Train travelling almost always leaves you with a story to write about. I have been missing these because I take the Jan Shatabdi every week and this sort of corners you into your seat especially if it is a window one, what with the one-way seats and the partitions in between, which actually makes it a comfy ride. But you miss the people stories. You don’t have to be the social kind, or the small talk kind. You just have to be the curious or the observant, the one that enjoys it all.
I had taken the Ernad Express grumpily, because the Shatabdi was already full and Ernad took two hours more than Shatabadi, and was more crowded. I felt guilty about claiming my seat which was taken by someone else and guiltier later for not sharing half of my seat as so many were standing. But then no one seemed to be complaining, the standers or the sitters. There was a certain happiness in here, in this really crowded coach that I took, that was somehow catching. And within an hour or so, you sort of establish a connection with your neighbours, without actually exchanging a word with them. It’s suddenly people you know, people with you.
On my right was a teenage couple, speaking what I suppose was Hindi, I have no idea of what. Opposite me, it’s a married couple with their toddler son, and one chubby fellow with a beard and a gigantic set of earphones. Standing to my left was a girl, who had to lose her seat to another claimer like me (the bad us), and uncomplainingly moved hither and thither with her earphones, one tenth the size of what Chubby had. There are more, the green shirt who took her seat, another green shirt who read a Sidney Sheldon and whom I might have had a crush on two years ago, an older woman who woke me up to ask about my seat and the hundreds (no exaggeration) of sellers who’d pass by.
But my forte had been established. It was the young couple, the married couple and kid, Chubby and Standing Girl. The family opposite me was like the happy families you watch in movies – laughing, loving, eating. This I believe was genuine, because if it weren’t, they couldn’t have made it last all five hours in the train. But there was not one annoyed gesture as the patient parents took turns to look after the little one, who hasn’t been still for one second, and kept insisting to eat the biscuits that fell on the floor, throwing an empty bottle at the opposite seat (which meant my feet and my hands and luckily not my face), and jumping up on their laps. The dad had been the bigger surprise, I never see fathers so patient, not only sharing the chores but doing it so happily. And unlike the typical Kerala families, this one was expressive. They look the typical Malayali trio but they don’t behave so. It was actually a happy sight to watch the mom put her hands affectionately on the dad every time she laughed or rested. I am not being a voyeur, this is hard to miss when you are seated in a crowded train and not sleeping.
I suppose the teen couple next to me was expressive too but they are on the same line as me so I couldn’t see and their language was alien. But what touched me was when the girl stopped her chatter and offered a candy bar to our Restless Kiddo who took it happily and gave her a baby-teeth smile. Later the young man would keep petting the child. He was irresistible that way, the kid, for all his restlessness, you could easily make a pet out of him. Love needed no language really. So good to be a kid, I thought, anyone could love you and also express it freely, no moral policing there. Yet.
Chubby in the meanwhile had brought out his gigantic earphones and plugged it to his mobile phone. He had not stopped laughing since. I imagined he is watching a Jagathy movie. But I also imagined, meanly, that there was nothing funny at all, he was just pretending to laugh to show he wasn’t lonely and bored. Poor Chubs. And then there was Standing Girl. I kept looking at her wondering if I should offer half my seat. I don’t know why I didn’t proceed. It’s simply one of those things you think and do nothing about. It’s when she stepped down at Haripad and walked away I felt so absolutely guilty. Why don’t we do the things we know we should – if it is for some temporary comfort, trust me it is no good at all compared to the later guilt you will feel. Quite for selfish reasons, I have decided to act as soon as I have such thoughts again, if only to save me from the torturous guilt.
So there, those were my people for the journey. I realized this when at some stop, the teens had stepped out and a suitcase man who boarded the train came to sit in their place. I said protectively, that seat’s taken.