I am participating in the 30 Days Letter Challenge where you write one letter each day. The 6th in the list is a letter to ‘A Stranger’
I don’t know if you remember me. We traveled together in the 3rd A.C. compartment of the train going from Trivandrum to Rajkot some years back. I was travelling up to Rajkot and you till Ahmedabad. But all that would unravel only later on, the next day in fact, when conversation between the occupants of our section of the bogie flowed more easily.
You boarded the train some 8 hours after me. By the time you joined us, I had struck up a friendship of sorts with the lady seated across, who was headed for Mumbai. We were of the same age and had enough in common to bond over. In fact to those who joined us later, including you, it looked like we were travelling together. Not that it has any relevance here.
Then there were the others, two policemen, who it turned out were on their way to Ahmedabad, to apprehend or question some criminal elements kept in custody there, connected with some case they were investigating.
By the time you joined us, it was time for sleep. So it was only the next morning that I noticed you. That is probably the reason I didn’t realise that the young man who slept through most of the journey on the upper berth, and rarely came down even for meals, was your son.
I woke up in the morning to your voice regaling the groggy eyed policemen of your daily routine back home, which started off with rising at dawn. Obviously. You were looking fresh as a daisy, if I may use the term to describe a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair cut short, wearing a black polyester trousers and white cotton shirt that seemed to have seen better days. We all came to know later on how thrifty you were in your habits. We had no choice, but hear you out. Throughout the day you carried on a mostly one-sided conversation with the policemen, occasionally including me and my friend in its ambit. I refused to be drawn in. You seemed to be such an insufferable opinionated man to me.
You it seems were trading in cloth and were on your way to make your purchases for the month. This is a route you travelled regularly. So you had much to say, not just about the journey and your experiences. The world its affairs, the country, its politicians, the price rise and much more were in your repertoire. The opinions just flowed. Then of course, the favorite topic of all the world, from the time of its inception: the no-good youth of today.
I rolled my eyes inwardly when I heard you hold forth. Have you ever thought about it? Nobody has anything good to say about today’s youth, today taken as any point of time past or present. And yet the irony is that the very people holding forth, and their generation are the ones responsible for this same not-good youngsters (of today) turning out to be no good. How does the irony not reveal itself to such pompous asses as you?
It is like all the cooks of the world making a dish each for a feast and then sitting together blaming the dishes for how bad the feast turned out to be. Come on, take some responsibility for your share in it. What sort of denial are you in that you cannot see your own role in making the dishes?! Beats me.
Anyways, you and your talk annoyed me. I buried my nose in my book or spoke to the lady across. I could feel your keen eyes on me on and off, sizing me up and making their obviously erroneous conclusions. Rich spoilt modern woman. For some people these words can only go together. Especially when a woman does not conform to the traditional in her appearance.
Then there was the cell phone.
A humble Nokia N-70 actually. Your conversation had moved to the rich young and how they threw their old phones (gadgets generally) aside as soon as new ones landed in the market. Isn’t that so, you asked me directly, catching my eye which I inadvertently had lifted from my book.
There you had me like a lawyer in a courtroom. Of course there definitely are youngsters who run after the latest gadgets and squander their parents’ money without thought. So I couldn’t very well say, ‘No’. But the way you kept glancing at my phone I knew you were including me in that group. Like hell!
I actually felt laughter bubbling inside me over that. The phone in my hands was reasonably new for sure and bought after a lot of thought, which you wouldn’t be aware of. After all I am no Richie Rich, just totally middle-Middle Class. I had no intention of throwing it aside for any new model in the market in the near future. Besides, I was no youth. I was much closer to you in age than you realized. But I bear this cross of looking younger than I am and being chivvied by people. Do you wonder I am glad of my grays now?
Coming back to you, not wanting to put you in your place, I smiled noncommittally and went back to my reading. Thank God for books!
“People like them, know. They have experience,” you stated in that all-knowing way to your captive audience of two. I could gladly have punched your judgmental face too for that. My new-found friend had by then got down at Vasai. Or we’d have exchanged long-suffering glances just then.
What the heck. You didn’t know me (from Eve) and here you were making assumptions. On second thoughts who the hell were you to me for me to resent your words? I resented them anyway and decided to ignore you. To tell you the truth though, I caught myself listening to you on more occasions than one during the rest of the journey. You may have been an overbearing someone, but your oratorical and story-telling skills were undeniable.
Soon it was the next day and time for the train to pull into Ahmedabad station. There was a flurry of activity all around. It looked like all the people in the train were headed for Ahmedabad. The policemen and you too, gathered your luggage. That’s when I came to know that the young man who had been sleeping on the berth above was your son. He doesn’t talk much, you said to all of us in general about him. How would he, with a father like you? That had been my thought. And also, one of you is enough in a family.
The station was heaving into sight, and you nodded your head in that typical Indian way of taking leave. I exhaled in relief. Now for some quiet. A couple of steps later, you stopped, turned around, looked at me thoughtfully and said,
“You are going to Rajkot, aren’t you? This train gets practically empty at Ahmedabad. Be careful and on your guard. Sometimes criminal elements get into the train . It happened last month. They stole cash and gold from the lone passenger. You have a cell phone too” The phone. My owning a cell phone seemed to be a big problem for you. But I brushed all that thought aside and homed in on what you really said. That I had to be careful.
I looked at you then and saw not the insufferable man I wanted off the train. Instead I saw someone concerned with the safety of the lone lady passenger left in the bogie with a long way to travel still.
You were not done. After cautioning me, you also made sure to put me at ease. Don’t be afraid. I will have a word with the attendant and tell him to look out for you. Just be careful. Then once again you nodded your head and were gone.
You were true to your word. The attendant came in search of me soon. I was the ONLY passenger left in the whole bogie which definitely was a scary prospect. He helped me move to the next bogie with people in it. It was my first journey on the route and but for you I would have been unaware of the danger involved in that last stretch of journey.
Yup, I remember you, after all these years, with thanks. May be I will put you in a story I write some day.
Wishing you well,
Your grateful fellow passenger.
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Those who are taking part in the 30 Day letter Challenge, please don’t forget to add your links to the linky over at Hrishikesh‘s page.
©Shail Mohan 2014