Soulful Strangers

Soulful Strangers 

By  Mohinder Pal Singh

As  I  boarded the  Pragraj  Express from Delhi the  2-tier AC  cabin  was totally  unoccupied till  now. May be  it was still about  fourty five minutes   to  go for the  departure at of 9.30 PM.. Having gone through a  hectic  day in Delhi I  was very  tired . I  dumped  my luggage  under the seat and  opened my  dinner  packet. After  a  quick  dinner  of  sandwiches I plunged  myself  into a  bestseller  book,  Start Up Nation  which I had picked up from the Wheelers  book  stand  on the platform. The  silence of the cabin and  the chill  of  the  AC  was  soon  disrupted by  a sweet  shrill  of  a  women, “ Its here  ,  seat  number 37” I heard  her  saying   to her accomplices.  This  was  followed  by  a  peep  through the  curtain and the  cabin  was  soon filled  by  two young  men  , a  young  lady and lots of  fragrance.  Was  it Musk or Mackie?  I could not  decipher  the  scent or  the  source of  the perfume,   but seeing  the  demeanor of the  people  I reasonably  presumed it  was  from the young  lady. The  younger  of the  two  men kneeled  and  respectfully  pushed   a  leather  bag  under  the  seat  and  the  three  settled  down.  The  elder of the two  who  seemed  to be  in  the  mid thirties sat  next  to  me and the younger  one  opposite  me   and the  lady  besides him.  Within  seconds of settling down the  trio burst  out  laughing   and  jeering  at  each other playfully. The lady  was  full of  life and  seemed  to  be  making most  of  the conversation  and  after  every sentence of hers’  the  trio would  laugh.

I lost  concentration  in  otherwise  a  very interesting book.  I  raised my eyes  slightly   and  of course  my glance first   went  to  the  young lady  who  seemed  to be busy  in nattering something.   A close  ogle  made  me feel  she  was a  slim and  elegant  looking women in her early thirties with  wheatish complexion, big eyes eyes  full of  mischief , five ear rings in her ears and blackberry in her hands.  A constant  ribbing smile  on  her  face gave  her  a  look which  showed  her  in  command of the  situation. To me  the trio seemed  to be  office  colleagues  going  for a meeting. I  kept  this  information  aside  and  went back to  reading. ‘Why  should  I  get distracted  from  co-passengers ”I  thought .  But  the  trio seemed  to  be  in some  special  mood,  the  pitch of  the  jokes  went up  and   on one  occasion I could  not control my laughter after  I  heard  the  pun. Though I turned my face away for a moment  so that they could not see  me smiling  but  the   conversation was  interesting  and  light. At times  the young lady  laughingly  pocked  a  finger  into the  tummy of  the young man sitting beside  her   who would  jump up laughing..  They  soon opened  a  packet of  chips  and  shared   but surely   did not  consider  it  to extend  the  gesture  to a   Sardar trying to  concentrate on reading  a  book. 

With just 10  minutes  for the  train to  leave both the men  began to say goodbye and got up. That’s when  I realized that I  am  going  to  have  the  sole company of  this chirpy lady during the journey.  As  the  two  men got up to  leave , the elder one  simply smiled and said  ‘see you, take care’  but   the younger  one  suddenly  bent  down and touched  her  feet, “ bye  bhabhi” . I  was  more clear about their  relationships now.

As  brother duo  moved  out,   the train snailed out    of the  platform,  her  smiling face  was  suddenly  serious. We  were now  sitting opposite  each other  like  strangers. I looked  up  and we  exchanged a  expressionless  glance. But  yet  beneath her expressionless  face  I could  see  a  pleasant pleasing personality  which was  chirping  till a  minute  back…

Having  known nothing about her I thought it  to  be pointless  to  start  a  conversation  in  this  short    9-hour   journey. It  was  9.30 PM and  soon  everybody  would  be  asleep , so I went  back to  reading  my book. From  the  corner of my  eye I could  see  her  also  taking out a  book  from her purse and  open the first  page.

Next  one hour passed fast. Ticket Collector   came   and  went  by. Both  of us were  sitting opposite but  reluctant to talk.

By 10.30 PM she  spread the   bed sheet on  the  berth  and   lied down .  others passengers in others  cabins too  were  in the process  of going to bed.

I  just  asked her  that  “ Maám do you want  me  to put  off  the  main light  , I wish  to  read but  I can use  the  reading  light.”

The  moment I finished  my question , I  could  see  a  smile  on  her  face, “ I was  waiting  for you  to decide”. I too  want to read  my  book” she  answered  politely .

“Oh  really , then we  can  read  with our  night lights  on   and  why  keep the main light on.” I  replied  reciprocating  her  question and  the  smile.

“sure” she answered.

“Are  you  going to  Allahabad?” I tried  to  start some  conversation..

“Yes, and you?”she  asked.

And from  that  point onwards there was a  long endless conversation… It  went on and on from  our  professions  to  our   children,  their  schools  and  the markets  of Delhi, Allahabad  ,   the  purpose of  her  visit  to Allahabad  and  mine to  Delhi, shopping  malls  of  Delhi  and Allahabad. The  time  flew  and  before  we  realised  it was 2 AM  and had  to catch  up with  some  sleep.  We  forgot  it  was  a  journey  and  we  were  so engrossed  in  our  chat  and  sojourns of  each others’ lives  . I  always found it  easier  to talk  to  strangers  because  you  can  talk  uninhibited  and  disclose   only as  much  you   wish to.  At  times  total  strangers  also give  you  some very soulful  advice.   This  conversation with this  co-passenger  was  proving  to  be  one  such  soulful chat,  which  was  full of  life. Not  a  single  moment was  boring.  In  fact it  was  overflowing  with emotions, information and  advices.

In between the conversation I was  wondering  as  to  what is happening?  How  this small  journey  is teaching me  so  many lessons. I  thought  life  is made  up  so many such journeys.    But  whether  it is a small   or a much   larger  journey  called  life , each  has  three  typical  phases, the  Nascent  or  the  Learning  Phase  where  you  keep  observing  what  is  happening  around  you, followed  by  the  Engrossment phase  where  you  are  totally  embroiled in  the  journey  as such. The  final  is  the  Near-to-Home Phase which  tells  you  that  the home   is  close   and  the  past  was   a  journey and  not  the  destination. The  childhood  is  an  example  of  the  first   phase  when  the  child  is  simply observing  the society  around  him   and he  is  deciding  his  options of  living in it . The  second  phase     ,  the  engrossment  phase   where  the  complexities  of  life and  ambition  take  over  everything  and  you  forget  that   you are  actually  in  a  journey.  You    forget  that  you  have  to  reach  a  destination. You forget that  this  life  is  a  journey and  has  a  true  home  at  the  end  .  You  tend  to  be  so entangled  in the  journey  itself that the you forget   the  purpose why  you  had  under taken  this journey and  where  it  will  lead to.  Sometime  you  deliberately  wish to  elude  the  thought  that  there  is  a  final  destination. The  present  looks too  sugary   to  leave.  This short sojourn seemed similar to  the  journey  of  life. After the initial  two  hours  of  silence   the  next  two  hours  seemed  so  engrossing  as  if this  small  cabin  was our  world. There  was  nothing and  nobody   beyond  that. I  don’t  even  remember  which  stations the train went past  or  at  what  pace  was  the  train  moving. I  found  the  attitude  being  reciprocated  from  the young  lady too who  was  so engrossed  talking  about  herself  and her  work.

I think the last  two  hours  were  truely  the  engrossment  phase  of  our journey…  we even forgot  to  ask each  others’ name. We  seemed  to  have  known  each other  so well  that asking   the  name seemed  so  naïve.  How could you  ask  such  a  rudimentary  question after  knowing   so  much  about each other.

Somewhere   during the conversation she  yawned  and  we  both  looked at our  watches. It  was  2.10 AM. Instantly  we  both  knew  it was  rather  late and   said  ‘good  night’ . The moment  we  switched off our reading lights,  I  think  we both had blanked out.  At  least  I  did who had had   a  very  tiring  day.

I  suddenly  woke  up  with a  call  from   my  wife    at  6 AM  .  She  wanted  to  know  if  the  train  was  running on  right time.  And  what time  should  the  driver  be sent  with the car to the Railway station? I  got  up from the  bed  and  found  my  co-passenger  was  still  sleeping.  I wore  my  slippers and  went  to  the washroom. On  return  a  glance  outside  told  me we  were  very  near our destination. When  I  returned  I  found  my  co-passenger was also up  and  busy  on  her  phone.  She  too  seemed to be getting calls and  was busy giving  directions  to  someone  about the   train  arrival .  She  looked  at  me  and  we exchanged  “Good  morning”.

This  was  followed  by  a  call from my  driver  who  had  to  declare  that  he  had  reached  the  station showing  his   concern  and  punctuality. And   then  a call  from  my  daughter  who  was  still in  bed  at  home  and  in her  sleepy voice was  anxious  to     know  what  I  had  brought   for her.  In  front  of  me  I  could  see  she  too had  got   quickly  embroiled   on her  home  front with calls  from her husband,  maid,  daughter etc..  And amidst this  the  train entered Allahabad Station.  I could  see  my driver  and  she  could  see  her  father  from  the  window….

As  always  this  was  the  third phase  of  every journey    when  we  are  closer home.  The reminders bring  us  back  to  where  we actually belonged  to. In the train the  calls  from  home  made  us  forget  the  lives  we  were  living  in the  cabin of  the  train  from  11-2  AM chatting endlessly about  our college  lives and  interests.  And  in  true  journey  of life  ,   old  age  beckons  everybody  to  his  true  home.  Wrinkles, Diseases  ,  body pains  on  a  once  fit  body  are  some  of the  calls   which  remind  us  that  we are  near  our life’s  destination.  Some of  us  wake  up  from  these  calls  and  some  don’t .  Those  who  wake  up  get  time to pack their  bags  and  prepare. Those  who  don’t   dock at their final   destination  in  slumber.  Destination we  all  have  to  reach.  Any    journey     which  beguns  has to  end..

So  this small  train   journey  too was  very  near  the   end  …..

While  both  of  us  were  still  on  our  calls ,the  train came  to  a  jerking  halt at  the  platform , we   picked  up  our bags …  and  got  in  the line to alight from  the   train…  Once  on  the platform, I looked  round . I  could  see  that  an elderly   man  was  walking towards  her.  I kept a silent gaze at  her  to  steal  a  glance   and  say  good  bye. But her father  was  very near . For a  moment  she  turned back, found   me  and    we  exchanged a  final glances but without  smiles. It  was  a silent  goodwill and  a final goodbye from  the  journey. And  then her hand  was  held  by  her  father  and  my bag  was  taken  by  my  driver. We moved  away towards separate exits.

The journey  with this  co-passenger  was short but  memorable. We  had  known  each other so  well. I just remembered that we  had   neither  exchanged   names  nor telephone  numbers .

So at the  end  of  this  soulful journey we  were  strangers  again…..  as  we  were  at  the  beginning of  this journey………  

As  we  would  be  at the  end  of the  journey   of  life  with  all  the  friends  we  make  here…….

( based  on  a  real life incident)

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sapna on January 26, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Loved the analogy between the journey and life! You have a gift for narrating real life incidents in a manner that one feels one is there watching them take place 😊

    Reply

  2. Just like the Pal do pal song from the movie Burning Train 🙂

    Reply

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