"Excuse me? Our seat has been allotted to two…can I sit here?"
Slightly annoyed at being rudely shaken out of my reverie I looked up to find her smiling down at me.
Yeah! I found it rude because I expect the world around me to know and not to disturb me when I am lost in my precious self!
Though, polite as ever, I found myself returning her congenial smile as I pulled in my legs and said…
"No Problem. Please make yourself comfortable!"
She did so immediately with a gratified expression on her face and her husband took a berth opposite ours. After settling down she looked up and we smiled at each other. A 'Thanks' was no longer required.
Having seen off DD( meaning wat it sounds in Hindi and The Dancing Devil) at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Station to her cousin's place I had nothing left to amuse me.( Did I just say that DD amuses me? It was unintentional if you think I did…)
DD was gone and so was her excellent cell. (It had songs in it!) and I had read enough Fountainhead in one go to last me for the next two days. Probable as it may seem, talking to myself is something I do only while dreaming.
I stretched out on the berth whole of which was now thankfully left to me. Oh! I wasn't thankful for DD's absence but for the berth. Just as I was about to go into a habitual thoughtful stupor, this lady entered the scene.
"Are you travelling alone?" she asked.
"Not really…my friend got down at Delhi."
"From where are you coming?"
"You study in Roorkee?"
"IIT-R" ( Till date I don't like adding 'R' after IIT, did it nevertheless. I am not that ungrateful towards my Alma Mater.)
"You will do a job after you complete your education?"
"Is it ever complete?" is what I thought. To her I said
"I definitely intend to…"
Throughout the conversation she had been smiling. At this moment, her smile faltered and a expression flickered across her face which I was at a complete loss to comprehend then.
I questioned for my part,
"Where are you from?"
"Meerut…I got married there.", she said pointing towards her husband.
We were silent for some minutes after which her husband got up and left.(To take a puff at a cigarette…which was later confirmed by the stench.)
Our eyes met again…we smiled…and without me enquiring anything she plunged into a narration of her much missed(which I deduced later) premarital life.
"We have been married for two months now…"
("How do you bear that smoker!" I thought.)
I smiled in response.
Too many smiles…yes…I am aware of that. I am really thankful to Her to give us this expression. It makes up for the failure to find apt words many a times.
"I was a teacher, used to take tuitions as well. The kids adored me! They wouldn't leave me alone even on a holiday!"
"Nice…" I appropriately replied.
"I was also a state level athlete and a Kho-Kho player."
"Wow!", was my genuine response. Her tall and slender frame supported the fact. Not that I doubted her…just that I had noticed it already.
"So? What do you do now?"
She ignored the question ( That's what I think she did.) and went on to say,
"We are on our way to Gwalior. I have my in-laws there. My father-in-law is ill"
"Will you do a job again?" I tried again.
This time she stopped to look at me and at that very precise moment her devil of a husband chose to reappear, reeking of smoke.
She turned away from me (Did I imagine it or was there actually a relieved expression on her face?) and proceeded to fulfill her 'good wife' duties.
"Want to have lunch?" He nodded in assent.
She took out the lunch basket and offered me one of the delicious looking Methi paranthas. I politely declined with the warnings of DD and my Mom ringing loud in my ears. I had been more conversational with her than is advised, though it would have been difficult to do otherwise with her disarming attitude.
I again gazed out of the window counting the trees as they rushed by listening at the same time to their conversation.
Boring…I thought as I recalled that brief expression on her face. After her sudden and unexpected recital of the life she had lost I was able to apprehend a bit.
Maybe she saw in my life some things she wanted in hers too?
Maybe I made her realize her loss with more severity?
Maybe she was seeking appreciation for her lost 'Self' once again…even if by a complete stranger?
Four hours passed as these disturbing thoughts occupied me.
I remembered the faces of all the aunties( the best I could) who looked at us with very loving expressions on their faces, smiling at our constant jabber and sometimes for no reason.
I leave it to you to draw more conclusions. I have mine.
The train was standing at Mathura Junction. I picked up my luggage, bid a farewell to the pair and made my way out. As I passed by the window I looked inside and to my pleasant surprise I found her looking back. We waved a final good bye as the train started to move in opposite direction to mine.
It struck me just then that I had not even asked her name...