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..

Advertisements

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

Chandni Chowk to China (A trip to Uttarakhand – part II)


Part 1: A trip to Uttarakhand

I mean, Delhi to Dehradhun. The AC Special train from Delhi to Dehradhun seemed to have arrived on the platform right out of a deep freezer, and the Vs were mighty excited at the prospect of enjoying a similar temperature the next 3 days in Mussoorie. It was a late night train and Varun dozed off the instant we were inside.

Vyas insisted on sitting and gazing out of the window for sometime despite telling him that he’d only see darkness and that it was already 12.00. I think he doesn’t appreciate the advantage of ‘borrowing’ wisdom yet and thinks he has to experience everything first hand before coming to a conclusion. Ten minutes later, he realized that even his spectacles were of not much help and did not shed any light on the outside world.

A few minutes later we all were comfortably tucked in our sheets only to be woken up by a fellow passenger, aged around 40. He had somehow remained invisible till then though his baggage was there and was asking us if we had taken his rug. We double-checked before denying because mistakes happen.. Varun and I were sharing one, while the other 2 Vs had one each. The man was not convinced.. Why would the Indian railways deny him a rug- no? So it must be one of us.. And since we had kids with us and it was also freezing cold, he persisted the matter further saying… “I understand.. yahaan tho chaar honi chahiye… aapke chote bacche hain, agar aapne ne..” (there must be four rugs here, how come only 3? you have small kids and if you have taken it….) and was checking our berths personally, validating if it was one or two rugs. We let him ‘examine’ and one more time of polite ‘explaining’ happened. With the AC blower right on top of our heads, we had to maintain our cool and besides, we had to empathize with him because without that rug, he’d wake up stiff the next morning..

He continued to sulk and kept asking no one in particular a little loudly as to why only his rug disappeared, and that he was sure somebody had taken it. At which point, the hubby reminded him that the rant will help if directed at the TTR (TTE) /assistant in the coach… Looked like he got the ‘Mohammed should walk to the mountain’ message because he walked up to the TTR and there ensued some animated conversation and I don’t remember if I saw or imagined him pointing towards us once or twice during his conversation. After some more mumbling and grumbling, the railway folks gave him another one. The next thing I heard was at once a guttural and nasal snore. This time, it was not the hubby😉

Next Parts:

Part 3: Lake? What lake?
Part 4: Naini Devi was Kind
Part 5: V.I.P
Part 6: Delhi to Chennai- Kabuliwala
Part 7: An end and a beginning