Tuesday 29 June 2021

Missed a Train?

No matter the miles you walked, the roads you took, the sleepless hours you spent to get to the station - at times you miss the train - not because you arrived late at the station, but because you couldn't push through the endless crowd in the platform to make it to the train on time. You are left with no choice but to wait patiently for the next train with the people who had started late from home. 

But that doesn't change you. It might shake or rattle you - but it doesn't break or change you. You don't start late from home the next time. You still start early, walk those miles, push through the crowd in the platform, and silently hope of not missing the train again. 

The Hare And The Tortoise

 What if the hare had allowed the tortoise to win on purpose?

The afternoon local stopped for less than five minutes at Tatanagar station before heading towards Howrah. Amidst the cries of hawkers, the rush of passengers to check their names on the extended reservation sheets, and coolies thronging the platform with trunks stacked on their heads, a 7-year-old me struggled to find a breathing space on platform number 4. My anguish turned into trauma when I heard the first whistle of the arriving train minutes later. I found myself getting hauled towards the moving train by a pool of commuters - tall enough to block my view and fast enough to conquer the speed that my small and slow footsteps could manage. I staggered along my way, clinging on to my father's hand, while the crowd blinded and defeated me like flames of a forest fire engulfing a silent tree. In a world where we grow up reading stories of a hare, who once overslept and lost a race to a tortoise, we train to be on our toes to devour the weak and defeat the slow to grab the top rank or a window seat in a train.

However, when I finally reached the edge of the platform, a man behind me spread out his arms to stop the crowd, allowing me time to climb into the train with ease. I still remember the smile on his face after helping a startled kid win the race. I try to be the same man whenever I board a train, looking for a small kid lost in the crowd, and lending him a hand. Because, what if the hare had lost by choice? What if he had pretended to oversleep, allowing the tortoise to taste victory? And, what if he perceived life not as a race but as a journey where the fast and the slow, weak and the strong - all travel on the same train.

A New Diwali

Diwali was not always about the finest ethnic wear from Manyavar, boxes of sweets from the branded stores, or clicking a flame from different angles for the perfect snap for Instagram. For a long time in childhood, 'Diwali Ghar' - a miniature clay house, 'Pancha-Pradip' - an idol of a lady carrying five diyas on her head, crackers - mostly flowerpots, spark sticks, and whirligigs, and the gathering of cousins at a single place, defined the happiness on Diwalis. 

While the mornings were dedicated to buying crackers, the afternoons of the week before Diwali were spent in architecting the Diwali Ghar in the courtyard, laying the bricks with tiny hands, coating the house with clay, and fixing matchsticks on the windows, striving to make the house look as close to a real one as possible. Sitting under a blanket of stars scattered in the sky and humming our favorite songs while relishing over homemade sweets and savories ended the nights for the tired souls. And, on the eve of Diwali when one-third of the crackers had already been exhausted, we painted the Diwali Ghar and decked it with diyas. In the mud and the paint, we found joy; In the fireworks in the sky and the comfort of togetherness, we made memories.

Today, when I stand on my balcony and look up at the fireworks against the night sky, I wish there are four kids somewhere, cherishing the moment, who do not care about the clothes they wear, the mud on their feet, or the paint on their hands, yet silently making memories that would last for a lifetime. 

A fond memory from Childhood


I had an exact-looking ball when I was 8. It was the summer of 1997 when I had tried to make it as a cricketer. Having perfected the cover drive in a week, the leg glance and the on-drive eagerly waited in the queue. I tried to walk like Ganguly when on the field and talk like him at home. The early morning coaching sessions taught me the game, while the evenings taught me to dream. After 7 pm, I would spend hours in my playroom throwing myself around to catch this unusually high-bouncing ball. Every time I threw it up, I shouted 'in the air' mimicking Tony Greig's voice, and then as I caught it and threw my hands up in delight, a loud cheer rang in my ears. This ball that my father gifted me for scoring a 10 on 10 in maths had witnessed a long-haired kid in shorts answer several post-match interviews staring at a three feet tall mirror on the wall.

I do not remember when exactly I jumped ships, but on my fifteenth birthday, I gave away the ball to a six-year-old who fancied Yuvraj Singh's cover drives. I wonder where I would be today if I had pursued my dream. I would either be happier or less happy but not as happy. The contact list on my phone would have had different names. The food on my plate and the city where I stay could have been different. And, I would have had a different story to tell. But, had I not changed my mind, would I be storytelling at all?

Train Arrives At The Right Time

The firsts are often clearly etched in our memories. I was 7 years old when I first traveled on a night train to Calcutta. The idea of lazily lying on a bunk bed, wrapped in a blanket, and gazing out of the window at distant hills and unfamiliar rivers race by was the second most significant thing that had enthralled me. Climbing into the train that would supposedly teleport me to a different world of moving houses was the first. 

An outpouring and diverse bunch of commuters had braved the bite of the winter night and made it to the platform where the train was to arrive in ten minutes. While I sat on a black-and-grey suitcase tucking my freezing hands in my pockets, time and again a gentleman in his late forties donning a heavy overcoat would walk up to the edge of the platform and bend forward to check if the train was approaching the station. The frequency of his movement increased as time passed. The disquiet and unease in him had intrigued the inquisitive kid in me.

I remember having asked my dad, "Does the train arrive sooner if he does that?" to which dad had replied with a smile, "The train will arrive only at the right time."

He was right. I have boarded trains for over two decades now, and the train has never arrived early for the impatient and restless lot waiting at the edge of the platform. 

The train arrives only at the right time. 

On a Train at Night

 Have you traveled on a train at night? How many times has it happened that the soothing back and forth movement of the train that had coaxed you to drift into slumber, suddenly stops, waking you up with a jolt? You lift your head and rub your eyes to look out of the window only to find the train stranded in a dark and silent place. There is not a light to illuminate the surroundings and not a soul to be seen. That's when fear of the odd hour and intimidating place starts gripping you. The deafening silence outside makes you feel lonely amidst scores of people riding the same fate as yours. You fear like you are the only soul marooned in this dark patch and any adversity to the train would strike you first. You long for the engine to whistle again, the wheels to roll on the tracks, and the train to speed towards your destination.

And, minutes later, when you have panicked just enough, the train moves again, crossing bright towns twinkling with lights. As you look outside with relief, the breeze brushing your face and ruffling your hair, you realize that the dark patch was as much a part of your journey as the bright towns; that you cannot see the light of the day unless you have traveled through the night; and that no matter whether your train takes you through dark tunnels, forgotten villages, or abandoned stations, it will eventually stop at the right station. You ought to remain resolute in your belief with which you had boarded the train.

Father's Day

It has been raining since evening today. Living for months in my hometown now, my mind often runs down memory lane cherishing my childhood reminiscences. And, today the lovely Father's Day messages flooding the social media brought back an evening when neither internet nor smartphones had made their way into our lives. I was seven years old and my sister was twelve, and a pencil box that was designed like a cellphone had become an overnight sensation among the school kids that year. While mom bustled about preparing supper, we scribbled on our notebooks keeping a keen eye through the window on every scooter that took a turn at the end of the lane and approached our building. Dad had left twenty minutes back for the market with a promise to get us one such pencil box. A few kids in my class had bought it the previous week and the idea of owning it gave me thrills. However, minutes later when we had moved from our notebooks to mom's sandwiches, the clouds in the night sky broke into rain and thunder. The rough wind across our house forced us to shut all the windows except one through which we peeped out at the sudden and ferocious downpour. The thought of the pencil box had fled from our minds and we awaited the sight of dad's green and grey Bajaj Super. After a while, when the rain had slowed down and we had finished chanting every prayer we learnt in school, dad came home - his clothes dripping wet. And, even before he had changed, he handed us a plastic bag safely wrapped around a pencil box - that looked like a phone. He had not forgotten - just like he doesn't forget today to remind me of paying my taxes, paying my bills, booking my tickets, getting my PF and Aadhaar accounts linked - an endless list. Perhaps, not forgetting the box that evening was the easiest of the countless efforts he has silently made over the years to buy his family a smile. I never heard him talk about his troubles or his dreams until the day when I received my Engineering degree and he sent me a text saying - One of his long nursed dreams was to see me become an Engineer. That's how he is - that's how fathers are - selfless, caring, loving, and a silent, yet constant support. May every father shine with strength and happiness - May every daughter and son feel as strong as their fathers believe they are. Happy Father's Day baba.