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.
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.