It was the night before Diwali that saw me board the most beloved train of the ongoing four years of my college life, the train home to Lucknow. But none of that had come so easily. By some sheer dumb luck and dumb unawareness, I had forgotten that the railway reservations had now started four months prior to the date of journey and so when I sat according to my knowledge of getting a booking, I found everything jam packed and full. And so I waited, trying to rely on Tatkal to come to rescue. But you don’t really get it done from my college internet, as was the reputation thereof and so one week prior to my journey, I was once again heftily surfing for various indirect trains I could catch to get home.
Surprisingly and shockingly enough, I found one vacant seat in the AC-2 class of my train home. Although it is quite out of budget for me to take that ride but when you have to celebrate festivals with family, you have to celebrate festivals with family. Soon as I could, I rushed to the bank to put some money into my account and returned to my room to make the reservation. From the minute I was redirected to my bank website to make that transaction to my getting redirected back, that last vacant slot had pushed to RAC3. Indeed, I was disheartened but knew that it would clear and that I had the backup if the tatkal thing fails. No points for guessing, it did fail and I had to travel AC-2 (which did clear) alone, for the first time in my life.
I am sorry for the useless details that I have put in, my dear reader. Maybe it’s meant to make you actually grasp my situation at that point; Maybe it’s meant to just outpour my excitement to this journey.
So, as I boarded the train and looked out for my seat, I couldn’t find one. Hell, I couldn’t find my compartment from where I had gotten in and had simply thought of finding my way as I go. Supposedly, the AC-3 and AC-2 sections were in the same compartment, separated by a door. On reaching my berth, I found a girl, busy on her smartphone, occupying the seat lower opposite to mine with the other two still vacant. She looked at me once with some uneasy tension on her face and returned to whatever people do on smartphones these days. Catching this, I didn’t see fit to wish her Hello and just went about doing my luggage.
A few minutes later, some diffident fellow came to supply sheets and blankets but I had till then straightened out on my berth and was about to open a novel I had just checked out from the college library. I let the sheets rest where they were, thinking I would just get them done when I wanted to and went about with my book. Half and hour later, after talking to my parents and telling them not to bother about picking me at the station, I thought of getting the sheets on but, out of plain foolishness, tried to do so without getting off of my berth. The girl, (Did I talk about her age? It would be 24) shifted her gaze to me at this and without a glimmer of animation on her face, started doing her sheet, leaving her meal midway. She got off her birth, carefully put the sheet on, then put another one under her blanket, all the time going ever too slowly as if showing me the “How tos” of it. She had an air of superiority about her whilst doing that, that emerges out of having a habit in doing them.
I followed her lead, without being too evident about it and in a minute my berth was ready. I thanked her and she simply nodded her head, not even coming up with a ‘Welcome’ or something. Maybe I had had a bad first impression on her and my overpending beard didn’t help. I reclimbed to my berth and again got busy with my book, my eyes glancing in between to the vacant seats around me, even the side berths, and eventually to the occupied one.
After a fifty more pages, the TC came and I handed over my ID and my cellphone with the ticket message. Then she handed over her ticket to him and he said ” So all the three seats are yours?”.
“Yes”, she told him.
“Where are the other passengers?”
“They couldn’t come?”
“Why didn’t they get their tickets cancelled?”
She said nothing to this and just lifted her shoulders in the typical Metrogal routine of “who cares”. When the TC had gone, she dialed a few numbers talking to some friends from work about how she had landed this small vacation which I overheard ( I was not stalking her in any way nor being creepy. But I can’t shut my ears here). I was actually interested in this thing now thinking if she has deliberately gotten three tickets for herself, you know for a security point of view, and that’s why she was a bit annoyed at seeing a male as her neighbour. Soon, my doubts were to be proven right.
After a very few pages, she got a call from her parents and after all the regular chit chat she finally told them that she has three seats to herself, not mentioning any friends or relatives or anyone that “Yeah, they couldn’t come” or anything like that.
After another fifty or so pages, a young couple with a child boarded the train and they came to the side berths near ours. Uptil now, it was way past time for the lights to be put out and for the curtains to be put on. Still they weren’t. And then struck something that shocked me for the final time. This girl, the smart thing she was, asked the lady of the side berths to accompany her on the lower berth adjacent to her. She agreed and within a minute of the lady having settled, all the light and curtain business was settled and she went about doing her final touchups, ready to sleep. At this point, I was certain that all the three tickets were hers and hers only.
I turned on my reading light with about 200 pages still remaining and was again engrossed into it. For about a 100 pages, I didn’t turn my sight and when I did, I saw the girl, still wide awake, going ‘tak-tuk tak-tuk’ on her smartphone. I didn’t see my watch but drifted to sleep soon after. It was quite cool by now but the blanket helped and it was the best sleep I had ever had in a train.
I woke up at half past six and got fresh. Most of the other passengers were still sleeping which was quite unlike my normal travels when everybody used to get up close to 5 or at most 6. It was the same train you see, just the class was different. So after getting fresh, I had some water and returned to the remaining pages of my book. After a very few of them, the side couple got down at their destination and the girl was awake too, once again busy on her phone. I got down to the lower birth after this, folded my sheets and blankets ( as I didn’t know I did not need to do that), and went about reading the final few pages at the lower berth opposite to her. She lazily got up, got fresh and went about doing another round of a morning touchup. The second-last major station passed and I knew she had the same home as me. With about 20 minutes remaining in our journey, my book was complete as I put it in and got rid of the locks. For all those minutes, I looked out of the window, trying to figure out this co-passenger of mine. I thought of being judgmental of her but I pushed away the idea. Finally, I thought of the word ‘fantastic’ for her. I stayed with this adjective because ever since I had learnt to read the dictionary, I had learnt two meanings of the word, one to be used in a positive sense for a person and the other negative.
As the train moved into the final rest station, HOME, she got a call from her father asking where her train was. She told him that the train was drifting into the station but couldn’t identify with the surroundings as it was quite close to the parking area and the streets where, I gathered, she had never been. “I don’t know where he has brought me”, she told him. At this, I simply told her, “Platform 6”. She told the same to her father and when she put off, she thanked me. As I collected my luggage and was about to leave, I wished her a very Happy Diwali.
She smiled and wished me back, “A very Happy Diwali to you too” as I got off the train.