VI. "My Scottish father," "my Indian son."I worked at the Consulate General of India and lived in Brooklyn, which is one of the five boroughs of New York City. It took me forty-five minutes to reach Manhattan where my office was located. On 8 August 1965, I went as usual to the Fort Hamilton Parkway subway station and took my train.
We had only covered two stops when we heard a voice commanding us: “All out, all out!” We were all taken aback but we emptied the train in no time. A sea of human bodies, utterly perplexed and not knowing which way to move, was milling heavily on the platform. There were thousands upon thousands of individuals pushing and struggling on the narrow platform, for each successive train was unloading hundreds more as it came to this spot.
The reason? It was very simple. A water main running through the subway tunnel had burst, flooding our particular line, the BMT. The trains could run no further than the place where we were now halted and discharged. Now the problem was to continue our journey in some way or other, to reach our destinations without further delay.
But to get out of the subway station to the surface was itself a herculean task. It took us no less than forty-five minutes just to inch our way forward in the jampacked crowd, painfully ascend the slow-moving staircase and finally reach the street level. Once we had completed this exhausting task and were able to breathe fresh air once more, we had to consider how to proceed.
Fortunately, buses had been provided to take us to another subway line, the IRT, from which we could reach Manhattan. This we managed without mishap, though the buses which transported us had probably never in their existence carried at one time so many crushed bodies! Our arrival at the IRT line was by no means the end of our troubles, for here too, the crowd was as thick as before. By the time I reached the Consulate, it had taken me three full hours instead of my usual forty-five minutes. My co-workers living in other parts of Brooklyn took one further precious hour to accomplish the ordeal.
During the day at the Consulate, I was haunted by the apprehension about my return journey and sure enough, my misgivings were justified. The return journey was a painful repetition of the morning's nightmare. In the evening, at the Lexington Avenue and 59th Street station, my attention was drawn to a frail octogenarian. He drew forth all my sympathy with the spell of his pitiful look. He had completely lost his way and in this crowd he was quite helpless. I was not much more fortunate, by way of knowledge, than he. But my sympathy boldly surpassed my discretion. On learning where he was going, I caught him by the hand and led him into what I believed to be the correct train. We managed this only with great difficulty. By pushing and elbowing with my former athletic heart, I managed to procure a seat for this old man.
As he sat down, another aged man, looking at me, inquired of him, “Who is he?” The immediate reply was, “My son, my Indian son.” I was surprised at his affectionate words and delighted that he had guessed my nationality. Lo, his gratitude could not remain inactive. He started pushing along the seat, gradually and quietly, a fraction of an inch at a time. The young girl sitting beside him could make neither head nor tail of his odd manoeuvering. He continued his efforts for about twenty minutes, until he had acquired enough room for me to sit down beside him. Great indeed was his triumph as he bade me, in his Scottish brogue, to sit. “A true father,” my grateful heart voiced forth. “My Scottish father!”