Sunday, March 18, 2012

A most interesting train journey

10 pm. Mumbai CST. Platform 9.

7 people sitting in coach B2 of the Husainsagar Express, waiting for the train to start its journey towards the city of the Nizam. Each passing time in his or her own way.

A tall, lanky fellow, some 20 years of age, sits on the side berth, talking animatedly on his phone. While the young girl, who clearly likes the look of this guy, is sitting beside him, pretending to work on the laptop but is stealing glances at him when she thinks he isn't looking. Of course, men, Indian men, are not used to being stared at. By women, of course. And so they know instantly when that happens. So is the case with our guy too. The more he spots her looking, the louder and more flamboyant his conversation goes. And that seems to irk the old couple occupying the 2 lower berths. They were looking forward to a peaceful night's sleep, but their long years have taught them that tonight is not going to be one of those nights. Perhaps that is why they seem to be seeking support from the married woman traveling alone, silent and as one. But she has more urgent matters at hand. The old couple should know better, after all, they can hear this woman's daughter trying to convince her mother that she feels safe, although she is alone at home. But since when have mothers listened to reason? The man sitting across from her seems to know this. A hint of a smile appears on his lips. But it is gone the very next moment. The sparkle in his eyes, which existed for so fleeting a moment is replaced by something else. Something I cannot fathom. Is it sorrow? Or pity? I am too young to work it out. What do I care even? I have a long night ahead of me and a most interesting book to read.

Suddenly, a man burst in. He wouldn't have been a day more than 30. Neatly dressed. Not a hair out of place. A proper man. Too proper, in fact, for that time of the night. And in contrast with his face which bore a haggard look. "Have you seen my daughter? She is 10, wearing a blue frock and about this tall", he said with his right hand right up to his chin. "Have you seen her?" His pain was visible. He was twitching, nervously fidgeting with his tie. "Please, help me", he lamented once more. There was silence. The lad and the mother had both stopped talking on their phones. Even the girl gave her full attention to this unfortunate father. But no one said a word. The silence was deafening. It was as if we were all connected, feeling guilty, together, for failing him. We hadn't yet spoken to each other and yet, here, we felt we were one. And just as soon as he had come, he went ahead, looking for help elsewhere. Leaving us in his wake. Still silent.

Just then the train started. The girl started working on her laptop. I started reading my book. The rest started preparing their beds. We were still silent. But no more connected. No more as one.

We were all alone. Terribly alone. Together.