Story of a lost journalist

October 29, 2013

Good people

Filed under: People — Cris @ 02:49

Like all my trips, this too is planned a day in advance. I hear about a music fest – Go Mad Ooty – for the first time. And decide this is what I always wanted to see. And what’s more, they give tents to sleep in. Camping in the night outdoors, my dream comes true. Plus out of nowhere I get a cheaper ticket, cause a fellow couldn’t make it and he offers it to me. Since it is last minutish I don’t get anyone else to go with me. So have the extra trouble of convincing home all is ok, but at the cost of having to do all my travelling in the day. Which means out of the three days of the fest, two would go for travelling. And there goes the leave I took. But that’s not the story I wish to write of. Not of the music I enjoyed, not of the lovely Ooty views or the brr-brry climate, neither of my great philosophical musings. I wish to write about the people I met.

I love observing people in trains, that is, when I remember to. Most of the time I am lost in my music or the world outside or simply asleep. This time, in the to-Ooty journey, I watch a Tamil family first, with a kutty girl, who I kept playing the winking game with. She winks and looks away, then I wink and look away. Pretty complicated game. She wins in the end. Then come a mother and three kids. I like how the elder sis takes care of the younger one and how the younger one, like I used to do once (and still do), blurts out all the dumb questions she had. And then there’s a fellow with a book who tries to talk to me but I pretend to be busy with my music.

The next group now, those are my first friends in the trip. Three guys – all military students at a school in Secunderabad. They do what many young men do in trains when they want to get attention. They come and talk aloud and pretend to not know that the person next to them is also a Malayali. They say things in Malayalam, particularly pointed at you. You play along, and not pay attention. Later they ask a direct question. “Chechi, are you a Malayali?” To which I say yes and they act embarrassed. We talk then. Of my job and their student life. One of them tells me of his love life. And in two minutes they ask my facebook id. In the old days it took weeks before a guy asked a girl her phone number. Now in the facebook age, it seems a pretty natural question to ask, more like ‘what’s your name’. I refuse, they take it well, we talk more. Alby and friends, I note down mentally, maybe to write here.

The auto I jump into next, has been friendly in giving me directions. But like many people I met in the trip, he wants to know why I was travelling alone and without luggage but just a bag. I tell him it is a two day trip to see a fest and luckily, he hears it as “test” and leaves me alone. Next comes the bus journey where I meet Girija. She looks a lot like a former boss of mine who was not so friendly with me. But she is one sweet woman. Turns out she is from Kannur and got married to a man in Ooty. I freak out every ten mins saying it is getting late, and she tells me it is ok. She tells me where to get down, how to go and everything I need to know, before telling goodbye to me. I feel so safe with her next to me. How we depend on a human companion for everything, even a stranger you met five mins ago suddenly becomes your most trusted friend on earth.

Once I reach the fest venue, I meet friends of the guy who gave me the ticket (whom I have never met but only interviewed on phone!) – Ala and the gang. They are ever so friendly and would take me with them everywhere. How disturbing could it be for them, when a stranger suddenly tags along with your gang of friends. But I also meet other people – friends of another friend. Freddy and Nick. I get so comfortable. Freddy was raised in Canada and speaks like Robin of How I met your mother. I insist on holding his hand every time we pass a slippery area, twisting his arm in the process. He thanks me profusely and wishes I would not try help him anymore. Nick, whose real name is Pradeep, has to run away from a guy who tries to get him married. In between I go to Ala and the gang. They are musicians too. Ala sings, Sneha plays the guitar. Anki sings and Vinu programs. Strangers are no longer strangers in a gap of 24 hours.

Return trip has been the most disastrous one. My train from Coimbatore is 10 hours late. I learn two things here – one, the inefficiency of the railways and two, my personal weakness the moment something goes wrong. To elaborate a bit on the first, wasn’t it their responsibility to make sure the passenger was put onto some other train when there is such a huge delay. My whole point was to travel “safe in the day” and they tell me wait till midnight, we will give you the train. The station manager has a tone that suggests e-ticket booking can be troublesome.

Anyway, I will go to my other point. As soon as I hear about the train delay, I suddenly get all upset and teary eyed. Like it is the end of the world. Next minute however, I get that brainwave which comes to people left without an option but to act on their own. Viz., I could get into another train :D.  While I wait, I watch Hussain (guessed name) who runs a shop at the station. Everyone comes and asks him about the trains, and where to stand. Such a relief that man is. He tells me too the best options. So I take the Intercity to Kochi and this time watch two old Tamil accented Malayali men question everyone in the compartment of what they do and where they are headed. I pretend to be busy with the music again. I have a rule – only I get to be nosy around here.

The Coimbatore tragedy repeats at Ernakulam where I miss the last train to Trivandrum by a minute. Next one is again at midnight. (This should be the third in my series of me and trains, we just dont get along!). I again go upset forgetting my new philosophy in life. But I wake up soon and remember seeing a late train at Coimbatore. The railway information desk man too thinks of it when I tell him. And suddenly goes to announce in the mike for all Trivandrum-goers. It stops only at “Ernakulam north” he thinks of telling me only at the end of all this and adds “you got to reach in 20 mins”. I rush and make it. It is the worst possible train ever. So darn slow, stopping every 10 mins for no reason. Ok maybe there was some crossing.

I get depressed again. And hungry, I have eaten only a couple of Hussain’s biscuits all day. And then a man selling vada passes. I order three. An old Tamilian (I will call him Mariappa) next to me says something and I think he wants vada and has no money. I offer him mine. He suddenly smiles and says no ma, that’s ok, it was great of you to offer. Then he buys coffee for him and friends and tells the coffee man “give one to that amma”. I try to refuse but couldn’t. I am touched. Here was an old man, not rich by any terms, buying a tired girl coffee out of pure kindness or care or whatever you call it. A thought that do not come to a lot of the rich n educated that I know of. I drink it gratefully and get all the vigor that I had lost. I feel happy again, look out of the window into the now-dark world. I get a message from another friend Venu I have never met but interviewed. “Make sure you eat dear girl. Pls.”

What a good world this is, I feel. No train delays or inefficiencies or hunger seem bad when there is a Girija who tells you it is ok, a Hussain to guide you, a Mariappan who gives you his coffee and a Venu who tells you to eat, dear girl. You can laugh at it all when you think of an Alby who asks Chechi are you a Malayali and a Freddy who says Sweetie you just twisted my arm.

October 17, 2013

Short Story: Love Me

Filed under: Fiction — Cris @ 10:42

It is raining again this night. My driver has started whistling ‘Pyar hua’. I wonder if it is ‘cause of the rain. Or if he just wants to keep awake. But I like it anyway. He whistles better than he sings. Sometimes in our night trips, he would sing aloud the old songs of Jayachandran or Kishore Kumar. I think about asking him how he learnt so many songs, who taught him? Did he have a mother who used to sing to him or a radio he switched on every morning? But I am afraid to break the silence that we have formed over years of travelling together in the nights. There’s not even a customary hello-sir, or ready-to-go-sir. Never an ok-then, from my side. I wait every time at the parking lot outside Venu’s flat. My brother Venu..

Six years ago he takes us to live with him – me and her. The same night, he introduces me to the gray-haired man who drives an old ambassador. No hand shake, no nods. He does not speak as he sees the dry tears in my eyes. Venu tells me to go to work and goes in with her. I watch, as she looks at me with the eyes of another. He honks, it’s time to go. The same way he does today. Everyday. He comes exactly at eight minutes to 11 and honks once just to alert me. For often he has found me lost in thoughts and immobile. The honk wakes me up and I jump. Every time, still. And walk briskly to the front door, keep my boring black suitcase there and climb behind. I hate the driver-rider screening it brings but I have always liked a single room to return to, at the end of everything, everyday.

She doesn’t understand that. She tries everything, from pleading pouts to throwing tantrums. I sometimes relent. Just to see her winning smile. Just to tell her there’s something about never giving up. And just out of sheer love. I smile now, thinking. It is the only time I can use that word, when I use it for her. Love. I call her so, ever since I first saw her. She doesn’t understand at first, she just stares with her big brown eyes and looks away uninterested. But one day she answers my call. She comes running to wherever I am. Jumps on my lap and asks me if I called her. I put my name at the end of hers. Just so it reads love me.

‘Beep’. It’s her. That’s the third message this night. She misses me. And wants me to come back. How much I would love to, she doesn’t know. I do not reply. She would know then I am awake and call me. Keep calling me till I agree to drop it all and come back. I turn to my driver to divert my attention. He is singing Meri Sapnom Ki Rani. What timing, this man has got. It’s like all that silence we built together has told us everything about each other. If I want him to stop I just need to raise my head a little, he would somehow catch it in his rearview mirror. Several nights, I sleep like a log and he would honk to wake me up when we reach. Tonight, he doesn’t honk. He touches me, shakes me awake. I look surprised, I look betrayed. Our code is broken. He offers me his phone. “It is for you,” the first four words after six years together. I take the call. It is her. She has found his number. “Love, you know I can’t come back,” I say.

She wails, cries until Venu’s voice blackmails her. He would disconnect, he says. I can see her little face crumbling in fear, she’s got her mother’s eyes. “My dear, go to sleep now. Daddy will be back when you wake up,” I tell her. A new request comes to me. Sing to her. I look at my driver. He sings Omanathingal kidavo. After a few seconds I hear silence at the other end. Venu tells me she has slept in his arms. I tell my brother goodnight and look at my driver. He has turned to the steering. I raise my head a little. He stops the car, looks at me and turns it around. It is raining still, it must be raining at home.

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