A guard in the Indian railways, he checked passengers’ tickets, answered their questions, helped travelers with problems, told obstreperous children not to lean out of the windows, and finally retired to the tiny last compartment of the train, his little home away from home. I imagined him traveling to exotic places, meeting new and exciting people every day, savoring unusual food at remote rail stations, and living, in short, an odd, fast-changing life very different from the humdrum existence of people I knew.
However, everybody else seemed to enjoy Sen’s company and relish his endless stream of good-natured travel stories. It was easy to discount the possibility of a shadowy undercurrent in his life and stick to the image of a happy-go-lucky wanderer.
It came as a shock the day the city accountant, another regular at my aunt’s, somberly told us that the night before Sen had hung himself from the rafter in his outhouse. It was the sharpest tremor in my young life.
But it was three days later that I understood the full depth of his wife’s anger when she told us, “He thought he would punish me with his foolish act. But, live on I will. Happily!”
Young as I was, I doubted that last word.