Journeys are supposed to be means to an end, cumbersome at times, convenient at the others and comfortable when least expected. Indian train journeys are supposed to be voyages wherein you reach out while not meaning to and adventures where one knows what one gets oneself into- everything which is interspersed with the everydayness of life chaotic undoubtedly but immensely warm and extraordinarily humane.
I was onto one such journey the other day, travel is something I choose not to do and in those cases when it is not possible to put it off any longer I find solace in the pages of a book; any book. This time however, it was not to be for I had fellow travelers whose names I neither asked for nor were exchanged but whose memories will always bring a warm cognizance to my visage and a steadfast reassurance to myself that no matter how much things change some things just remain the same and rightly so because they belong there.
My two companions and myself could not have formed a more obtuse triangle, I’m a 25 year old with all the trappings of the age imbibed. The first exchange was with my elderly genial gentleman who politely asked me for the time, the second a lady who asked if I could give her a hand with her luggage. After an agreeable silence and with our famed reticence lasting not more than a few minutes at its best, conversation flowed and I kept delaying a voice in my head which asked me to reach for a delicious paperback in my rucksack specially chosen as an aide in what I supposed was to be an arduous journey.
As we got past the initial pleasantries and moved a little beyond formality, I was surprised that the elderly gentleman was an 82 year old sports commentator for a Government run station and the lady on a visit from what was now her home- USA to attend a wedding. Appearances like they always do amounted for very little. It was an allegory of almost three different generations sitting together and having an actual conversation- mundane, ordinary, polite but overwhelming personal about life, faith and the condition of Indian railways! Being the only person not to have brought dinner, it was offered on a platter and my meek resistance was won over with the warm hospitality and the sight and smell of delicious brown wheat breads.
There is nothing new in what I described- three diverse people meeting each other for a small span of time but perhaps that is the understated elegance in it, a casual beauty which makes for great memories. The unexpected kindness and the underlying magic makes you reach out far more than you would ordinarily allow yourself to. As the night unfolded, we did not like many of the stories I’ve heard exchanged addresses or promised to stay in touch but bode farewell with the pleasant regret that an evening spent well was drawing a close.
Strangers never to meet but experiences ever to keep, the pull of human nature was what brought us together. I for my part will never forget the advice given- that of always starting a meal and a day with a smile, because as the person whom I addressed as ‘Sir’ explained what begins well always ends well.