Attari Express

Attari Express
As most of my journeys by train are typified by cockroach and rodent infested coaches, smelly toilets and broken seats, I generally never look forward to any excitement in them.
But this journey was destined to be different.
It was a hastily planned journey for an official errand at Amritsar, and as no train bookings were available in fast/ express trains, I had to settle for a slow and barely known Jabalpur-Attari Express. As expected, it was an old and grimy AC 2-Tier coach with dirty linen and a patchy floor. I was sure that this 22 hour journey was certainly going to be a spiteful one.
As the train pulled out of Saugor station someone pulled the chain and the train came to a halt. Subsequently when it moved, it could best be compared to the speed of a creaking city tempo. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and begged my mind to stay calm as I had no choice in the decision of travelling by this train. To overcome the boredom, I had to distract myself with some activity. So I scanned the co-passengers and made small talk with a family of three adults and two tiny kids but soon found that they were rather keen on sleeping in the afternoon. The couple placed one child each in their lap and pulled a sheet over and slept. Their old mother came and sat next to me on the side lower seat. So be it.
“Mr Mohinder” I said to myself, you have little choice but to fall back on your old friend, a book. Just two days back a friend had gifted me a book , The Sialkot Saga, which I had still not started reading. I pulled it out from the bag and began to read. The first 20 pages of the book gave me enough indication that this was not ‘my type’.
While I was cursing the guy who gifted me the book, suddenly I saw a lady alighting from the seat above me, where I initially thought no one was there. She straightaway rushed to the mobile charging socket. Seeing my mobile being charged, she turned back. Though I was trying to decode the cryptic storyline of the book in my hand, my pseudo concentration was ruptured by an “excuse me”!, I looked up and saw a young lady, clad in a Punjabi suit gesturing me to remove my charger so that she could charge her mobile. As I got up to remove my mobile, I saw a confident smile on her face which was bejewelled by big twinkling eyes.
She responded to my “here you go” with a big smile and a “Thanks”.
Once her mobile was in the charging slot, she got hold of her short tresses and weaved them into a stylish knot and quietly sat on the seat on which the lady with the kid was sleeping. The old lady sitting next to me got up and offered her seat to the big-eyed maiden. Apparently it was her seat. She immediately occupied the seat and without wasting any time took out a book from her bag and started reading it. As I was struggling on the 21st page of my voluminous book, I was struck with curiosity about what she was reading , but I could not see the title. A side glance at her told me she was deeply engrossed in whatever she was reading.
A sudden call on her phone made her leave the book and rush to attend to the call… Thereafter for 10 minutes I could hear continuous chattering in pure Bengali with her mother. So this big-eyed petite lady was actually a Bengali, I inferred.
Till now my perception of a Bengali was that he or she was a ‘super intelligent snob’. So I was now expecting very little company and the rest of the journey was going to be at the mercy of the labyrinthine story weaved by Ashwin Sanghi, I thought. The not-my-type book and with a snobbish co-passenger, it was certainly a double whammy for me.
As she went back to her book I caught the name of the author from the spine of the book – Banerjee. Obviously her interest was justified.
My mind now raced back to the interactions which I had with so many editors in publishing houses in Delhi to whom I had sent the manuscripts of my books for review, and each of them after many heated discussions had rejected my work saying it needed serious editing. All these editors had two things in common, one, all of them were ladies, and second all were Bengali.
Whilst I was distracted from the book I was reading and engrossed in my critical analysis of Bengali females , I heard the sweet voice of my co- passenger. This time she volunteered to put my mobile back for charging as she had removed hers. I was taken aback at this polite gesture from a supposedly snob Bengali. ‘So unlike a Bengali’, I thought. A ‘ thank you’ was all I could mutter amidst the racing thoughts in my mind. As she plugged my charger back into the socket and deftly fixed my mobile on it, she asked me where I was going. I saw a confident and radiant face looking for an answer. “I am going to Amritsar” I answered in as polite language as possible, hiding the crude Punjabi accent, lest she start reacting to me like the other bengali editors had done. In return to the display of good manners, I too asked her where she as going. I quickly received the answer ‘Jalandhar’, with a broad smile. With the initial inhibitions gone, I was a bit emboldened to ask what book was she reading? The answer to this was a five minute monologue which was intertwined with hand gestures and twinkling of her big eyes. Her monologue covered not only the aspects of the book, but also the author, Mr Banerjee, whom I had never heard of. But according to my co-passenger, whom I had named Big Eyed Bengali (BEB) he was the greatest literary giant India had produced. As I kept listening, I really began to admire the language of the orator, and at the end of those five minutes, I decided that I could listen to some more tales. So now I asked her what other books had she read. The answers were equally long and full of enthusiasm. I was mesmerised at her command over the language and gestures. ‘Bengalis are really good at the language ‘ I inferred inwardly. ‘ No wonder they are snobs’
As the discussion on books dried up, I asked what she was doing in Jalandhar. The answer to that made me actually shut my mouth. “I am a Psychologist” pat came the reply. OMG, i was stupefied for a moment and reminded of an old quip, ‘ You utter anything in front of a psychologist and he will start analysing you’. Silence is thy best friend , I thought.
But after almost an hour of her talking of her profession as a ‘child psychologist’, I realised that she was not that typical psychologist, of whom one should be afraid of.
By then I think it dawned on her as to why this gentleman was quietly listening to her all along. So she started to make me talk. She asked me what I did. To which I replied, ‘ I am a writer’. ‘Which language do you write in’? Snap came the second question with raising of an eyebrow and a tone of doubt. “English” I answered tersely. She looked again at me, as if thinking ‘since when had sardars moved into the fiefdom of the Bengalis?’.
“What is the title of your book”? came the third and final question.
To which I replied, ” three, I have authored three books”.
It was her turn now to get a bit awed. Though still not convinced, she deftly took out a piece of paper and very politely asked me to write the names of my books. It was almost as if I was going through a lie-detection test by this BEB. But I was enjoying looking at the changing facial expressions especially her big eyes as she began to scan her mobile. “All books are available on flipkart”, I added. Which I think just partially allayed her doubts about Sardars writing in English. However, after that our discussions went on to analysis of many books which both of us had read in particular and then some issues of life in general. She was so well read inspite of her young age. She was very open about her life too and I was indeed impressed by her indepth knowledge about child psychology. I even took some advice about how to tackle my own children. Before we realised it, it was mid night and almost everyone in the compartment was asleep.
It was time to sleep as the train was to reach her destination in the morning.
Though I thought we had become good literary friends I had not dared to ask the lady her name or contact details as I always thought that it should be left to the lady to decide. She was a married woman and I did not intend to infringe into her privacy. Also I was not sure whether she had actually upgraded me from being a pseudo-writer (with reservations about how a sardar could write in English) or not. Inwardly, I was keen not to end this journey in anonymity, but my deeply embedded values made me exercise admirable restraint on this issue. As always, my mind ruled my heart.
I got up early at 6 am next morning but found her in deep sleep. The train was to reach her station by 9 am. She got up around 8, saw me already up and to my “good morning” I received an equally warm “good morning” with her signature smile. I said ” the train is about to reach your destination”. She quickly packed her bags. I was now sure that this journey would end with strangers being strangers. As the train was entering Jalandhar station, I offered her help with her heavy bag, to which she declined. The Bengali ego at its helm I thought. But as she stood up to leave , she extended her hand and said, ” I am Nivedita Ghosh, and I am going to read all your three books. Can I have your contact number and blog address?.”
I could not believe what I had just heard from this Bengali lady.
“Of course” I said smiling while shaking my hands with her.
And with this I knew that I had been successful in flipping the image of a Punjabi writing in English language.
And what followed was a friendly exchange of views between an avid reader and an amateur writer.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sonali Swarjeeta Dash on December 4, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    A journey beautifully presented, making it easy to visualise the happenings…Loved it


  2. Posted by कुलदीप कुमार on December 24, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    बहुत खूब …….मोहिंद्र जी


  3. Posted by Sapna on January 27, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Well written but may I say that I am beginning to see a pattern here !


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