The Moonstruck Columns

The Train Journals Part I

I HAVE TRAVELED in trains since an early age. Every time I met different people who became family for that little while and made me feel like I had known them forever. Sometime we knew quite a bouquet of things about each other except our names and sometimes we forgot to ask, which would be my case in particular as I often find myself forgetting to ask names. But I have also learnt that there is so much more present than just a name to put on a face.

During my travels, I have met many different people and nobody among them have crossed my ways more than once, yet they have left a sweet impression on my mind which reflected on my face as well whenever I remembered them.

This one time, which I am now going to narrate, I was travelling from Nagpur to my home at Calcutta in the time of Durga Puja of 2009 and it was this time when I got the opportunity of travelling with a gentleman who has left a hard-to-forget impact in my memory. I was exceptionally happy that day, which surfaced every time I travelled back home and the obsessive excitement and desperation made the journey longer and longer every minute in a progressive pattern which mathematicians might term as geometric progression (a value which doubles with every step).

When I woke up in the morning and climbed down from that swinging top berth in the train, I noticed a new face occupying the window seat of the opposite lower berth. He must have boarded the train when I was fast asleep. He was a man who would be comfortably in his mid-fifties. The proud graying hair was combed primly and a warm brown blazer felt heavy but contented on his shoulder. His head swayed with the movement of the train as his eyes kept reading through the bottom portion of the bi-focal lens resting on his nose. I took a quick gaze from the corner of my eye avoiding any awkward moment as I folded my blanket. The mornings in the countryside felt chilly even though it was the middle of September.

After I had settled down in my own window seat which I borrowed from the kind gentleman whose night had just started in my top berth, I ordered a cup of coffee from the passing vendor and I asked my companion sitting immediately opposite to me if he would like a cup for himself. This was the cliché technique of starting a conversation in any journey and it never seemed to fail nor age. He cordially agreed and thanked me with a decent smile and folded his book beside him. I had already grown a little fond of my newly found travel companion and the book lying in my bag kept seeming unnecessary minute by minute.

As we carried our conversation forward with the gradual attenuation of coffee in our cups, I discovered he was an Indian Railways employee and even though he was entitled to a first class coach for free, he liked it better travelling in the second class. It secretly lifted my respect for him in no time. And I also discovered that he was an exceptional storyteller as well. Among his hilarious tales, the one I especially remember involved a nasty misunderstanding.

“Once, I was travelling by train.” He began, “when night had fallen and everyone commenced preparations for their sleep, the passenger in the opposite seat said to me – ‘bhai, I have to get down at a station which arrives around 2 o’clock at night. I am a really heavy sleeper. Bhai can you wake me up? Well, I might resist and not want to get down, but I insist you to force me and see that I make it to the station.’

“I agreed.

“When everything was settled, and everybody went to sleep, I, who was supposed to wake up my companion, lay awake reading my book. The clock ticked from one to two and the train started slowing down at a station. Now I approached the berth my companion fast asleep and started waking him up. He started resisting as I was forewarned and started moaning that he is not supposed to get down, but I kept forcing him and somehow, I managed to pack all his luggage and carried my sleeping companion to the platform. The train went on and when daylight broke, the gentleman from the top berth climbed down with a horrified look on his face as he had suddenly realized he was still on the train. I glanced and to my astonishment and horror, saw my companion from previous night who had asked me to wake him up. He instantly turned towards me and started showering abuses which I took silently. When the next station arrived, he collected his belongings and got down still muttering curses directed towards me.

“An adjacent passenger curiously asked the reason for my silence even after such irresistible provocation, and I calmly answered – ‘well, whatever he said is nothing compared to the passenger whom I have forced to get down at the station at 2 o’clock last night.’

“Apparently, he had changed berths with somebody and didn’t remember to inform me.” He finished.

By that time, I had already managed to attract weird glances from those sitting earshot of this story. And this wasn’t the only one but I didn’t cared about anything else for laughter is one of my weaknesses and I forget of any courtesy during this brief period.

The journey didn’t last forever, on the contrary it seemed miraculously shortened considerably. But this gentleman, whose name I forgot to catch yet again defending my previous record, had placed himself in my memory forever. Sometimes I really feel thankful to my fortune that I ended up as a traveler which came more as a compulsion and transformed into a necessity for heart. Sometimes even for the thirst of meeting new nameless people, I start travelling, journeying in public transports for faraway destinations and the pursuit not only fulfils my occasional yearning for getting acquainted with new faces, but also new places. But sometimes, I really miss not knowing the names, to meet them once again, but the extraordinary irony is, maybe that’s the beauty of it…

 

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