That Thursday, my alarm rang earlier. Unlike usual days, That day I had a journey to full fill, a destination to reach. Dressed after my daily routines, I took by backpack which I prepared last night, and reminded myself to take my wallet and mobile phone. Railway station was about 2 Kilometers away from my home. It was 5 O’Clock and Summer, so I preferred walking. I always loved walking early in the morning before others start their daily routines. I loved the early morning breeze, the soft refreshing climate and I thought it will give me a head start over others. I loved silence and peace than anything else. I carried my backpack in my shoulder, wallet and phone in my pockets. I set off my journey.
I love my country, because of its diversity. People here are dramatic and diverse. Through the quite village I got down the cement steps to the river. As I crossed check dam, near my home, I saw people brushing and bathing without being awkward in the river, beneath the dam. They were regular there and had there permanent spot in the river, which was familiar for them. When I passed they just ran their eyes over me. I was not a regular their. Since I worked mostly in nights, I could not afford a morning walk. But a nice early morning-walk always finds its space in my new year resolutions.
Sun was yet to show up, there were not much visual aid for me except the dim flickering of old street lights and dim flash from my phone. As I passed through an alley to a small road, vehicles were as scarce as the open shops which were just lighting up for the day. A flickering orange traffic light which was near a rise mill, led me to a much broader road. I encountered morning walkers, homeless people on the street pavement and a tea maker who was happy to start his business with his familiar morning walkers. As I neared the railway station, everything was brighter and louder, Shops were open, and streets were populated, passengers and cabs took the place of the morning walkers. As I moved closer to the station, a loud noise of retro tamil devotional music converged me, revealing a small Murugan temple that I had to cross over. Loud music, in the morning wee hours was like a ritual their, as nobody even the shop keepers, couldn’t possibly be interested in it. Hot filter coffee was brewing inside Mani’s coffee shop. The aroma from there was enough to keep the vendors around awake. The Shopkeepers were waiting for their first income, and saw me with hope. Fresh fruits were just unloaded from a truck and banana chips which were destined to fill the empty containers in front of the chips makers, were a delight to watch. A teenage boy standing outside his deli, invited me with other wayfarers, to give a special discount. I wondered, how it would feel to be there, to be in his shoes. I declined his special offer, and entered the more crowded, much lighted railway station. I joined few passengers standing in the ticket counter, took a ticket to Calicut, and boarded my train from 3rd Platform. Platform was filled with people, still at peak hours thrice the passengers could be easily accommodated. Working Men, Families, IRCTC pantry vendors, Newspaper sellers, gawker, porters etc.. were in the platform.
Train was mostly isolated as it was the starting station. There were few daily runners in my compartment. They slept soon after boarding. Few boys were up, listening to music with their headsets connected with their music device. A woman in black veil, with her son (or daughter), was reading a magazine as the train was fully lit. I settled myself into a one seater with fire exit window and safety chain for pulling in emergency. As I just had few documents in paper inside my backpack,I put it on my lap, stretched my legs to the empty seat opposite to me and lavishly reclined.
At 5:50 in the morning, Train was on time. As soon as the train moved, I remembered to give a scheduled mandatory missed call home, as a token of initiating my journey.
Most of them came with lot of luggage. I always travelled light, with the bare minimum and most essentials only. I also never purchased materials which was more luggage than productive to me. Maybe it was because, I belonged to a certain middle class family which ideologises in purchasing a product after their thorough research and analysis, giving ample precedence for “value for money” and more often compromising quality over quantity. Depending on their social stratum people judged us from being Scrooge to conservative to minimalist. I liked calling it minimalist lifestyle. I would prefer minimalism. I could adapt to many situations and accomplish many things, without supplementary materials – a skill acquired my most middle class south asian.
Train departed. Soon light inside the train dimmed and outside started brightening. On the way most small stations were empty, or less crowded.
After a few stations, some regular working class people, settled in longer seats to my left and chatted joyously about politics, work ethics, and small mishaps of their colleagues who were joining them next station. They also put towels marking their reservation, and were waiting for them. They were colleagues from the same office, probably a government office. I thought I wanted a job like that, where I could travel early in the morning with friends, chatting with smile and criticising our system while reading newspapers, till reaching the stress free government office.
An Enduring Day
Till I reached Shoranur junction, I slept, sight-see, read book, bought and drank coffee. I had to catch a connection train from Shoranur. I got out. Shoranur Station was a big station with more passengers. Sun had fully shown itself with refreshing morning breeze. Yet a passenger was yawning from his bench in the platform, after his second snooze for the day. For some who were lazily doodling their phones, either train was late or they reached before their time. After grabbing a cup of coffee, I went to a Kannur passenger, which hopefully lead me to my destination.
I was browsing outside the train, passing through each compartment, searching for a vacant seat with safety chain and fire exit and finally found one. I got in and when I reached there, I was surprised to see a girl sitting on that seat comfortably placed her luggage in the opposite seat. When I reached there, she gave me a glance and moved her luggage from the seat.
She had more luggage than me, a black backpack and a duffel bag which had rollers and a long strap. The later was put beside my seat, so I couldn’t get in. I was about to ask her to move it, when she shoved the duffel bag under my seat without making an eye contact.
There was something pleasantly different about her. She wore a black kameez and ragged navy jeans pant, which I thought, might well be due to night journey. Her innocent soft face was contrary to her sharp eyes with mascara, which had both curiosity and scepticism in it. Her hair was rustic but vaguely mended, a mix of both submission and evasion from the world. For a girl in her twenties, she sat straight and had surely been through some rough rides in life which made her fists firm. Usually my brooding eyes are pretty good in judging the nature of people, but something fell short this time.
With a jerk, the train withdrew from the station. She was lost in the world outside the window. She never gazed the passengers or the tea seller or the paddlers. It seemed like she was foreign to the world inside and was yearned to go outside. As the train gained pace, her sight deepened. She wore a running shoe, which was determined for a long journey.
Just because I felt curious, I thought I would ask her some doubt regarding the station, start small talk and slowly get to know her. But I dropped that idea, when I felt like, she was definitely not interested in conversations and was immersed in some deep thought. I also didn’t want her to think that I was ogling at her. So, I sat gazing outside, sipping my coffee, and dreaming as I usually do while I am travelling alone.
My daydream was broken when I heard loud noise of shutters dropping on another seat. I notice that slight drizzle of rain has started. I liked to have a few drizzle of morning rain in my face, when I looked at my neighbour she was blissfully unaware of everything around her. She even leaned near the window side to catch a few drizzled on her face. The rain thickened suddenly and train dashed forward, a few more drizzle than she expected sprinkled on her face. She retreated suddenly with an unconscious smile on her cheeks, and saw me ogling at her.
I struggled to take my gaze apart, as she asked for whether I would like her to close the window. I began to say that it doesn’t matter, a wind blew to my side and a squirt of rain water,splashed into me. She turned towards the window released the hook, and pulled the window cover down, but it didn’t slide down. When I realized, that as a man it is my responsibility to help a damsel in distress, I told her to step aside and let a man handle it. She laid her bag in her seat and gracefully retreated. After my reckless attempt failed, I was seriously using all my force to pull & then push the cover down. It didn’t move down at all; instead, it went up a little as my hands slipped from it, and slammed into the stand with the coffee cup, that I was drinking, and fell into her backpack.
With an idiotic expression in face, and genuine regret, I apologized to her. Snatched her bag from the seat, before she could get it and whisked the coffee from her bag, into her dress. She jolted back. I apologized her again, and didn’t attempt to wipe coffee from her dress. I just looked around as guy chortled into his phone for some other reason. She took the bag from me, and was concerned for a moment, then chuckled and said it was O.K. I also gave an awkward smile just to conceal my embarrassment.
Seat got all wet. She was already looking around, when I suggested she should get another seat. A long 3 seater nearby had a slot to sit. She moved her Backpack and I helped her get the duffel bag. The train stopped and a swarm of anxious passengers clashed with the few going outside. After making sure she was comfortable there, when I moved back to my seat. A lady wearing a hijab, holding a few months old baby in her hand was making themselves comfortable in my seat. I thought, today is no special day after all, just same daily drama for me. I reclaimed my bag, that she happily obliged. I was seat less in a cramming train. There were even takers for the wet, coffee spilled seat. I understood, why ministers never leave their chair. Life is like this, moments ago, I had a window seat, cool wind swirling on my face, and a girl opposite me. Now I am seat less, wet and in the midst of sweaty passengers struggling and gasping for a puff of oxygen and a place to stand. I somehow wrestled and won an opportunity to stand on one side of the train, where she was sitting. It was a relief for a person like me who don’t keep high expectations, in these hard times.
“One of those days, huh ?” She chuckled.
” Not Really, It’s like a daily thing for me.” I smiled back.
She smiled back and offered to take my bag for me. I declined.
She smiled, and looked away.
Usually in these hard times, I just plug-in my earphones and listen to music or self-help audio books. But, as I forgot my earphone and gaping back at every gawker and oglers was not my favourite thing to do. From my backpack, I pulled out a book named “Khazakinte Itihasam”, a light paperback which I bought from a flea shop in the nearby town, and started reading from the bookmark. Reading a book, squeezed in a crowded train, is only attempted by veteran train danglers. It was an art form and such caricatures were not foreign to me. I was reading and immersed in the euphoric voyage to the Khasak. Everything became sepia toned and I was through both space and time.
A plump middle-aged man couldn’t tolerate it any more, he pushed the fellow passengers aside in a haze, and rushed towards the loo, on the far side of the train. Some passengers fidgeted, some grumbled, but the one standing beside me had no choice but to shove me forward. I brushed with the guy sitting near me and from his shoulder, his sleeping wife’s head transferred to the shoulder of the older guy sitting next to her. When I got back to reality, the masterpiece of O.V.Vijayan was under the feet of a sleeping lady, who could easily be the healthiest women in the compartment. Five and a half passengers ( one passenger could only fit his half butt )adjusting on that three seater were all asleep. I tried to reach the book, and a break pulled and dragged the book behind her legs. I could have tried harder, but stout lady might wake up and call the lady police, after giving me a slap. She might later apologize for misunderstanding my desperate attempt, but the damage would have already been done. Old men would have stereotype me with the whole spoiled youngsters in the country, ladies would see me as a possible threat to femininity, the lady police might just have filed a case on me to cover their monthly petty case quota. Possibilities were enormous and my time was bad. So I retreated. My neighbour smiled, like she read my mind, and took the book and hand it over me.
When the next major station came, crowd briefly dissipated, and I sat opposite her.
She smiled and asked “Are you a regular here ?”
” No, Not a regular but I have travelled through here more than a few times.”
” Do you know, how to get to the beach ? “
” Not really, I have a vague idea, I have gone there once but……” I stuttered, I didn’t wanted her to think I was a dud.
” Don’t mind, I will ask someone, once I get off.” She smiled again.
< …. to be continued >