An end and a beginning


The previous parts:

Part 1: A trip to Uttarakhand
Part 2: Chandni Chowk to China
Part 3: Lake? What lake?
Part 4: Naini Devi was Kind
Part 5: V.I.P
Part 6: Delhi to Chennai- Kabuliwala

We refreshed and had our morning tea and so did Mr. P and his beloved except that the lady still did not venture out to even brush.. If there is some advanced method of just popping a tablet or a cream as alternative to brushing your teeth, please let me know.. I can consider allowing myself such luxury on Sundays! I’d like to believe that she used the rest room anywhere between 11.00 PM and 6 AM.. and even then I think I’d have known because I woke up at least thrice in between because Varun had a disturbed sleep .

By this time, Mr.P, Varun and I had become quite pally-pally.. Another Bengali gentleman borrowed a book the previous evening to ‘see’ and showed no signs of returning till he finished reading it the next afternoon. So I settled for one of the books Vyas had carried:)

Vyas kept keeping a tab on the names of the different stations and would yell out the names.. And there! In 5 seconds you’d see Mr.P peek out and ask- issteshun? kaunsa issteshun? kaunsa isstate?! (which station? which state?) He looked doubtful when I said I didn’t know… Understandably, Vyas had a standing instruction to not utter a few keywords and ‘station’ was one of them. Mr.P had this other big doubt as to why the other 3 Vs did not know Hindi.. I must admit that this man was very persistent with his questions.. He’d switch to more maps and mark more places..

Curiosity not withstanding I asked him if he was touring India and why straight to Chennai.. He looked a little hesitant and said that they were heading to CMC, Vellore from Chennai.. Anyone in the South will not fail to make a hospital connection at the mention of CMC.. As I waited for him to continue, he said his wife was ‘bimaar’ and they were visiting a specialist.. The curtains did not matter to me any longer.. I told him that CMC has a wonderful reputation and that it has the best of doctors (a few acquaintances have been treated there) and facilities… It must have felt reassuring as he seemed to be visibly relieved..

After a while, he brought out a paper and pen asking me to write down the ‘must see’ places in Chennai, Bengaluru etc.. I was surprised because here was a person crossing a border to meet a doctor but was also contemplating sight-seeing.. I asked him how long he planned to stay in India. One month was what they had.. Was the malady something so simple/treatable that they could travel and see places during the rest of the stay? I wrote down a few places and he traced them on the map too and retreated..

The hubby was away from the seat for a while and the Bengali gentleman was busy reading MY book on the side upper berth and had drawn his curtains, when Mr.P lifted the wife’s side of the screen wide enough for me to see her. And my, she was a beauty! I thought it was by mistake that the curtain had come off and looked away.. He called for attention and said that he wanted to introduce his wife.. Was I happy! She did not know Hindi, Urdu or English.. They spoke pushthun! She’d been wanting to tell me how lovely my sons were..(which shows she’d spent most part of the journey sleeping:)) This time Mr.P was the translator.. I got a little nosy and asked her what exactly was wrong with her health? And why all the way to Vellore? Mr.P hesitated again and then pointed a little below his stomach and said ‘woh…. isko kya kehten hai… yeh thoda kharaab hai’ (this here, what do you call it? there is some problem here). Kidney? I asked. He nodded in agreement immediately.. He had hesitated because he didn’t quite know how to say the word..

The woman looked anything but sick… she must be aged around 35.. and the gentleman looked 45. She spoke in pushthun about her son who was 5 years old and did ‘sheithaani’ like Varun:) He was staying back with his grandparents. We spoke for few more minutes about her son and then, the curtains fell again as the hubby was back.. I felt sad for the lovely lady.. Just 30 mins before the train arrived at Chennai, Mr.P undid the screen and the lady was fully covered in her robe again..now even the eyes were not visible as they were hidden behind a black-netted veil! Not sure why, but a 1000 watts bulb glowed on Varun’s face.. and he said- “aunty kanne moodintaale” (but aunty has closed her eyes!!) but kept chattering with the couple.. And she finally visited the loo with Mr.P in her wake.. Much to my relief!! At this rate, am not surprised that her kidney failed. Or was it because of the failed kidney that she did not visit the loo? Only she can tell…

I hope she is doing better now and joins her son in a few more days… Though the rules for her were different from that of her husband’s, what I was happy about was that he valued her life and cared enough to bring her all the way to get her treated.. Nothing else mattered..

We wished the couple luck with their treatment and assured that all would go well, and parted ways.. It was the end of our journey and a beginning of theirs..

Delhi to Chennai- Kabuliwala


The previous parts:

Part 1: A trip to Uttarakhand
Part 2: A trip to Uttarakhand
Part 3: Lake? What lake?
Part 4: Naini Devi was Kind
Part 5: V.I.P

I never knew we’d get to meet one of Mamata Banerjee’s pet babies- the Duronto train from Delhi to Chennai. I only wish they’d spelled it phonetically as Dhurauntho (pliss to correct me if am wrong) to prevent the non-bangla speaking folks from pronouncing it as Toronto or Doronto and feeling proud about a western association:)

Barely after 5 minutes of our settling down, a massive Pathan set his gargantuan foot inside the bay and his voice matched his size. He held his ticket 8 inches away from my eyes asking me to inspect if he was in the correct coach and seat- “Yeh thuhrty saevan hai?” (is this seat no.37?). I said yes and pointed at the two seats opposite ours. He muttered a thanks, parked his luggage and disappeared for a few minutes. When he re-appeared, there was a purdah clad woman behind him, with a veil drawn over her face, revealing only her eyes behind a netted mesh. He showed her the seat and he set about arranging his bags. I loved the hazelnut eyes of the woman and kept turning to make an eye contact with her. No luck:(

For convenience, let us call the gentleman Mr.P.

Ten minutes after the train started, Mr.P asked me if the AC was on and why it was so hot… He was profusely sweating.. Again I answered in the affirmative and told him that it will take a while for the AC to take effect.

The conversation between the couple was mostly one-sided with him speaking rather loudly while the lady was barely whispering. In a language that was neither Hindi nor Urdu. Another 15 mins later, Mr.P pulled out a double bed-spread from his bag and said that his wife wanted to sleep, so if we did not mind, he’d put up a screen from top to bottom. He tied one end to a tray-like stand near the upper berth and the other end to the curtain rings of the curtain already present in the train, making it one neat L-shaped enclosure for the two.. Of course we had no problem but were baffled nonetheless! So a screen went up and the couple were well shielded from the ‘public’ gaze.. And it was time for Vyas to ask his trademark questions- Amma, why this? (pointing at the makeshift screen). Because aunty is tired and wants to rest without being disturbed- I answered.

Another 10 minutes elapsed before Mr.P peeped from between the two curtains, holding the folds together under his chin. He wanted to know the distance between Delhi and Chennai.. The hubby told him that it must be a little over 2000 kms.. “Tooooo thoscend…?” he dragged and shifted his gaze to me.. I became the official translator for a while after which he decided that routing was costly and it was best to direct the questions to me. More questions followed, like what time does the train reach Chennai.. Why Duronto has 5 stops if it is a non-stop train etc.. I was racking my brains for an Hindi equivalent of ‘5 technical stops’, failing which I had to explain that the stops were necessary to load food, fuel, etc.. He nodded to imply that he understood.. My translation services were availed by the stewards too to help them serve Mr.P..

Mr.P would peep out, ask a question, get an answer and would withdraw into his cocoon:) The next time he peeped, I literally did a ‘me first, me first’ kinda thing by asking him a series of questions.. Turns out, he is from Afghanistan and the lady was his wife. This was their first trip to India and they did not know anyone in this part of the world. He kept pulling out a travel guide and asked about several places including Chennai, Mysore, Vellore and B’lore and would disappear behind the curtains. Puzzling. It was very tough keeping Varun from pushing the screen aside and I was hoping that it didn’t come off. The little rat peeked into the curtain every 10 mins saying “kanom, dho ikken. naan vandhuten!” (basically hide and seek!). The couple didn’t mind and I let him be.. Vyas was itching to ask me something and I think I knew what was coming. As both my boys have swallowed loud-speakers at birth, I had to tell him something important before he uttered blasphemy. The moment he came near me, I had to caution him with:

Me: Before you ask, I have something to tell you. Listen. The uncle and aunt sitting opposite us are from Afghanistan. Kabul. They are visiting India for the 1st time on some important work. You must take care not to speak or say something that might offend them. For instance, the curtains, their attire, terrorism, Bin Laden…(and to think that he was killed 35 hours later!)

Vyas: (before I could finish): Amma! I know ! What can they do about all that!

Me: Not that Kanna.. I’m happy you understand.. I just wanted to emphasize that any inadvertent remark is not welcome.. and you might not know if you are saying the right thing.. We must make them feel at home.. They are here the first time..

Vyas: Ok ma. I just wanted to know how they came to Delhi.. and where they live.. and what language is that?

Me: They took a direct flight from Kabul where they live. The language might be pushthun… Am not sure. Will ask him the next time he comes out.. You can ask him too. But in Hindi;)

He went back to the window seat on the side berth and probably forgot why he’d come to me in the first place:) I do not know if I was right in cautioning him thus but I did not want him saying something rude or inappropriate.. This was the first time he was traveling a long distance with people from a neighboring country.. The kids hear/see bits and pieces of conversations the adults have, are exposed to more information- right and wrong- in school, and make their own theories… It is sad that even adults sometimes try to fit people into templates… Vyas knew and understood the Mumbai terror attacks.. he has heard the news channels scream, adults discuss about the Pakistan connections… He has heard of Saddam Hussain and Bin Laden.. I have told him about Kabul and Khyber Pass once when he caught me wiping away a tear after I turned the last page in the book, ‘The Kite Runner’..

I do not know if he remembers what I’d told back then, but there is no taking chances with kids. Such generalizations might already be weighing heavily upon the innocent people from these countries.. A question like, have you witnessed bombing or have you been part of the war, would really have turned something inside me if I were in Mr.P’s place.. And to carry home the knowledge that even children associated war with their country and its citizens, would be too great a burden.. Maybe I was/am over-analyzing.. But I felt very light after talking to him..

It was a little over 11 PM and the kids had fallen asleep, and I snuggled beside Varun after a visit to the loo. And then it dawned on me that the lady had not once stepped out to visit the rest room!! How is that possible, specially when you have been gulping down the coffee, juice, soup, water, everything the railway folks have been shoving our way?!! The very thought seemed to make my bladder feel heavy again!

to be contd….

Part 7: An end and a beginning

A road not taken


I decided to unravel the mysteries of life when I was in high school. Was told that the maze of lines on our palms is the key to our life. Each line in the network speaks volumes of how the events and people in our lives fit in. They call it science. And there are scores of books that you can use to learn on your own. Easy. I borrowed a couple of books on palmistry and numerology and studied intensely along with another friend.

After two weeks of labor, I felt elated at having acquired a new trait and reassured myself that the learning will not go a waste. Practice will perfect the skill. There started my sojourn as an active ‘palm-reader’. My cousins, their spouses, friends from school and college became my ‘clients’.

My predictions were very specific and tailored. I told only what my clients wanted to hear. I would not divulge anything negative until asked for. I did not charge a single penny because I’d decided to keep palm-reading as a hobby with zero commercial angle to it. I was nice that way. At college, friends used to flock to my bench during breaks and much was discussed on two specific abstractions- love life and career path!

There were a few rules though. 1. I would not read the palm of the same person ever again. 2. I cannot guarantee that everything I say comes true. 3. I will not give any recommendations on averting or reverting situations:) These rules impressed my clients and I came across as someone genuine. In a world where every astrologer/palm-reader/swami-jis suggested expensive ‘pariharams’, here was someone saying you cannot change your fate; you’ve got to face it! It was an active year with lot of predictions and reading into people’s future and dig-ups into the past!

Once, during a break, a classmate walked up to me after a week of hibernation and shook my hands and hugged me. “Daala”, (that is how she used to call me), “chance-e ille (no chance)! I was nearly electrocuted when I was pressing my clothes. The electric shock threw me some meters away!” I asked her if the concussion was so bad that she was shaking hands and hugging me to share such a news. “Arre yaar, you had predicted that I might meet with an accident in a week. So I bunked college and decided to stay home the whole week to avoid being run-over. And then I meet with an accident inside the safety of my own house!” Apparently, it was my ‘soothsaying’ that did it and not a high voltage or bad iron-box that caused the leak! And here was a dud congratulating me when she should have bashed me up!

A close acquaintance quit his 10 yr old job with a good company to start something on his own. When I met him after 2 months into the venture, he appreciated me on accuracy of my prophecy! It turns out that I had predicted he’d quit his job with a public sector and be on his own after he crosses a particular age. I however do not recall saying anything like that, or maybe I did. I said too many things to too many people! Coming to this prophecy, he gave up the business after a couple of years and is back to salaried job and am not sure if this was a part of the prediction too!!

Met a friend of my cousin’s after 6 or 7 months of ‘reading’ her palm. Thanks to my cousin for introducing me to her friend as an ace palm-reader. Much had happened in these months. She lost her only brother, all of 17 years old, to a freaky road accident where there was not a single injury or bruise on his person. Just the shock of being knocked down by a speeding bike right outside his house did him in! And she ended-up relating it to a fancy statement from me on something unexpected happening in the months to come. Whether I’d explicitly mentioned as something ‘unpleasantly’ unexpected would happen, she could not recall.

On the day of the fare-well meet at school, I challenged a classmate that he’d go on to do his Bachelors in Science and then do his Masters in Computer Applications and not a B.E as he had intended. He did prove me right! And he was generous enough to give me credit for reading his future correctly!

Today I realize that the single biggest mistake of my life was not tapping the huge opportunity that came my way begging. With so many people to vouch for my strength, I could have demanded prime air-time on all the television channels, set up a website with ‘daily forecast’ for the criss-cross lines, become an advisor to a top politician or actor, print volumes and series of books with interesting anecdotes (not the silly types in ‘Oh Mind Relax Please!’), tie up with famous gemologists, numerologists, nameologists for workarounds, and much much more. The possibilities thrill me! A fool really to have missed the bus!

When I told these people and many others that I’d pulled a fast one and that I did not know palmistry or any such crap, and this was proof enough that it is not a ‘science’ and that people are taken for a ride, they refused to believe me and still think its a ploy to not get me read their palms again! Anything you say with a pinch of ‘negative’ salt and ‘suspense’ masala, people love to devour!

‘It is in the mind’, I say. “You said it is in the palm”, people remind me. “I lied to you. It was supposed to be fun”, I plead. “You are lying now. How come the sayings came true?” they ask. “I leave it to you. Only dont brand me a witch. That is the fee I ask!”. I have been paid that, thankyou!

Learning to Share..


The best place to learn about sharing your space with fellow humans is but a Share-auto. That is, among other things like optimum use of real estate, balancing act, patience, journeying with closed eyes, and of course experiencing cattle-class first-hand even before you board a flight.

I have no special fondness for the share-autos though, but at the same time do not dread them like my folks at home do. Its yet another convenient transport system operating between different points in Chennai besides the regular, popular Chennai autos, and ideal for short distances at a fair price. I do not mind using the service once in a while. A tactful auto driver neatly packs about 7 to 9 passengers into his vehicle and if you are one of them, you’ll be lucky to catch up on the roller-coaster ride that you missed the last time you went to a theme park. On a boring day, you’ll find just 5 or 6 passengers with a lot of leg-room and more zip-zap-zoom action.

Am one of the privileged users besides the famous PTC buses, and believe me, you are missing something if you have’nt tried a ride yet. Really. But what called for this post is an interesting auto-driver whom I met sometime back. I had the choice of waiting for another bus from where I alighted, or cover the distance by foot, or take a regular auto or a share auto. I got into a share-auto as the sky looked threatening and just stopped at that without an actual show of torrential rains it portended! And the regular autos were having a field day charging 2 times the usual fare, thanks to the weather. The auto had barely moved a few meters when we were stopped by two friendly traffic police. Yes, you got me right. They were on ‘duty’ and were ‘working’. The auto-man had violated the rule (which by the way is the norm!) by sharing his seat too with a passenger (the sharing lessons are for the drivers also..).

What ensued was interesting. The driver and the police engaged in an animated conversation for a couple of minutes, where the driver was trying to convince them and was willing to ‘let-go’ a passenger. Sincere that our system is, the police would hear none of it. The driver was requested to step out and fill in some ‘forms’. Read ‘harassment dressed as duty’. Just as I was contemplating on whether to wait for the process to get over or just look out for another bus or auto, I heard a police telling the driver to pay Rs.50/- and get moving or pay a fine of Rs.100/-. The driver promptly offered to pay the fine! Those of us watching this scene from within, were zapped! This must have upset the men in uniform for they were not making the process any easier and an intentional delay was quite obvious. The driver politely requested us to alight and take another vehicle. He was not embarrassed, not upset, and seemed to have a hold on the situation. I liked it. Not to say that such violations be allowed. But, his ‘No’ to bribe was a bold stand.

Long live such auto-wallahs! I wish the other small vendors selling food, flowers, toys etc follow suit and say NO to maamools. Now start sharing to learn…

Excuse me! Ladies Seat Please!


One of the innumerable blessings Chennai has is the PTC bus service. Between, is’nt Chennai one of the best cities to have a wonderful local transport system, both by road and rail? I personally think so.

Coming to the bus transport, you are doubly blessed if you are a frequent user of this service. Am one. Besides being let into interesting conversations, you also get into interesting situations. Like the other day, which like every other day, was eventful. The seats on the left, reserved for ladies, was fully occupied and few were seen standing. Still, hopped into the bus because I’d already skipped two buses because of the crowd and was running late. The little one at home has a biological timer set and goes off as timed if he does not see his mom moving about inside the house at that hour.

The last seat was occupied by a few ‘gentlemen’. Good. I walked up to the seat and requested one of them to give me the seat. He gave me ‘that’ look and turned away. I then ‘gently’ reminded him that it was reserved for ladies. And showed him the text written in Tamil which was a little over his head (pun intended). He made a face and reluctantly got up and I caught him muttering, “vandhuruvalungalae ladies seat nnu sollikittu” (a sarcastic comment to the effect that these women come demanding as if.. I don’t know how exactly to translate this ). I simply glared at him for it was not in me to pick up an argument with him at that moment.

Just as I sat down, I heard a lady standing there sympathize with the men-folk in general, and a rant aimed at me in particular. ‘Kaalam kettupochi’, she said. Which loosely translates to ‘Its a bad world’. “Do you know that men also have a hard day at work? They are prone to sickness and sorrow. They also age like women”! Wow! I mean it was a revelation. I had a good mind to ask her if men had their bottoms pinched or their person groped as often happens (read everyday) with women, specially in a bus? I ignored her rant and call me selfish, was happy I got a place to sit. I have a feeling she was irked because she had till then not requested anyone to move and give her a seat. And as if this was not enough, the men next to me got up one by one and made way for the other ladies, the silent spectators, who for some reason thought that it was the right moment to demand the seat. And this woman, who was uttering blasphemy, was one of them to occupy a ‘vacated’ seat!

Touting for women’s rights is not on the agenda when I demand the seat which is actually reserved for ladies. I understand that an old man deserves the seat more than I do. Am not saying that every women gets ‘feeled-up’ in a crowd, or that all men are bad. Sexual abuse is common in a crowded bus and is very very annoying. Every other person appears decent and the culprits have a knack of becoming invisible. Given a chance, I’d even sit on the right-side which is ‘common’, if all the seats in the left and the last row are occupied that is. And it is not that I don’t travel standing. I do, but avoiding a crowded bus to the extent possible seems to be the sensible thing to do.

I often sulk and curse the buses and the routes like every women does. But there is a bus every few minutes and 9 out of 10 times, you’ll have a comfortable ride home. And that is the positive, wonderful side of public transport in Chennai. A blessing even if there is a price to pay.

What say you gals and guys?

PS: Edited a typo.

Family history shared in a bus


Bus travel is an experience. But never knew that it can be so very interesting. Come to think of it, the conversations we overhear (this is not intentional mind you!) are excellent bloggable materials. And am sure this deserves a special section in the blogs and am going to add special tags.

The travel time last evening from work to home was just over 35 mins. Between, ‘time’ is a tricky thing and I have a feeling it customizes itself according to people’s mood, place, or circumstance. Otherwise how could I have learnt the family history of 3 families spanning over 3 decades in about 30 mins? Many such conversations have made it to our lunch table discussions and then forgotten. They are worthy of being recorded for posterity. Precisely why am going to jot them down here!

Claimer 1: All characters, names, incidents, events cited below are real and have not been distorted.

Claimer 2: Hey you all women reading this. Don’t you ever believe when the guys say that they do not gossip or indulge in small-talk. They do it big time. There will be few smart guys who will attribute that gossip also to the presence of a girl or two in the group!

Disclaimer: Am not sure of the authenticity of the tales spun (err.. facts discussed) by the characters though.. And I mean no offence to you guys who traveled, if you chance upon this blog. Which I doubt..

Disclaimer: There might be mix-ups of conversations of B and Mani. Read on to see who they are..

A girl and two guys, all in their 2nd yr Engineering, were occupying the last seat and D70 is the bus route (in Chennai). They got to ‘know’ each other a little recently (this is my inference from the conversation that followed). For convenience, let me call the girl G and one of the boys B (for I did not figure out their names). The other boy is Manikandan and is brilliant. He himself made that claim and B vouched for his academic brilliance.

(Starts from where I picked up)

B ( to G): What’s the model number of your mobile?

G: Not sure da. Don’t remember actually. I shelled out 7K though.

B and Mani: Too bad you don’t know! Ok, what songs do you have?

G: Eei,check the file storage. My brother only knows da. He listens to the songs as I have pain in my ears when I plug the ear-phones in.

Mani: Why?

G: Don’t know. Must visit the ENT.

Mani: I mean, why don’t you know which songs are available?

G: Oh that! (giggles..) I told you I don’t use it. My brother does.

B: You have two brothers right?

G: I have a younger brother and 3 cousin brothers who are older than me. But they are as good as my own brother and are very fond of me.

B or Mani: Do you fight?

G: Yeah, we fight and forget soon too.

B: Yeah, that’s the way to be. I and my elder brother fight too. We are still close.

G: Do you both have sisters?

B: We both have an elder brother. Do you know something. My brother’s name is Karthik and so is Mani’s (it was at this junction that I got to know that Mani is Mani). And both did IT in Jerusalem college.

G: Same class?

Mani: No, my brother is studying while his brother is [some year]-passout.

G: So nice no?!! Do your brothers take care of you (unga annanga ungale nalla pathikkuvangala?).

B: Yeah. I told you we also fight.

G: You know, my brother takes his studies too lightly. He feels that he should have been born a year later.

B or Mani: Why?

G: No exams for 10th std from next year. That is why. He is in 10th now.

B or Mani: I heard that the exam ban is in effect from this year?

G: No No. I do not think so.

G to Mani in particular: I heard that you study very well?

Mani: See, I just listen in the class. I don’t spend hours studying like how others portray. But somehow, I manage to score well. Just listening in class matters.

G: I don’t know about that. I can’t make sense of half the things taught. Who do you think teaches that well? Most of them (i guess it is the faculty) are recent pass-outs!

B & Mani: Yeah yeah, you are right….

B: But what this guy says is true. I’ve never seen him with books at home. He is either watching TV or playing cricket or talking to me or other friends. His brother is even more brilliant. He was the District 7 (or similar rank, don’t remember) in 12th.

G: Wow! Your parents must have been very happy.

Mani: Yes, specially my dad. You know, my dad has struggled quite a lot when he was young. Very much!

B: Hey tell her about how your dad started da!

Mani: He (the dad) started working in a bakery at Red Hills when he was just 7. His dad ditched him after his (the dad’s) mom’s death and married someone else. He has struggled his way up since then.

B: His (mani’s) mom’s a great support. You know, their’s was a love marriage.

Mani: Yeah, my mom is very broad-minded. My parents still have not been accepted by my grand-parents (must be the mom’s side- my brilliant inference).

G: Sad na?! But it is nice that your dad has made it and has also managed to educate both his sons in professional colleges!

B /Mani : True, true! Really great.

G (laughs): Mani, I then don’t see any objections from your parents when the time comes…

Mani: Yes. They are very open to it.

G: I sometimes tell my mom that I’m going to find my own match. And my mom is too easy on that too. She says she’ll happily save the money to be spent on 50 sovereigns gold and dowry if i elope (laughs again)!

B: Hey what photo is this? (presumably the one in G’s mobile)

G: This is our college symposium. And this is when I went to Coimbatore for [something to do with college].

Mani: We should plan an outing with all our friends. Maybe Ooty or some place. It will be fun.

G: No way. My parents will not allow for more than a day or two at max. Maybe beach or ..

It was time for me to alight while their interesting journey must’ve continued. While the three-some discussed their families so loudly in so public a place like a local transport, what was heartening was to hear them speak highly of their family and there wasn’t a trace of vulgarity!

Life sometimes doesn’t seem complex at all. It can be run as a 30 mins slideshow…

Person next to you…


It was a ten-days trip to Kolkatta (hope I got the spelling right) and Darjeeling. We were a team of thirty, going on a holiday. All of us were visiting this part of India for the first time.

Train travel is a mega-event in itself. We had decided to make the most of our two nights and one full day travel. There were plans for music, dance, card and chess games, snacks and what not!But for two seats, the remaining were continuous seats, in a single compartment. These two seats amidst our group was occupied by a father and a son. The man was aged around 40. It appeared that they were speaking in some other language and not Tamil. From what we heard, it sounded like Bangla, or so we presumed! We decided to request this friend to exchange our two seats with his. We were not asking him to compromise or settle for anything less. He was offered a Window seat and the one next to it. It was a cosy place. We were surprised to hear an uncompromising ‘no’ (not rude though!) from him. Obviously, we not not happy with this unfriendly person! We decided to show him that we were’nt pleased and that we considered him an hindrance.

The Howrah Mail started at around 10.30 pm or so. Originally, our plan was to start off on our fun programs the following morning after a good night’s sleep. But this man changed our minds. We started right away by playing our favourite cassette in full volume. Our claps and taps compounded to the already gruff sounding tape recorder. Our man did not flinch. We expected him to excuse himself atleast after one hour and accept our exchange offer. But here he was, reading a bound book. Never stirred for a second!! Our impatience was growing by degrees.

The war which was going without any dialog between our party and him, was now getting verbal, but only from our side and only in our local language, Tamil. One from our team was looking into our faces while calling our man all names. Another joined this game and lots of things were spoken. Blessed in the knowledge that our man did not understand what was being said of him, the game continued the whole of next day. All the while, the man was busy reading his book or was engaged in an animated conversation with his son in his language. We had no clue to learn if he was playing the same game which we were playing on him, calling us names and passing funny comments!

Next morning, the train was nearing Kolkatta, perhaps another two hours to go. Our friend got up from his seat and probably went for a wash. His book, that he was religiously holding on to, had fallen down and was open. And what did we see! It was in Tamil! I took the book and was looking at it, open mouthed when our friend returned. I’m not sure if he saw that ‘Oh No!’ look on my face. He took the book from me with a mere ‘Thanks’ and kept it aside. No expression what so ever on his face. A few minutes later, he called for our attention, in Tamil (?!) and pointed to some factory through the window. He announced (in Tamil again) that it was a liquor factory belonging to the famous Hindi actor, Danny Denzongpa!!!

He spoke a couple of sentences after that. None of us actually heard what he said, but only knew that he was talking in Tamil.

The train reached Kolkatta. We got off, and so did our friend. We parted ways. It was more than thirty minutes before we realised that none of us had uttered a word after we heard the man speak!!! What was on in his mind is still a mystery which we’ve never dared to unravel!

I’m sure he’ll never forget, but has surely forgiven.