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.