Closely Watched Trains

The penchant for train journeys had taken the writer into interesting terrains when he was a teenage boy.

I don’t understand it, my friend.

What is the point in leaving home if you haven’t penciled train journeys in your itinerary!

I always want to be in a train zipping through nights like a pointless arrow. To destinations unknown. Even the drizzle should find it hard to catch up with the pace and must break into pieces in despair. The travel bug bit me long back helped by those wonderful journeys on rails.

Given a choice I would prefer a night train.

I used to gild my future in myriad hues and fashions idling on the side-berth. With my head propped on the swollen cloth bag and my legs on the window sill to catch the night air and patchy drizzle I could lay for hours watching the world go by. The chug-chug-chug of the train pulling over sturdy rails formed the perfect background score for my fantasies.

See. I had already tossed aside the novel I was reading for the last dozen journeys. How could I prefer book to the delightful spread of countryside passing through the window! I didn’t want to miss those shadows lengthening in the evening. Degree by degree. I saw farmers stretch their backs, wash off dirt from their hands and legs near little streams now glowing orange against the setting sun and drift back home in an unhurried pace.

Eyes slowly began to get to grips with the darkness, to pick the seams of little huts and lives scattered over the gloomy plain.  Lamps twinkled in the gathering dusk. One flickered inside the open sit-out of a lonely hut down a slope. I saw a woman with a wretched face sitting by her son who was reading aloud his lessons.

The scene vanished in a flash, but my mind lingered on inside that hut. Would there be a husband alive to come back from his work today? Would the boy study hard to materialize his mother’s dreams?

The lives I saw through the window were invested with meanings, but to the boy in me they were written in a foreign tongue – impervious, but definitely could make some resonance deep in my soul.

To take train journeys on sketchy scripts always had its bonuses.

Tell me my friends, when you were young how many of you were not keen in checking the reservation list posted outside the compartment to see whether you would have those right-aged girls near your berth?

“Susan Thomas  –  Female  – 17 years old.”

Our heart leapt with joy when we saw such matter printed near our names.

I fell in love with many girls in journeys as a young boy. Alas! They never knew. There were girls who held me tightly in the corner of their eyes even when they talked to their sisters or friends. I am sorry. I should have told at least a few of you that the flutter we felt in our hearts whenever we locked our eyes was love.

And I remember you, my girl. Even though we hadn’t talked anything that night and I had little courage to ask your name, I still hold that tilt of your head, smile and blush in my mind. But you can’t blame me for letting our love bloom and die in a single night like the poor nishagandhi flowers.

You started everything. Had I not warned you many times in my mind not to push away the stray lock fallen over your eyes like that, not to let that handsomely placed dimple blossom again and again in your cheek, not to curl your legs under you and sit like that? You were reminding me of my wife, I would someday have.

That wind which sprayed fine drizzle on your face, those iron window shutters unyielding to your slender hand, but fittingly stiff for the boy sitting across with love burning in his heart were all designed to nudge your tiny yacht towards my shore.

My girl, I saw love padding across your eyes like a cat when you looked at me and silently asked to help you with the windows. I smiled and complied. I heard the cat purr softly.

Your father’s glances were knives with serrated edge singeing across my friends sitting near me. But I was discrete enough to bury my eyes in time into this novel I had been reading for the last dozen journeys. We smiled looking at different directions. We sighed the same sigh. And missed the same beat.

I woke up early morning, scraped away the last bits of slumber from my eyes to watch you sleep, curled in your berth, with that cherubic face draped in the dim blue glow of the compartment. Had you too stayed awake to see me sleeping under the same dim blue light last night dear? I saw love parked inside those closed lids and waiting for me.

But honey…honey, I am leaving. Yes.

My station is approaching. Don’t open your eyes now. When all the world is sleeping like this you could hardly resist this pair of misty eyes, which have now become those of your husband. But we will never see each other again, dear. You will never be my wife. When you wake up early morning, all you see at your feet would be a crumpled paper cup. Take it into your hands; it could still be beating even against the loud train now rattling over the bridge across a river.

I walked out of the station with a heavy heart and a novel I had been reading for the last dozen journeys. I could have taken you home as my wife that cold morning. But.

I was also 17.

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Rating: 9.5/10 (15 votes cast)
Closely Watched Trains, 9.5 out of 10 based on 15 ratings

About Manu Remakant

Manu has written 313 stories in Rum, Road & Ravings. You can read all posts by here.

27 Responses to Closely Watched Trains

  1. perverted old men…

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    • I despair for want of a like button here, Manu!! 😀 both for the above comment and the story as such 😉

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  2. lol

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  3. sir, this reminds me of the surya song in vaaranam aayiram. Really romantic! I think that most of us will have such an experience(probably more than one) to share. But quite often we either keep those memories within ourselves or tend to forget it later… good work sir. First hand experience really counts in good writings…………………

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    • Yes Gayathri, nothing like real experience:-)

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  4. manu,
    speakin of that, a LIKE button beneath stories, is not a bad idea.
    talk to hari.

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  5. could relate so well to those wistful sentiments. There was always the hope in every train journey that something unexpected and romantic would happen. Sadly life goes on, and dreams don’t.

    Wonderfully written Manu!

    p.s. checking the reservation list, that comes naturally and I do it even now. Old habits die hard! 😀

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    • Anand, how true. Old habits still rule!

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  6. Beautifully written! I read the whole piece with bated breath…
    Enjoyed every bit of it …
    Love locked eyes and smiles in different directions..so typical of ‘those’ days which I could relate to!
    Great writing!

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  7. Thank you Minu. Continue reading…

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  8. I am the kind of person who believes that every piece of writing would have a quintessential bhava/s. I am not sure if Bhava is the correct word. Maybe rasa? Soul?
    The point is the first half of your article evokes nostalgia through which Shringara flows through. Seamlessly blended.
    Though no great fan of train journeys, ( My journeys have all been 3-day-at-a-stretch ones, where you are forced to compromise with the obnoxious loos.) your words were as beautiful as the memory of a red streaked sky in the evening and it inevitably evoked memories and faces I have seen in my journeys. ( The best of my journey was travelling from Gujarat to Kerala in a Maruti 800. Thrice. Mr. DR is a person with a passion for driving 😉 )
    Now to the second half.
    I kind of wonder, sometimes familiarity keeps us from enjoying things to the full. The moment I slipped to the second half, I was jerked upright. And it was like ‘This is Sir who is writing’ and I read the rest of the article with a guilty-voyeur kind of feeling. Even for something as harmless like this. If I hadnt known you, I would have perhaps read the entire piece in the same dreamy nostalgic note; the author’s person never intruding between me and the words. Maybe its because we are conditioned so. And perhaps its the same projection of familiarity to the faces of the readers that compelled the author to clarify it all happened long ago. Not now.
    Just my thoughts.

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    • Kavz, what to say! We live many lives in a single life. When I teach I am a teacher. When I write, I have only readers before me. And also my experiences I want to tell them. From my heart.

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  9. I have not experienced much train journeys.But variants of manu remakant I also have came across.some are cool ,vibrant but some roving eyes cannot be tolerated.anyway,this is a delicate piece.glimpses of chetan bhagat fluttered n flashed through my veins.what about writing a full length novel sir?ready to outpace chetan?

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  10. A loud round of applause for this one…. Good writing. Please keep it up.

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  11. O.M.G!!!! Too good….just too goooood…!! A beauty…..so romantic and dreamy………I always have that hope beating in my heart that I meet THAT GUY and get swept off my feet, everytime I step out…..but……….Oh well…….life goes on leaving me waiting:(

    Awesome writing Sir,no wonder it became such a hit!! Keep going..!!!!

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    • He he he he 😀
      lol aYooooOOoo 😉

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  12. beautifully written sir….i recalled my monthly train journies from Thrissur to Thiruvananthapuram and frequently had such experiences.i should have completed my B.Tech….:-)

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  13. I dont think guys will find a romantic edge in this, may be some will. But you are telling the truth.. haha.. those dad’s glances yeh!! I was a victim once phew!!.. not my fault, not my fault, trust me I was always quiet, otherwise I dont write this comment. This girl sitting opposite to me and I dint know from which station she, her dad and younger sister boarded. She was a non stop chatter box sitting next to her dad. It was my Coimbatore to Kollam train journey and I was sleeping resting my face on my hands above my suit case on my lap. The train passed kottayam when I woke up with some saliva dripping down though one side of my face and I wiped immediately and the next thing I see was a colinos punchiri. She started in such a way that she was waiting for me to wake up and I just had one quick glace to her side to see who was sitting beside her. My man, Oh!! I thought my heart came to a stop at that moment when I glanced at her dad. I asked 1000 times to myself why in the name of god I had to look at him? I got the picture and thought he hated me coz his daughter was talking to me. Her dad’s eyes locked on me, I had to look down from then on, I felt like I was put in a jail. I bet I had ever faced a hated look like that ever before in my life. I look down not coz I’m afraid of her dad , I was trying to figure out what he must have been thinking. You know what, suddenly he changed his behavior and gave a hesitant smile. I was glad that I was able to introduce myself to him and asked about there whereabouts before I got down at kollam. I felt weird and funny a mixed feeling about the whole thing. To dads.. hey dads, be gentlemen and the boys you come across will always respect you and your sons and daughters. Cheers!!!

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    • ha ha ha… very funny experience Govind

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  14. couldn’t help myself smiling!!!!!!!
    :) :) :)
    keep up the good work sir!!!!!!
    cheers!!!!

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    • Thanks:-)

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  15. Sir,
    your deep narration made me remember all those girls i’ve met in my journeys… Whom i loved till either of us reached our destinations

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    • Arjun, life lies in those little incidents that happen on the way. Many forget. Many regret. Only a few will stop, look back and appreciate.

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  16. You could have gone ahead with your side sleeper story, which was gathering steam with your sightings, but changed tracks all of a sudden into more romantic (and appealing to the youth) territory. How I wish you continued with the former, leaving the rest for another story. But I loved every bit of it.

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    • Mills, I might have been distracted from my writing. Now I don’t exactly remember why I changed tracks in the middle> Anyway thanks a lot for coming here and meeting my page. Read and comment more. tnx. Manu

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  17. An absolute stunner!

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  18. Thank you Jijo

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