Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Train Journey

The downpour was making life difficult for the people at the Bangalore railway station to find their way through the crowded platforms. The station was immersed with people clustered at all points. The reservation counter bore a resemblance of a first day first show movie, with people clamouring frantically for tickets. Every platform had its share of a sizeable population waiting for some train or the other. It was all the more difficult for the station master to find platform ticket violators. On ordinary days, he used to catch about two hundred people not buying the platform tickets, but on a day like this, if he could get even half that number, he could consider himself to be lucky. He was sweating profusely and the beads of perspiration from his forehead fell on the tickets as he examined each one of them. The hawkers and vendors were having a rough time too, as in this confusion, the last thing on the minds of the people was to eat. The Higginbothams stall was like any other day crowded with avid book readers. Novels, comics, fiction, thriller and other books lined up the shelves tempting the travellers to spend some time at the stall. Even young children took this opportunity to buy books that would enable them to read during the journey, and some of them for the sole purpose of earning a good name from fellow passengers. As usual, the badam milk counter had only two or three takers, and he was in no hurry to make business, as he gossiped with fellow vendors. The porters were having a busy day carrying luggages from one platform to another, and from one end to the other, and of course, busy having arguments with the amount of money they had to receive. There was also a sizeable crowd standing in front of the numerous Television sets, and watching some moving objects on the screen with an undying spirit and effort, the reason which none could fathom.

Sekar had no intention of returning to Madras after a fantastic long weekend in Bangalore. But he had no choice as he had to get back to work the next day. As with software companies, he had a release scheduled in the next couple of weeks, and certainly did not look forward for the coming days. He was sure that he had only one destination during this time, and that was his air-conditioned nauseating cubicle that could easily turn off any human being in the world. He would have to explain a hundred things to his project manager of why something was working in the way it was not expected to be, and then supporting his findings with ridiculous justifications. But as of now, he had to worry about getting back to Madras hale and hearty, which seemed more difficult than working on his project. He had half a mind to get back home and come by the evening train, but he knew things would be worse then. So, half-heartedly he stood in the queue, if one had to call it that way, and waited for his turn to penetrate the narrow gap between the shutters guarded by a solitary ticket checker, to enter the platform. As he stood wondering, Ramu, his brother came from behind and patted him on the back, then giving him a bottle of water. He hadn't packed lunch as he was already stuffed from the afternoon meal, though his mother had insisted vehemently.

"Anna, thank God you had booked the tickets. How I wish we could book the platform tickets online! What a crowd", gasped Ramu. "Why don't you go home? I can take care of myself. Go and study for the exams!", said Sekar. Sekar meanwhile reflected inside the futility of exams and marks but dared not make such statements in front of his brother. He knew that any of those statements, and Ramu would take this opportunity to shift the blame entirely on his brother if he messed up the exam. "What are you thinking?", shouted Ramu. "Nothing. Come, let's get in", said Sekar. Both of them had to shout at the top of their voices to sound above the incomprehensible voice blaring from the loudspeaker, the incessant chatter of people, small children wailing and the hawkers and vendors shouting. They finally got into the first platform, and after about half an hour of running around, climbing up stairs, walking through narrow pathways, and more importantly finding the space among a sea of people to walk their way through, they ended up in the designated platform, waiting for the Brindavan Express. Sekar in the meanwhile, had checked up his pocket atleast fifty times to make sure that his wallet was embedded in his pocket safely. What with pickpocketeers hovering, it was never safe to take things easy.

The train arrived at the platform at almost the right time. It was supposed to halt in the station for the next half an hour. Sekar had arrived much before the time of departure anticipating the crowd at the station. He always hated the end of the holiday season. It was fun to be involved while preparing for the holidays, but as the holidays dwindled to progess into a working day, life became horrible and monotonous. That was exactly what Sekar was going through right now. The crowd, the station, the train and every other thing seemed irritating to him. He had half a mind to take to a secluded spot and get away from prying eyes. He finally found his compartment and took the seat near the window. Though it may sound childish, he always prefered the window seat to get a whiff of fresh air. Ramu lingered on for some more time before Sekar told him to proceed home and get back to studies. "Take care of appa and amma", said Sekar. Ramu nodded nonchalantly and proceeded to the subway to fight his way back through the crowd.

As Sekar sat in his seat, he wondered who his fellow passengers would be. There were two seats beside him and three in front of him. From experience, he expected the seats to be filled with one or two bachelors and a family of four, which invariably comprised of some old people. He wondered why families with young girls never travelled in trains or buses. He heaved a desperate sigh and took out his favourite RK Narayan book Swamy and Friends to read it yet again. He was never bored to read it time and again, and always felt that the simplicity of the great author can be matched by none. He noticed some people getting into the train. There was an old couple finding their way in the compartment. He was sure that they were going to sit next to him. He was very surprised when they sat in a row four rows ahead of him. But experience had made him a good teacher, and he prided on this fact as two bachelors came and sat next to him. The train gradually filled with all the seats taken, except for the three seats in front of him. He expected that to get filled by a family of three at the next station. The train was about to depart in a couple of minutes and he thanked the rain Gods. It is very difficult to approach the station when it is raining, but once inside the train, nothing can be more fun than rain outside.

The train approached the next station, and he did not care to observe who was seated in front of him, as he sat engrossed in the novel. He could still not withhold from not seeing who was in front of him and slowly looked up from the novel expecting to see a family of three. How perfect the guess was, except that the third member of the family was a beautiful young girl of maybe his age group. Suddenly, to Sekar, continuing with Swamy and Friends seemed to be a boring proposition. He tossed the book aside and appeared to be staring at the window. He stole a brief glance at the girl. She was wearing a blue churidhar, with a lighter shade of the color adorning the dupatta. She had a pleasant countenance with flowing hair and her eyes had a dancer's fit. A slim gold necklace fitted her neck to a nicety. She removed her sandals from her feet, placed it under the seat, and sat with her legs folded, looking outside the window. He had half a mind to start a conversation. He looked at her and a "Hi" almost slipped out of his mouth, when the ticket collector interrupted with a gruff voice, "Tickets please". Everyone took out their tickets and the ticket collector made a brief check. Sekar strained his neck just enough to see her name on the rolls. Aarti-Female-22 clearly caught his eyes. Nice name, he thought. He decided that he would introduce himself to her as soon as the ticket collector left the scene.

"Hi! Good its raining today!", resounded the bachelor sitting next to Sekar, looking at Aarti. "Yeah, else it would have been miserable sitting here", voiced back Aarti.
"By the way, my name is Anup", said the bachelor.
"I am Aarti".

Wow, What a way to start a conversation, wondered Sekar and was kicking himself for not taking the initiative earlier. Every guy in the world is a different self as soon as he sees a girl, and if it is a beautiful girl, chances that he can change himself completely is all the more high. Now, how could he butt in when these two are talking.

"Are you from Madras or Bangalore?", asked Anup.
"Oh! I had come here for the holidays. I have been in Madras right from birth."
"Madras is a nice place. I really like it", said Anup.

Obviously, wondered Sekar. Why won't he like Madras now? Where was all the humidity and stickiness in Madras?

"Are you working?", asked Anup.
"Yeah. I am working for a software firm", replied Aarti.
"Oh! Me too".

Sekar wondered why Anup acted as if that was the most important coincidence in the world. Every year hundreds of thousands of people are getting employed in every other software company that it gets surprising only if two people do not come from the software industry. Such conversation between the two went on for some time, and Sekar had to bear this chatter. In the midst of the conversation, a railway vendor carrying coffee came upto them. Immediately, Sekar pulled out a five rupee note and helped himself with a coffee. Anup offered to buy coffee for Aarti, and Sekar felt like a fool in front of her. He decided that nothing was going the way he wanted it to go and so he returned back to the book. He couldn't read a word in the book, and his mind was constantly being drifted to the conversation between the two. Suddenly, Aarti looked towards Sekar, flashed a beautiful smile and said, "Can I have that book if you don't mind?" "Oh! Sure, not a problem", said Sekar. "Thank God, alteast I spoke to her".

Things were quiet as they neared the station. Anup and Aarti exchanged their email address. Aarti, once again flashed that smile of hers and gave the book to Sekar with a "Thanks". Sekar took it with a smile that was hidden. All of them got down the train, and headed in different ways. Sekar walked to the bus stop, and as he stood waiting for the bus, opened the book. Inside, on the first page, was scribbled a ten-digit mobile number, along with an email address and a message "Call me up!".


  1. I am that Sekar...I am in Blore for weekend, will head back to Chennai for work...take the train..prefer the window seat..always curious about who sit in front of me or next to me etc etc...Now I will carry that Swamy and friends..and bugger, if rest of the story does not happen, I am going to kill you !!!
    Nice stories you are writing da...keep them coming...

  2. Switch to WP ( or atleast use this( and categorize your posts....

  3. Hmm...too familiar Praveen - writing is as usual good, but i expected more imagination:-)

  4. Hi,

    RK: Surely its a matter of time before you get someone :-) amele, en vichara?

    Sowmya: Yeah, couldnt let the imagination run wild!!!! Didnt want to make it too phony, filmy and flimsy, though it is all three right now :-)

  5. Wow! that was a nice read! So did this happen to you are you hoping that it would, soon ;)