Mumbai: Capitalising on the respect the late Shiv Sena chief commanded, two Kurla residents availed 24-hour VVIP treatment on a train headed to Varanasi from CST, by claiming they were carrying Bal Thackeray’s ashes with them in two earthen pots.

Ashok Singh and Sachin Verma, both in their thirties, failed to get confirmed tickets on the Mahanagri Express on November 22, as there was a major rush during Chhath Puja.

They wangled a window seat in the sleeper class reserved by another passenger by placing two earthen pots covered in red cloth on the seat. When the legitimate passenger questioned them, they claimed to be Shiv Sainiks on their way to disperse their departed leader’s ashes in river Ganga in Kashi.

The passenger readily sacrificed his seat for the pots and its bearers, and even slept on the floor of the compartment, while the opportunists sprawled on his berth. Emboldened by the respect the pots commanded, the duo even hoodwinked tea, snack and newspaper vendors on the train and demanded freebies.

Singh and Verma’s VVIP status was forgotten in the blink of an eye when they were detraining at Varanasi. The pranksters were getting off without the pots of ashes, which surprised their fellow passengers.

When told that they were forgetting their departed leader’s ashes, they laughed and announced that it was a ruse they used to get a reserved seat on the train. They were quickly administered a barrage of kicks, slaps and punches by the passenger who had been taken in by their prank. Singh and Verma escaped from the spot worse off than when they boarded the train.

“The passenger in whose name the seat was booked, entered the compartment and the two men identified themselves as Shiv Sainiks and said that they needed a reserved seat as they were carrying Balasaheb Thackeray’s ashes. They even added that they cannot place the pots on the floor as it would mean disrespect to the Sena chief,” a passenger on the train said on condition of anonymity.

The eyewitness added that the legitimate passenger did not wish to show any disrespect and readily agreed, and even slept on the floor next to his reserved seat.

“Verma and Singh also refused to pay for tea, snacks and newspapers throughout their journey,” said Andheri resident Sanjay Jha, who was travelling in the same compartment. Jha added that the duo was getting off at Varanasi station and did not bother to take the pot with them.

“When the other passengers, who were watching them since the beginning of their journey, reminded them about the pots, Singh and Verma made fun of them and finally revealed the truth,” Jha said.

“Angered by their prank, they thrashed the two, who then revealed their true identities and began pleading for forgiveness. They were finally let off, but only after promising not to repeat such pranks in future.”

Actual urn facts

There were a total of 351 urns containing Bal Thackeray’s ashes. Of these, 151 were bigger urns and 200 were smaller urns. 51 big urns were sent to all districts in the state, while the remaining 100 have been sent to holy places across the country. 200 smaller urns were given to NGOs and social workers.

(JPN/Mid-day)

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