for a long time. Everyone in a fifty kilometre radius had to travel another fifty km east or west to the nearest station. About fifteen years ago, a local zamindar decided to sponsor the building of this station. His only condition was that the platform number be 10, as it was his lucky number. In fact, over the next few years, he also gave land for the local school and post office. That's why this place was renamed Ratanpur, after him. Sadly, he died some time back."
We sat in companionable silence for a while. I was almost about to doze off, when she spoke.
"Can I tell you a story? I feel like sharing this with someone right now, and you're the only one available to listen to me."
"Sure", I replied, intrigued.
About thirty years ago, there was a daring heist at one of the largest banks of our country. It was a well-planned, meticulous and audacious con job.
A man, known by his victims as Suraj Johar, posed as a rich, successful businessman with interests in India and abroad. Over the course of eight months, he opened several accounts and a safety-deposit box, visited the bank regularly, became friends with everyone from the manager to the tea-boy, charmed his way into everyone's hearts by bringing sweets and small gifts for them every once in a while, and earned their trust completely. In seven months, got himself upgraded to VIP customer status, with privileges including a pass-key to the main locker that held the high-value safety deposit boxes, one of which was allotted to him.
He continued visiting the bank every few days for the next month or so. On every visit, he would make a deposit in the high-value locker room. Since he had VIP status, he was left unsupervised while he made his deposits.
His visits stopped suddenly after that. The people at the bank were a bit puzzled, but not overly worried. They figured he had left on a business trip, or was otherwise busy. It was when a few of the other high-value customers reported that their safety-deposit boxes were empty, that panic finally set in.
It was discovered that Mr. Suraj Johar was making withdrawals of his own every time he came to "deposit" something in the locker. Over the course of his time spent with the bank's employees, he'd managed to obtain details about the more prosperous clients, especially those who had sizeable assets locked away in the safety-deposit boxes. He'd also managed to make copies of the master key that the bank had, in case a safety deposit box had to be opened in an emergency.
The final tally of cash, jewellery and cashable bonds that he'd stolen put the haul at close to Rs. 50 crores. It was the single largest robbery of it's kind at the time. Further, Johar's credentials were found to be fake. Blame was passed from desk to desk as to how he was allowed to open an account in the bank, let alone develop such close relationships with the employees. The super-thief disappeared into thin air.
The gems have not been traced yet. However, last year, one of the stolen bonds was marked as being cashed in. The long and torturous paper trail led me to this godforsaken place. As it turned out, he'd been cashing in the stolen bonds very discreetly for the past twenty years. Last year was probably the last of the bonds, and was flagged only because it was a day away from expiry. The bonds alone should have given him over 10 crores in cash, a large amount even by today's standards. But there are no records of his having spent the money.
I've been ferreting about in the heat and dust trying to find clues to this man's whereabouts. The villagers have been co-operative enough, but I've found nothing about him. His photographs from twenty years back don't resemble anyone living in these parts right now. No one recognizes him. And yet, the only trail I have found on him leads here.
"I am a bounty-hunter. Not a very common profession in our country, I'm afraid, especially not for girls. But one must do what one can to fill this stomach. Do you live here?"
"No. I live in Mumbai now. But I spent many a summer here visiting my grandparents. They passed away last year. I've come here to pay my final respects to them."
"Oh. Sorry to hear about them. By the way, do you recognize this man, maybe from your childhood?" She offered me a well-thumbed photograph.
I looked at the face of a handsome man. His charm shone through the sepia-tinted photograph and the grime of ages. The eyes sparkled with a light born of mischief.
I shook my head. "Sorry. I can't say I've seen him around these parts."
She sighed. "Doesn't matter. I guess I'm taking the 2 a.m. train after all."
I smiled encouragingly at her. Of course, I could never tell the woman on platform number 10 that the man she was after was my grandfather, Ratan Lal.
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