Unexpected companionship on an unplanned trip.
All of a sudden he glanced at her and smiled. Mildly taken aback, Vidhu smiled back. He resumed his texting. After a while he took out a tightly rolled parcel from his bag and unpacked it. A tall, well-built handsome young man sporting a white longsleeved shirt and blue jeans got into the train. He strode purposefully to where she was seated and sat opposite her.
Vidhu opened an eye and glanced lazily at the time on her mobile. It showed 6.45 am. She turned her gaze towards the window and was surprised to see that it was still dark outside. She clambered out of bed and stood gazing out through the window. The tall apartment building that she could see from her window situated just half a kilometre away was not bathed in golden sunshine as it usually was. Instead, heavy dark monsoon clouds loomed low and large over the horizon. The vast vacant plot of land with verdant greenery spread out just below her apartment contrasted well with the dark clouds. Vidhu felt a sense of peace and calm settle over her.
Heavy monsoon showers over the past two days had made water collect in stagnant pools in the green plot of land and Vidhu noticed a white stork winging gracefully in a lovely arc and swooping down to catch tiny fish from these stagnant pools. There were a lot of storks and herons who come back every year to make it their home during the monsoon. A few of them could be seen settling happily on the backs of buffaloes having a swim in the pools.
Vidhu made herself a piping hot cup of tea and settled down on the window sill to watch the birds and buffaloes, while casually turning the pages of the Sunday papers. She felt a kinship with the buffaloes, lazily grazing away with not a worry in the world. The entire day stretched ahead of her and she was undecided as to what she wanted to do the whole day. Half her mind craved some fun and spontaneity. Vidhu moved towards her book shelf lined with all her treasured collection of books by her favourite authors. She lovingly traced the outline of the well-catalogued books with her fingers until it stopped at one titled The Night Train at Deoli by her favourite writer Ruskin Bond. She stood stock still as a seedling of an idea formed in her mind. Yes, trains. That was what she wanted to do for the day. She decided to take a local train from Chetpet and go all the way up to the last station, meander around for a while,
getting lost in the milling crowds and then come back home.
Until just over a year ago, Vidhu had been working for a magazine at Adyar, and she had so loved commuting on the trains. She had loved the journey, taking in the essence and soul of the people who travelled with her, the sights and sounds, the vendors on the trains, all of them had been fodder for her writer’s soul. With her husband away on a business tour, Vidhu had the entire day to herself. With her mind made up, she quickly showered, changed into a baby pink salwar, grabbed her purse, mobile, glasses and her journal and made her way out.
As she approached the station, there was a loud clap of thunder, and it started to pour. Oops! In her hurry, she had forgotten her umbrella. ‘Was it a bad idea to have come out in this rain?’ She brushed the thought aside.
Vidhu waited patiently in the long meandering queue to get her ticket. It was raining cats and dogs and she felt the cold seeping into her soul and dampening her enthusiasm.
‘Gosh! I am hungry, lonely and to top it all I have forgotten my umbrella too. Silly me,’ she berated herself. The train chugged into the station and with a resigned sigh she got in and thankfully found a window seat. It being Sunday, and a rainy day at that, there weren’t many passengers, and that made her feel all the more alone and depressed.
As the train rattled along, the rain dwindled to a mere drizzle and her mood lifted slightly. But she realised with a jolt that she had missed her breakfast entirely and now she was ravenously hungry. She hoped that a vendor would come in at the next station selling fruits or her favourite butter biscuits.
As the train stopped at the next station, instead of a vendor, a tall, well-built handsome young man sporting a white longsleeved shirt and blue jeans got into the train. He strode purposefully to where she was seated and sat opposite her. He had a backpack straddled on his back, a camera, handicam, and a huge lunch bag. Vidhu felt a smile tug at her lips and she turned away and kept looking out of the window. From his backpack he took out a book, his mobile, a newspaper, and with just a nod in her direction he went on texting someone. A keen observer of human nature, Vidhu turned her focus on the young man and started studying him surreptitiously.
All of a sudden he glanced at her and smiled. Mildly taken aback, Vidhu smiled back. He resumed his texting. After a while he took out a tightly rolled parcel from his bag and unpacked it. Vidhu noticed that there were rotis and home-made pickles which he attacked with gusto. She felt her mouth water, and could even feel her stomach growl. Feeling embarrassed, she turned away from him and kept staring out through the window.
“Care to have some of my home-made rotis and pickle? My mom is an amazing cook,” the young man spoke to her with a smile.
She smiled back but politely declined. A moment later, he brandished an orange and peeled it. He handed her half of it and said, “Of course, you can’t say no to an orange. It’s great for warding off colds in this weather.”
She found it immensely funny and, biting back a laugh, she gracefully accepted the orange. Next, he unpacked crisp khakras, sprinkled peanut powder on them liberally and handed one to her.
“Oh no… I don’t want this,” Vidhu exclaimed.
“Come on… this is a Gujarati delicacy. I am sure you would love to have some khakras in this weather. They are home-made ones. Please have some.”
Vidhu’s stomach took precedence over her mind and she found herself tucking into the lovely khakras. Both of them shared a companionable silence while they ate.
“I am a software engineer, but on weekends I pursue my passion, and that is photography,“smilingly explained the young man.”i freelance quite a lot, and for a lot of travel magazines and blogs. I have my own blog too.”
Vidhu smiled back and introduced herself as a freelance writer and novelist in the making.
“Are you going some place to meet someone? To write about them? I am sorry if I am being inquisitive,” the young man smiled apologetically.
“Well, I love commuting by these local trains, and travelling on them inspires me a lot and gives me ample material to weave into my writings,” explained Vidhu.
“Great... By the way, I am Naman. My wife is away at her home for her delivery. Felt bored being at home all alone and decided to come out with my equipment to capture pics for my next project, titled The Monsoon Reverie.”
“Wow! That’s fantastic. I am Vidhu . My husband too is away on a business tour and I too responded to my impulsive adventurous instinct.” Vidhu felt an easy camaraderie developing between them both.
They continued talking about books and it was easy, light-hearted yet intelligent banter. An hour later, it was time for them to both get off the train.
“Well, I am getting off here. It was nice meeting you,” smiled Naman.
“Me too. It has been fun. And thanks for the food. I was truly ravenous.”
“My pleasure. I just responded to your stomach’s rumbling for food.”
She looked up startled and noticed him sporting a mischievous smile. She too chuckled happily. “Well, I am gonna randomly walk around shooting pics. I have no special agenda in mind,” Naman said. “Do you need me to find you a cab to take you some place?”
Vidhu hesitated, “Well, I had no agenda at all.
Naman and Vidhu plopped down on a bench in a wayside park. Vidhu took out and scribbled fast in her journal, eager not to miss out details of this amazing day. Naman meanwhile fiddled with his camera.
Actually I too had thought of randomly roaming around the whole day, taking in sights and sounds and losing myself in anonymity.”
“Why don’t you join me for the day? You know, it sounds strange, we have just met, but if you can trust me enough, we can both go around this place randomly shooting and observing. Your writer’s keen mind will help me spot good pics to be shot as well,” Naman looked expectantly at her. “And…” Naman drawled Vidhu looked askance at him.
“Don’t worry about food. There’s enough food to feed an army in my backpack”. Vidhu burst into laughter at that and Naman grinned impishly.
The duo continued towards the exit in companionable silence.
Outside, Naman got busy with his camera. Thankfully, the rain had abated for a while, even though the sky was heavily overcast.
In the little town of Chenkalpet, Naman went wild with his camera, shooting pics of cycle rickshaws plying slowly in the rain, children splashing themselves in the puddles, share-cabs plying packed with passengers and making their way slowly in the already flooded streets. He shot pics of vendors selling hot cups of tea, coffee, and spicy bhajjis, crisp samosas, and masala peanuts. A remote and less travelled side-street had a slowly ambling bullock cart making its way towards the main road, and the man inside was smoking a hookah, and Naman ‘s camera went crazy mopping up all these shots.
Vidhu found these interesting and immensely fascinating as she followed him around. Nothing seemed to miss Naman’s keen eye; a flower blooming amidst a thicket with rain drops clinging to it thrilled them both. A shaft of sunlight streaming in through the branches of a tree at noon time; women clustered around a stove and gossiping while cooking fascinated him and they smiled shyly at him while he snapped up their pics. “Whew...!” Naman and Vidhu plopped down on a bench in a wayside park. Vidhu took out and scribbled fast in her journal, eager not to miss out details of this amazing day. Naman meanwhile fiddled with his camera.
“I am hungry. I have some delicious mushroom-fried rice, pappads and raita. Let’s tuck in. There’s a lot. Mom still thinks I am a growing boy.” Naman unpacked the lunch bag and they shared the lovely delicious food between them. The wintry skies watched over them and sent a refreshing breeze on its way, to cool them and Vidhu closed her eyes in absolute contentment.
“Now for a fruit. Catch,” Naman took out two apples from his backpack and threw one at her. Vidhu caught it deftly and bit into the succulent fruit.
While they ate, Naman spoke about his family, his wife, mom, sister – and Vidhu felt as if she had known them all along.
After a while he lapsed into silence and said, “You know something? The day has turned out fun and interesting, thanks to you. Just this morning I was hoping that something interesting and out of the blue would happen and it has!”
“Yes, for me too. If not for you, I would have taken the next train back home,” smiled Vidhu.
They cleared out their lunch and then strolled down lazily down random streets.
Near a small temple under a banyan tree, they spotted a kili jyotsiar (an astrologer-cum-palmist with a parrot to assist him). Catching sight of them, he offered to read their palms. Naman brushed his request aside with a smile and wanted to just shoot pics of him and his parrot. The fellow posed for Naman and he was even paid for posing for the pic.
Then Naman said, “It is nearly 4.30. Shall we have some tea and then catch the train back home?”
“Of course. I need to get back home before it gets too dark,” Vidhu agreed.
It started drizzling mildly and immediately the pedestrians opened out their umbrellas. It was a colourful scenario with lots of umbrellas of different hues opening out and Naman went to work shooting pics.
They made their way to a cosy tea shop and ordered hot tea and plates of crisp masala dosas.
While they ate, Naman said, ”You know, I am glad I followed my instincts.“
Vidhu concurred with a smile. “I too was thinking on the same lines. If I had decided to stay at home, I would have missed out on this beautiful day.”
“Yes,” Naman smiled. “I read a lot and a book I had read recently says that whatever we ask of the universe, it provides.”
Vidhu’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “I guess we both asked the universe for some amazing fun and adventure.”
“Yes! You said it , and we got it,” Naman guffawed loudly.
They walked to the station, got on the train and, for the rest of the journey back home, caught up on discussing books, music, and friendship and surprisingly found that their interests matched.
“All good things come to an end,” sighed Vidhu as the train chugged into Chennai.
“Not necessarily. Here’s my card with my number. Let’s keep in touch. Thank you, Universe, for a great new friend,” smiled Naman as they shook hands and parted ways. Vidhu handed him her card too.
Naman helped her into a cab and, as she settled back in it, Vidhu felt as light as the raindrops falling all around her, outside.
‘It pays to listen to your heart, to your instincts,’ Vidhu smiled to herself.
Her mobile tinkled. She looked down and noticed a text from Naman. “Thanks for a beautiful day… and good things do not have to end.. It goes on...”
She texted back, “Yes, it goes on… forever...”
Naman brushed his request aside with a smile and wanted to just shoot pics of him and his parrot. The fellow posed for Naman and he was even paid for posing for the pic.