Reading Couchpotato's post on train journeys just triggered off a whole lot of memories. Like when I was a child, I was fascinated by trains. There was a simple explanantion for this. I hadn't travel much within the country as a kid. It was always shuttling between Oman and Saltlake (that's where I live in Calcutta). And in between stopping over at places like Dubai, Muscat, Singapore... So I had never set foot on a train till I was really much older. As old as when I was in the Xth.
There is one train journey that at times I treasure. And often I loathe. This was during my post high school days, when I was relaxing doing nothing. I accompanied my brother for an exam of his to Delhi. The chaperon for the journey was my dad.
When I got into our compartment, I saw this trio of young guys seated opposite us. One of them, I noticed was very cute with nice sparkling eyes. As the train chugged out of the station, my dad and bro got into a conversation with our neighbours. They, it turned out, were doctors (a bonding thing immediately happened between my bro and them), who were going for the same exam. Slowly I came to the conclusion that the whole train was choc-a-bloc with young docs.
I was mum during the initial phase of the conversation. Soon cute guy SS started belting out jokes and riddles. I came up with an answer or two. Those were my first few words with him. But I enjoyed myself immensely during the course that we chatted. It was a bit intellectual and at the same time very funky. It was special. I liked SS a lot. He was funny. Next I saw him in Delhi at the exam venue for a second or two.
But I knew he was working with a hospital in Calcutta. Several months later on an impulse, I walked in one day with my friend into the hospital campus (this damn thing called impulse has always landed me in trouble). We asked about him. They told us his room was locked. Still we climbed up and while we were locating his room, the door to the next room opened and SS stepped out. I made an about turn and ran down the stairs leaving my friend behind. My heart was beating so fast, I couldn't hear anything above it. I can still feel it. The embarrassment.
I had walked out to the road, when I saw my friend coming down followed by SS. While I blushed and blushed (I have never blushed ever before like I did then), he kept saying, "I can't believe you are here!"
I went out on dates with him. In between he would leave for Shimla, his home. And come back with gifts and stories of how he had told his mom about me. That kind of did it. And the day that put an end it to all was when he kissed me. I felt repulsed. Because he was so desperate to get me into bed. I told him I never wanted to see him again. I stopped taking his calls. He landed up in college and I made my friends ward him off. He followed my friend (the one with whom I had gone to his hospital the first time) one day to the British Council Library. I was horrified to see him. He tried to placate me and finally he said it. He flung it in my face: "It was you who came to me first." And even though it was true, that one line made me feel so small.
He walked out dramatically throwing a parting shot. "You'll never get a guy like me."
I didn't regret the meeting on the train. I regret what happened later. I wanted to be just friends with him. But I guess it sounded unbelievable. And since then I have been always very careful of never making the first move.
This was a long detour. But damn it, it feels cathartic.
The next journey that is stuck to my memory like it happened yesterday was on the way from Delhi to Bombay. I travelled on unreserved tickets with friends. This was while I was studying in Delhi, and three of us (including S) made a plan to go to Bombay for the New Year's. So there we were shifting from one compartment to other lugging our huge rucksacks along. Till we got one seat in a compartment crammed with kids. They looked like dolls arranged in a row in the middle bunk. One of them was this chubby little girl. She kept pointing at us and going into fits of giggles. I guess we did look funny. Seated in one row on the upper bunk at the side.
A station or two later, some cops strolled in and sat in the bunk beneath ours. It was cramped up there, so I couldn't resist dangling my legs. One of the cops got up and said something. I thought he wanted us to move, but then I realised he was offering us another seat in the next compartment. K told me the one on which we had planted ourselves was theirs. "And have you noticed the man in chains with them?" she asked. I was stunned. "Really?" I said and peeked. I saw this thin dark handcuffed man. He looked up at the same time. I drew back hastily.
At night, I moved to the seat offered to us by the cops. I had dozed off when I was woken up by a cop. He patted me on the head and moved on. After some time, another cop came and wanted me to give him some space to sit. For the next few hours neither did he let me sleep nor stay quiet. He told me about the prisoner - a Chhota Shakeel guy who had been caught finally after being in the police records for a few murders. They were taking him to Gujarat.
Later in the night, I realised the cop was trying to act funny. It was a desperate attempt to rid myself of him. That I managed to do by saying I wanted to go to the loo. I just went and sat at the edge of another seat. It happened to be the one facing the prisoner. So all night long, I was trying to read a book in the dim lights, while he kept walking up and down, from the loo to his seat and back. And though he did not lech, he did keep looking at me curiously like I was the prisoner there. In the morning, he changed his pullover and washed his face, applied cream and brushed his hair very carefully. Then he got down at a station surrounded by his many chaperons.
Lesson learnt: Train neighbours are better left alone.
So now I always plug my walkman into my ears when I am on the move.