Monday, December 13, 2010

The Cauliflower Lady

What does it take for a thousand ships to sail for you? If you have read the story of Helen of Troy, the beautiful wife of Menelaus the Greek, you know about the thousand ships that sailed to win her back. The Trojan horse is a piece of legend that we all have read or heard about. Another question. What does it take for a passenger train drawn by a steam engine to stop for you, in the middle of the beautiful hills of Jharkhand? Read on.

The Peanut Express was winding its way through the beautiful hills. Some parts of Jharkhand are so beautiful that you would think that a local artist was inspired by the rolling hills of Scotland and painted a masterpiece on a canvas with a delightful smattering of colors. Then, he threw in a herd of cows and goats for good measure. I was looking out the window and enjoying the scenery. When the train went across a small clearing, and I was beginning to admire the next hillock, I saw a woman with a basket of cauliflowers on her head, hastily making her way for the train. To my surprise, the train slowed down, and came to a grinding halt. A train belonging to the mighty Indian Railways, had stopped in the middle of nowhere. For a cauliflower lady.

To say the least, I was curious. Once the lady was aboard, I struck up a conversation with her. She was about fifty and had half a head of gray hair. She was wearing a lot of silver, so much that one would think that she preferred to keep her family silver with her all the time, unlike the rest of us, who like to keep it in the china cabinet.  She had a few missing teeth and it looked like she kept her local paan (betel leaf) shop in good business. I had never seen a more beautiful tribal woman before.

Her basket was full of small cauliflowers, probably grown with the help of cow manure. In those days, I was quite taken with the advances in agriculture, and wanted to give her some unsolicited advice on how a little bit of urea or potash would help her grow cauliflowers twice the size she had. Much later, hanging out with the hippies in America, I realised that people would have lined up to buy those small  cauliflowers, blessed by the rear end of a cow, since organic is the word that has defined agricultural produce in the last decade.

She told me about the cows and the goats she had. About the cauliflowers that were the tastiest in the whole district. And that she was headed for the local haat (country market), where she hoped to get a good price for them. I was itching to ask the question, and so, I finally did. Why do you think the train stopped for you in the middle of nowhere, miles from any station in either direction?

She smiled. Pata nahin babu. Ham to haat utha dete hain. Aur terain rook jata hai. (I don't know babu, I just raise my hand and the train stops).

I did not see her buying a ticket and obviously, she didn't pay anything to the ticket checker. So, money was definitely not the reason. So, what was it? When I reached Ramgarh, I could not control myself any more. So, I walked over to the ticket checker and asked him why the train had to be stopped in the middle of nowhere for a cauliflower lady. Of course, I told him I was not complaining about it, I was just curious. 

"Kya karein Sir." He said, "Injun driver ki Biwi hai. Becharey ko shaam ko ghar jaana hai ki nahin?". (What can I do Sir. She is married to the engine driver, the poor man has to go back home tonight.)

I had my answer. If you are carrying a basket of cauliflowers on your head in the middle of nowhere, and want the Peanut Express to stop for you, you don't have to be the beautiful Helen of Troy. You just need to be married to the engine driver.


  1. I like your train of thoughts.. cheers :)

  2. Don't think the engine driver would have stopped for Helen of Troy!

  3. I raise my hand too, but not one, both of them, joined together at the palms! Please don't stop, carry on...

  4. Wonderful story. She's clever for having married the engineer, but even more so for having kept the mystery. :D

  5. Beutiful is the word.

  6. Beautiful and hilarious Sadhu |-D