A brief encounter
I love train journeys. Where else can you find trees running away, right before your eyes?
Yesterday, I was in a sleepy, dopey kind of place with Himachal Pradesh close by, and it isn’t quite a getaway for relaxation or any kind of entertainment. What took me there was, work.
The train stops at this station for just two minutes. If you have plenty of luggages, then start collecting them at the exit at least 10 minutes in advance, otherwise you either leave yourself in the train, or your baggage is left behind.
If you are like me who prefers to travel light, then there is no problem. Just jump down the three steps of the train exit, land on your two feet and walk down the quiet platform towards the way out.
There was no cab outside. I was told I could easily get a taxi or a three-wheeler carriage to take me to my destination.
But at 11 in the morning, the town had still not woken up. The still warm, October sun was beating down on the tiny, white square outside. No cab.
Few rickshaw pullers were dozing on their seat. I asked one of them where I could find a taxi. Instead of replying, he questioned where do I need to go. I gave him the address. He promptly offered to take me there.
In a cycle rickshaw? I was amazed!
The rickshaw puller said it is possible. The demography is different here. The distances are much shorter and the roads are free from traffic.
He was amused at my dismayed expression. ‘Hop in. It is just 6 kms from here. I will take you in 15-20 minutes, and the charges would be 30 bucks.’
Not even half the amount of what a cab driver would charge. I felt embarrassed. Poor guy, pulling all of me, for 20 long minutes! I asked him thrice if he is sure. He said he is sure. In Delhi, I can’t dream of going from one part of the city to another in a rickshaw. And in the suburbs, where I live, driving from one sector to another takes me 10 minutes in a car.
I realized what a big bad city I am coming from.
This small, sluggish little town could well have been straight from Sleepy Hollow. Though I had not come here to investigate a series of murder; just to meet somebody, and return home, taking the evening train.
There was negligible traffic on the roads. Long, clean, tree lined roads. Almost empty of traffic. No road rages. No acrid smoke in the air. No pollution. The city was very green. And quiet. So quiet.
The rickshaw puller took me to my address, cycling me under the merciless sun. ‘Look Madam. I brought you here.’ He was drenched in sweat, but he smiled.
I felt guilty, as if I am cheating him out. I gave him 50 bucks instead of 30, and I couldn’t bear to see the utter disbelief and gratefulness in his eyes. This country is still so poor! I thought sadly.
The meeting was over in 30 minutes flat, and needless to say, the travel of 300 kms from Delhi to this place, turned out to be unproductive.
What now? I had nearly six hours to kill, before the next train could take me back to Delhi. What to do? I don’t know anyone in this city. Seeing places of interest would take longer. Movies are a good option, but I decided against spending two and quarter hours inside a picture hall, something I do frequently back home.
I entered a café. It was tranquil and cool, full of potted, green ferns all around. A thin beam of sun was slanting through the skylight. I sat in a corner with Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar, hot masala tea, and a piece of apple crumble pie.
There were few more people sitting inside the coffee shop, with their laptops and books, and were engrossed in their work and reading, while drinking their coffee. No sound, no din, no chatty people talking loudly with their mouths stuffed with food.
I began reading the book. An hour passed and I ordered another cup of tea.
The waiter served it with a sugary smile.
By the time I reached the twelfth chapter, the book became depressing, dark and disturbing. Esther, the protagonist in the novel was being taken for shock treatment. Not the kind of passage I would enjoy while wandering alone in a strange city.
Perhaps later; back home in my bed, under the soft glow of my reading lamp, I would feel the distress of Esther’s mental breakdown with lesser intensity.
Explore the city. I decided. Though it doesn’t have a very different culture from Delhi, I believe that every city does have something new to offer. Every experience counts.
I walked inside the tree lined avenues. There were some lovely boulevards surrounding the main roads, with fine-looking, sprawling houses and well-kept gardens. I was so engrossed in admiring some of the beautiful gardens that I did not notice the omnipresent Indian cow, charging towards me. Someone pulled me sharply. Next moment I was pressed against that person’s chest, with his arms tightly around me. ‘Arey …yy... you could have been killed!’ He screamed. The cow charged crazily ahead. Perhaps it was being chased or was chasing something. I was in its way. The cow would have not taken lightly to me being an obstruction in its pursuit and my intestines would have spilled out on the roads, if my savior had not been quick enough.
He released me. I tried to collect my ruffled nerves and turned to thank him for saving me from becoming a dash between two dates, on a cold tomb. But before I could thank him properly, he just said a brief ‘are you okay?’ and walked away quickly, merging in the dense cluster of trees ahead. Disappearing behind them.
Perhaps he was an angel. Appearing like a ray of sunshine and then dissolving in an unknown mist.
I took the 6:20 PM train back home. Outside the windows a beautiful, carroty sun was setting behind violet smog. I watched the trees running away before my eyes and I thought of my savior.
If he stumbles upon this forum ever: ‘Thank you stranger. Be happy, wherever you are.’