I would rather live for the journeys that make great tales than get stuck in destinations that absorb you like quicksand. It was the year 2001. The world had slowly roosted off the millennium fizz. Summer was hot but vivid; perfect season for real life adventures and I was already in the midst of great plans.
The throbbing joy in the mind was insatiable; having dealt with the semester, travelling to a town I haven’t visited, two weeks of rollicking around with long lost folks whom I loved to call friends-summer is my best season of the year. I already had news from some of those long lost friends that reservations were done for a three day stay in Coorg.
Good byes bade to mom n pop. Bag stuffed under the seat. I picked up the new three-volumes-in-one summer edition of Calvin n Hobbes. I started to feel hungry but saved the only packet of Lays for a hungrier, lonelier, sleepless, middle-of-the-night part of the journey. Amidst chaos strictly catering to a railway station, the Bangalore express started rolling on time.
Getting lost (after you have boarded your train of course) in the views of an Indian railway station is something travel-loving Indian souls will understand. Those last minute chorus good byes to the kin from everywhere and promises to call after arriving, the constant train announcements with beeps in between, the chai walas hurrying in hope to find that one customer who will make them business, people running from platform to platform – it is an experience to travel by the rails in a country thriving with people.
There was a family to share my compartment; a couple with two kids. The teenage son seemed to shut himself away from the world with his music. Then there was this little girl who kept grilling her irritated mom with all sorts of questions. The man started turning the pages of India Today, the moment he took his seat.
“I told you we would leave tomorrow! At least we could have travelled by third-AC. Now see, we haven’t even got a window seat. I don’t know how to put up with the heat. Ammu is already sweating heavily, see?”, the lady indirectly gave us a prelude of them occupying this compartment. Her mood went further hot after an elderly man in dhotis politely took over the window seat from her, claiming it was where his ticket pointed. “Shut up and eat your biscuits, god knows what they’ll bring for dinner”, she went on to her daughter. I was wondering what was more difficult for her family to put up with, the heat, the third class or her temper.
The elderly man looked grim. I grinned at the thought of having seized the other window seat and decided to enjoy the chill that hit our faces from the outskirts of Nagercoil. Twenty minutes later, the lady, let’s call her the mom, went manic again, yanking me suddenly from a world of my own. A half filled bottle of juice in the daughter’s hand and the trail of the flowing juice under the seat explained enough. “You can’t keep the bottles on the seat Ammu. Finish them or put them in the bag if you don’t need”.
Calvin and Hobbes was sliding from my lap and I thought it was time I opened it. The elderly man checked on his bag which looked like a loosely knotted rice bag, you know the one you will find in the kitchen store room.
He wore a cotton shirt, looked very simple and preferred to rest his chin on the window bar. Night slowly crawled in. Mom had packed chappati and chicken curry, the thought of which shut off my comic book with a thud.
Lights were on; I could hear the incessant chatters and laughter from all around except my immediate neighborhood. I looked around in hope of exchanging a nominal smile with those whom I had travelled with for the past three hours. Nobody seemed interested to look back. I thought I would move on to fill my tummy. It was a beautiful summer night after all.
Let me conclude this part here and save the actual story for the next post, cause I guess cramming everything up here will 1)make this post very lengthy and 2) take away the essence of surprise.
The night held a package of the most bizarre thing I have experienced in summer train journeys.