As I venture on to tell you about how we both who are two very different and yet similar people fell in love with each other. It is important that the subject is taken from a third party angle, yet begin with our own words.
Oh! God hope I would be able to catch the train in time. Why does the train have to start 5.00 in the morning? The great Sangmitra Express that would carry me to Patna where my Mausi lived started five in the morning from Bengaluru where I was working as a chef in one of the only Five Star hotels in Bengaluru and perhaps the best. Well so I reached just in time, fifteen Meetutes before the train left. It was definitely no easy task; I went straight to check the Reservation Chart and gave a sign of relief as I saw that my tatakal ticket was confirmed I had to travel for 60 hours with a break journey at Patna of 10 hrs. You see I am one of those people who like to sleep till late hours and more so since I generally do a night shift in my hotel or what we call as Royal Shift from 11am to midnight. I entered my compartment S-3 a sleeper coach and adjusted my luggage, the one travel bag I was carrying underneath the seat and secured it with a chain. And stepped out in morning the Bangalorian’ chill to buy a cup of tea. Out of basic curiosity I checked my co-passengers list and a sign escaped me as all my co-passengers where male of middle age and for a guy of 23 years it definitely wasn’t great news that there would be none to charm the way, not a single female co-passenger.
As the train started crawling I hoped on to the compartment and said a final good-bye to Bangalore... Or rather Bengaluru I have never understood why people change name of cities in India it creates so much of confusion. Madras became Chennai, Bombay is Mumbai. And yes, dear good old Calcutta became Kolkata. If we were so against the British Raj why the name weren’t changed the moment they left India and why did it take us 60 years to realise that the British rule is over? But as I bid adieu to this city a lot of memories flooded me and I blinked away a tear. I had just finished KET or Kitchen Executive Training programme, as part of my first job; 18 months ago I left Dhanbad for Bangalore having completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Hospitality and Hotel Administration from IHM Pusa in New Delhi.
Thankfully I had got Upper Berth, you see I am 6’ about an inch tall and my legs are always hanging out of the berth making Lower Berth a wee bit uncomfortable with people passing by. And the Middle Berth is a lot worse ’cause when I lie down flat my feet will butt into some passer-by’s head or face. In early morning Bangalore chill I took my Jaipuri Razai drifted off to sleep.
Sudden heat woke me up I was drenched in sweat. We were nearing Chennai, which is one place in India that is hot all through the year; even desert is cold at night. Could not imagine the revolting heat, in the month of January when all of India is shivering with equally violent cold waves. I looked at my mobile. It was one o’clock. I got down and decided to eat something the train would stop here for at least 20 Meetutes.
It was 3rd of January 2009 my bags were packed I hadn’t slept properly last night, was going home for my sister’s birthday it was only for short duration as my Last semester of the four years of design course from NIFT, Chennai was getting started in 10 days’ time and it would take me 42+42 hrs. I.e. almost 4 days in travelling. I was worried because I had to get to station early, as thanks to large number of Indian population travelling by train had not manage to get a confirmed seat. Though I gone to get my ticket in tatakal taking pains to wake up six in morning for tatakal line still it had turned to be an useless effort; Thus I was praying hard that my ticket being under tatakal and also up for up-gradation, as per Indian Railways scheme would get confirmed, so I had dragged my friend Roshan to the station with me, so that he could look after the luggage while I went to find out my ticket position and get it confirmed.
I was also imploring god so that I would manage to convince the T.T. to give me a seat in AC under up-gradation from Sleeper Class ticket I had taken because one could travel with waitlisted ticket in Sleeper but not in AC coach. It’s not that I had never travelled in Sleeper before but in recent past the long journey from Chennai to Patna where my parents resided and which also was my birth place and home town had become a little too tiring (only for a single female traveller) thanks to the unruly crowd that had recently shifted from General to Sleeper Class. I was thus paranoid because of an incident in past where a group of guys had not let me and my roommate sleep as they kept flashing torch lights, and had even tried to touch my roommate as we slept in wee hours of morning cramped up on the upper berth that we were sharing in Sleeper Coach. But thankfully my ticket was confirmed but alas it wasn’t in AC Coach it was in a Sleeper Coach.
Vivek saw the time “I still have 10 Meetutes.” He thought as he had just finished eating a dosa from the stall near the platform entrance, he walked back to his coach there was a new Passenger Chart on Coach, he could not resist peeping in, and it did bring a smile to his face, there was a female co passenger of about his age.
Vivekanand Shastri or as his friends called him Vivek was not desperate for attention from the opposite sex. But as it happens, presence of female co passenger among middle aged men or uncles and a local business man who used all the indecent Hindi adjectives in every sentence spoken, is like a fresh lemonade in scorching heat, it just refreshes your senses for all of us would agree, the fairer sex is definitely more appealing to look at.
Vivek decided to go to his compartment, there was a girl sitting near the window at lower berth on his side. In a split second when he saw the girl he had a knowing smile on his face, Vivek felt a pull towards her as he had never felt for anyone ever before, he somehow felt that he knew her perhaps had seen her, he could not explain this feeling that had come out of him, without him being aware about it, he could just understand it, in bits and fragments could not name it yet. But for sure, he felt that this was the moment he had been waiting for so long in his life everything has been leading towards this.
Sometimes in our life we meet people who are total strangers, and yet we know that it is becoming of a long relationship in process. It is such moments in our life that define who we are and that are life changing. These are the instants that which make our life interesting and add a spark to the mundane activities of everyday life.
The girl was wearing orange full sleeve t-shirt black denim, Blue Puma floaters and ‘pink socks’. “Pink Socks who wears pink socks?” Vivek thought to himself. She had adjusted her stuff and had opened a book, and had plugged in earphones; it was obvious that she wished to make no acquaintances. She looked intelligent, and somehow she fascinated him. Vivek smiled.
Heena turned at the very moment that Vivek had that uncanny smile on his face. She looked at him from head to toe and then rested on his face for few seconds and she turned to her book. The guy was young had slight beard probably 3 days old was wearing a white t-shirt a faded, dirty blue denim, was tall and broad rather huge. And he was looking at her with this silly smile and his eyes were twinkling as in when you see something that interest you, for the first time. She, felt revolted towards the guy from the start, she’s never liked when people looked at her, as has every Indian girl, or perhaps all the girls in the world after a time get used to men and boys alike staring at her or at her physic in some way or the other whether nonchalant or as if in a devouring wolfish manner, as if she was not a living thing with her own mind but, something which he can have or handle the way he wants.
She noticed that the guy smiled but did not say anything to her and took a seat diagonally opposite to her. He though started talking to their fellow ‘gentlemen’. “Boy, the guy has a gift for gab. Happy holidays, it will be a wonderful journey.” Heena thought sarcastically. Heena’s mobile was low on battery so she was actually not playing any songs and the mobile was switched off, the earphones that she had plugged in were just as a camouflage, so that no one would attempt talking to her.
Another boy a lanky small one who looked like a mouse and was perhaps a college student who saw Heena as seeing a lonely female passenger, thought it as an opportunity to talk to her and he asked her, “Do you study in college?”
Heena heard him but decided to ignore him, she was looking in opposite direction but turned towards him and gave an expression that said that she did not see him, and he was nothing but a low life, unnecessary burden on the face of earth. Yet the look was blank, the guy stood fidgeting a little then and went away giving an excuse of a friend in another coach and never to return, Heena Choudhary had never been someone who could take such antics from any man quietly. She thought with self-satisfaction, “What a scum, and good riddance. And what is he smiling for?” She turned to Vivek who was smiling and gave him a similar look to see that he understood that similar fate would meet him if he dared to disturb her.
Vivek had smiled with self-satisfaction upon the whole incident everything was proving right about this girl, she had loads of attitude and didn’t mind showing it to the world, the better for him ’cause he had always felt drawn towards girls who had some character. “I want to talk to her and know her better but break the ice but how. If I try now it will make her uneasy and may antagonise her towards me. God please give me one chance, I feel that we will be together for a long time I just want to befriend her.” Vivek thought as he looked up.
The train had started to crawl out of Chennai. Chennai, the city that had given Heena so much in life, it had made her independent, she had learnt that we make many friends but only few stay for lifetime, with passage of time people forget each other but few remain forever, and those who do are the only ones that matter. Heena loved her college, and her course, Fashion Design was not just a course she studied it was her passion. It was something Heena wished to do forever. And the course though back breaking was definitely teaching her how to do it. As her habit was she closed her eyes and prayed for safe journey. Her mother had told her do that once and she always did that.
Heena went back to her book, and soon it was twilight. Stars had started appearing overhead, and sky had turned to a pinkish hue. For some time, things were quiet. The man opposite to her was old, and had drifted to sleep, she had noticed that the guy had moved and sat next to her. She had intentionally put her tote bag that she was carrying in between them, and had ignored him. After the old man had woken up the chattering had begun once more, the best thing about Sleeper is that you can see the villages, and enjoy its passing scenic beauty. Heena tried very hard to avoid Vivek he was chatter box and was boisterous. On occasions he would put his heavy hand on her bag which kept crushing her favourite chips packet. After long torture of listening to the guy gossiping, and trying to be friendly with everyone, people got and ate dinner. Vivek, loved having chitchat with people especially the ones, he was sure about not meeting ever again in life, like your co-passengers in a train for there was no need to impress or have a relation later in life, so there opinion for him never mattered to him. He was slightly aware about the discomfort that he was causing to Heena, he had learnt her name when T.T. had come to check tickets she was so engrossed in her book that he had to call her name twice before she answered and showed him her ticket
Soon after started preparing to go off to sleep in train journeys people sleep sooner than usual as sitting for so long in one place makes them tired. As a habit Heena ate very less on any train journey because she hated going to lavatory in a train, for they would stink and be dirty like public toilets in India. She was appalled by the fact that very few Indians cared about basic sanitation and toilet habits and where immune to the discomfort they caused to everyone.
Everyone went to their berths, the guy was on same side as Heena but on upper berth while she had lower berth, and was still reading the book it was by a young author about dragon riders, this was third in its series. The person on middle berth was not there. After some time she had started to feel drowsy she wanted to close the light. The guy was reading some book as, she could see from his hands outstretched and the book cover that was visible, so she decided to ask him.