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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2017



Snapshots in Rail Boxes

Bijoyini Maya Mukherjee, Freelance Content Writer, Chennai

Train journeys are mood lifters. Once co-passengers realise I am one of those unsocial beings who would let them use my cell phone but would not share my name, twenty four hours of peaceful nothingness invites with open arms. My mind is blank about what will happen when destination is reached and has switched off from all the occurrences before boarding into this small world of boxes. There is the greenery outside with shades of lavender at dusk and coffin blue at night. Inside in that congested space (which reminds me of Kolkata flats) a child's laughter echoes, a young couple irritates an older one, uncles and aunts talk politics, philosophy, mythology and immersed in their scripts my brain stops ticking, rests unstirred...sometimes I even forget my name. Ah such a boon to lose oneself!

In one such lost trip my eager ears came across two couples not conversing with each other but trying hard to break the ice with me. Maybe it is ingrained in humans to desire the forbidden apple and never look at permissible fruits. The matured couple in their sixties enters our air conditioned cubicle with not less than six bags. Nevertheless, they fit in all of them neatly under the seat. As I was the first passenger to capture my window seat, ‘my window’ being equivalent to the “ring” in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ a single red trolley bag was left undisturbed under the seat besides all their four suitcases. Let us name them Mr. and Mrs. S. Mademoiselle S was about to strike a conversation with me when a young couple enters our space with two backpacks. We will be calling them Mr. and Mrs. M hereafter.

Mr. S seemed to be treating his wife pretty shabbily as feminists might want to believe. His wife, although appeared to me enjoying the continuous instruction manual. “Get up, come here and sleep, others are waiting to sit down!” or “Brush your teeth…shut up…eat what I bring you, then I will get you juice, you have to have both.” Mademoiselle S would make a face as if it is irritating the hell out of her and the very next minute after Uncle (addressing Mr. S) has vanished, she would look at me with a coy smile suggesting “Well, I have to just sit here and pat his belief that his wife is a delicate darling, he will do all the work required.” Humans are slaves to habit; so my eyes were on a book trying to play with the argument in it. Then my eyes found a bigger visual delight; hands had to shut the book full of theories.

With theories, one might find happiness, but human drama adds spice. In Mrs. S’s eyes breathed life which sometimes I miss in my life partner – books. The same got reflected in a twisted fashion in Mrs. M’s premature wrinkles, burgundy coloured strands, tired smirks, and worn out dimples. Mr. M, quiet opposed to uncle would barely ask her what she wants; guess he did not want to intrude into the space of an independent mature woman. A noisy little one was the missing link – a missing link that had obliged them to miss their own relationship in its quest. All the five of us patiently waited for the sixth passenger to interrupt our silent discourses. Whoever the fortunate/unfortunate fellow, he decided to not show up the very last minute. Five people from this point on interceding in one another’s thought process played peek-a-boo into multiple crossroads.

Usually falling in love with sleep is the first on my check list. Aunty and Mrs. M toppled routine. My tired droopy eyes wandered from one face to the other. Stations were less, time seemed to have ceased. Having boarded in the morning, we had barely stumbled into dusk, when everybody got drained of sign language and Mr. M asked me about my destination. I replied, “Durgapur, and yours?” He said, nodding, “Asansol.” Before Mrs. M could even participate Uncle started telling me about his ancestral house in Asansol (the nearest city from Durgapur). Aunty jumped in to the tête-à-tête to put in how little she understood Bengali after getting married and having come all the way from Varanasi her well versed “shudh” Hindi took a beating. They both laughed loudly, didn’t hold hands though; almost always laid hands on the same thing amidst cacophonies of vendors, never bought anything. The cashew nut seller lost his temper once and accused Aunty of fussing around. Uncle took the cashews, thrust it in the basket and without a word conveyed, “Get lost! You dared to perturb my wife.”

While all these happenings kept the three of us busy, Mrs. M had taken a short nap unaware of her wandering husband. She finally opened her eyes to the elderly couple enjoying pakoda and samosa; unmindfully she turned to me and asked, “Have you seen him?” I was not interested in him, so looked astounded and replied in the negative. Suddenly trust sprung in her as she instructed me to look after the unchained bags in the upper berth and went somewhere. Aunty was planning on her third nap since we all saw her, when the middle aged couple strolled in hand in hand. Smiling a thank you at me Mrs. M looked all perked up to chat. She started with her love for school, how this profession has changed her life, children every day enrich her being. In the meantime the rest snored off to glory. Now that she knew my father passed away when his baby still crawled, a trickle dropped down her eyes. Display of emotions come to me once in a blue moon, thankfully handling the same in others is easier. What touched her so deep gradually unfolded with the moonlight amplifying her smooth butter soft honey coloured cheeks.

The rest best be narrated in her lingo, “You know, my mother too brought me up all by herself. Neither mama bari (maternal uncle’s house) nor Jethu (paternal uncle) asked her once how will she bring up three daughters without any income. She struggled for a year before joining the noble profession – that of a teacher’s (with a big broad smile). Howmuchever people talk about this useless government, thanks to her government school all the three of us were brought up luxuriously! Even though your mom is in private school, I am certain you being only one child there were fewer problems (hate to refute or add on, so simply nodded). When Ma was no more, out of the blue both the uncle’s houses started eyeing my husband’s wealth and trying to establish contact with me. The last time Jethu visited me with loads of gifts and Mama bought us a piece of land!! Then it hit me – they have enough of their own and something is wrong somewhere.”

She checked if her husband was asleep or not for a moment while he turned from one side to another. We both lost track of stations. Twitching her wedding ring carved in solid white gold with a heart shaped diamond on it, she continued, “Why are they showering me with presents? And it’s been almost two years now, whatever motive they had, by now someone would have spoken about it. A little confused as to my mother’s dynamics with them; maybe there is something both my sisters and I do not know of. Life can surprise you with anything and everything. From childhood, you have known something to be the truth and thirty two years later you realise there is no such thing as the whole truth. Just imagine if your dad walks into your life one day, besides it being happy news, won’t you be shocked to death by his entry!” (I gulped, she didn’t notice; who will tell her she didn’t know the complete truth of my past life either) Mere placing my hand over hers was the only gesture I could think of comforting her and filling in the uncomfortable stillness creeping into our muscles. 

For a long time we breathed in the reverberation of people turning in sleep, fans on and off…until she gathered herself to hit the bulls eye, “What do I do? There is no diary ma wrote for me to consult, go back to bank locker and find hidden papers! Each time they meet me and my heart reaches out to them there is a ghost which sneers at me from a distance. It is so scary that he (her husband) has doubts whether I’m suffering from schizophrenia!” with both palms covering her moist eyes she sobbed.  The dilemma is not the ghost alone, but the living husband then. Distance in their communication was not a figment of my imagination, woman’s instinct. Mrs. M went back to find solace in the pale moon. Before getting lost in its shape discovery, turned to remark, “People open out their heart to you easily…I bet! (Thank God she was smiling) You listen so patiently.” I smiled back as humbly as possible.

The train sailed over the tracks and its sway became my lullaby as always. I was woken up around noon the next day by Aunty, “Eat something Beti! It’s been twelve hours of empty stomach.” So concerned a mother at all times touches my heart; if it was anybody else he/she would have been dead no doubt for committing the crime of waking me up. Kumbhakarna was indisputably my ancestor. Had to brush, get some food at the next station and couldn’t miss the foursome discussing price rise! All that it required was taking out my presence, their defense, to put them in the same waters. Uncle cracked a joke predicting my sleeping habits would disturb future mother in law, Mr. M tailed along. The last station before my destination three of them went to explore lunch menus together. Aunty and I eased our positions while the engine shifted directions.

Within a minute she got up and perched beside me, blessed me with both her hands on my head and kissed my forehead with glistening pearls tumbling down her cheeks. “Wish my daughter was mature like you…wish she did not run away like that with the wrong man. When we get down I will have to plead with your uncle to see my granddaughter and chances are he wouldn’t let me whatsoever.” Maybe I became stiff, disorientated by her protocol, even though my subconscious expected the rest. “She called just now, wants to meet me. It can be hidden from her father, her brother too supports her. But me! How can I defy that husband who stood with me through thick and thin, sun and rain, took the thorns and made my life rosy? For me right and wrong do not exist, it is two worlds I love who are fighting among themselves. Whoever loses, whoever wins, I lose. (Pause) You will never do that to your mother. She is very lucky. It’s a blessing from heaven to bear a child like you.” Had to pinch myself – check whether I bloated and explode.

Wheels geared up, our co passengers came in with delicious biriyani and she went back to her seat stealthily looking up at me and down at nothing at intervals. As happy as never before we gorged in the food, the two ladies looking tenderly at me in between mouthfuls. Munching at the paneer, intoxicated with warmth, the left side of my brain asked its right – do they know am preparing to break somebody’s heart ruthlessly? With the advance of each hour my prayers remain the same, hope he is cheating on me, wish I catch him red-handed with another woman to have a reason for breaking this engagement. “You are wonderful but I will never make you happy because you are not what I want” is not good enough. How long can I delay the occurrence, will it lessen the pain any bit? And if my prayers are answered would I know how to handle wishes granted for a change?

Uncle and Mr. M helped me with the bags, my feet grew heavy. If only this journey could go on a little longer, we have opened up to each other just now, and we women need time…too much time. Aunty and Mrs. M waved as the signal cleared and train whooshed into my station. May Sahana never cross the same roads as my fiancé is risking at present, ignorant of the big storm underneath the calm, may Mrs. Sharma get rid of the crossroads tearing her in two…as for me, their blessings will someday give me the courage to talk unbearable facts to my best friend. Now, his birthday is nearing, a present has to be chosen, my back needs to loosen, sweet nothings have to be exchanged and roads…the road not taken need not be regretted.