R.D. Bhardwaj “Noorpuri”
The train was running on time thankfully, my interview was due at 11.00 A.M, and the train was supposed to reach Agra at ten. The office was hardly at 10 minutes of walking distance from the railway station, so I was enjoying this journey. It was the month of June. The heat was at its peak. Getting a seat by window side made me smile, and I felt lucky. Two small fans were running at their best speed but there was hardly any air. People were fanning with newspapers, magazines, dupattas, wiping their face of sweats from time to time. But, I sat comfortably and looked around, sometimes reading the faces of my co-passengers and occasionally glancing the outside scenes thru the train window – available in the fields where farmers were working tirelessly or some children were frolicking around playfully ……..
Two women, one aged around 56, may be the mother-in-law, and other the younger one around 25, presumably the daughter-in-law, who was wearing a big red bindi and lots of sindhoor, were sitting on my opposite front seat. Both were eating something from the packet and talking endlessly. They seemed to be Bengalis, I assumed that from the language. The head of the family was reading a newspaper and time to time glancing at me and other fellow passengers, through his spectacles. He was around sixty, balding, but in good health. His wife and daughter-in-law kept quiet for some time when he gave them a stern look and said something in Bengali, but after five minutes resumed their lively talk and started eating again. Someone was sleeping on the upper berth. I was trying to figure out whether he was a man or woman ? Alone or with this family ?
The Bengali babu was sitting and scrutinizing each one of us. Someone was getting down from the upper berth. He was the replica of the Bengali babu, but with lots of hair and without spectacles. I concluded without any doubt, that he was the son of the older man and the husband of the younger lady. He asked for something in Bengali to his wife. I could follow that he was asking for toothbrush and paste. The woman with red big bindi, took out the things from the bag, which was on the seat itself, and handed over the same to him. It was a small towel, soap-case, toothpaste and brush. The man was gone to freshen up. When he came back, he was looking fresh. He kept all the things neatly in the bag, then took the newspaper from his father and tried to sit with him. The man gladly gave him the required space and the paper.
The train stopped suddenly. It was some station. Bengali babu said to no one in particular – ‘This is Faridabad ‘ as if this was the most difficult answer, which he flourished with pride ! People started coming in the compartment. It was a reserved compartment so, Bengali babu shouted at every one who came to sit there. It started raining outside, as the train gained speed. Suddenly I saw a young woman in Salwar Kameez, with a small baby girl and a bag in her hand. She was certainly looking for a seat to sit and make herself comfortable. The Bengali babu said something to his son who obediently climbed-up again to the upper berth. I was surprised, the man was trying to make seat for the young woman ? The lady too saw that and was happy to see the empty seat, but the moment she tried to sit there, the senior Bengali babu picked the huge bag and kept that on the seat, and said in stern voice – ‘It is a reserved compartment…..’ The lady was really shocked, and so were we. The farmer threw his bidi, gave a nasty / dirty look to the man, and stood up, gesturing lady to sit there. Students too made some space, so she and the farmer could sit comfortably. She thanked him and sat down, with baby on her lap. Now, we were five adults and one little baby on that berth, and only three people sitting on the opposite. I tried to argue with the Bengali babu, but he did not even listen. After raining, it was cool inside now. The young lady who came from outside just a short while ago, was wet due to rains, but was trying to wipe the baby’s innocent nut pretty face with a small napkin, who was around two years old.
The Bengali babu was now talking to his family non-stop, and giving angry looks to all of us. He was certainly not happy that a lady with a little baby got a seat in a reserved compartment. I also did not like his behaviour, and was sure everyone else was also thinking the same for him, as even though the lady did not had a reserved seat, but she was having a small baby in her lap and hence, deserved our sympathy. The hawkers started coming with cold drinks and other eateries. The Bengali family was buying and eating everything. The lady bought some biscuits for the baby, who was looking at everyone with a deep sense of interest. She got down from her mother’s lap and was offering biscuits to everyone. She was such a beautiful and pretty baby that everyone started talking to her in next five-seven minutes, except that Bengali family. But the little innocent girl with her pretty face and pleasing personality made friends with everyone around ………
Another couple, who was sitting next to us with their two adolescent kids, also became very friendly with her. Suddenly, the baby went to the lady with the big bindi, and asked – ‘May I sit near your window ? ‘ The lady looked puzzled and looked at her father-in-law with questioning eyes – whether she should accommodate the little baby or not ; but the senior Bengali babu gave her a stern looks and said something in Bengali again. The baby waited for a moment, but the woman pretended that she did not hear. I picked her up and made her sit at my lap. Soon she started giggling with joy and thus, I also enjoyed her company. Her mother gave me a gentle nod of thanks. I was standing now, but that gentleman did not make any efforts to give other people some comfort, as was expected of him.
As the train was about to reach Agra, I started getting ready for alighting from the train, and I saw the young woman also getting up. She held the hand of her baby and bag, and started moving towards the exit door, but turned back and went to the Bengali babu. In most calm and dignified manner, said to him – “When we are travelling in a train, it does not become our property. Reservations are indeed meant for the comfortable journey, but certainly not at the cost of others’ discomfort. I was not going to give you any trouble, whatsoever, neither had I told my daughter to ask for the seat near window, which you were telling your family that I provoked her to do so. “A small child taught by her smart mother ” – that is what you told them? You seem to be a gentleman, but I am sorry to say that, this illiterate farmer showed the better sense of behaviour and good humanity, which was a lesson for you to learn. It was just a two-hour journey for me, but I shall always remember you as the most horrible experiences. Good day Mr. Horrible …….. With the passage of age, you may have grown old, but you did not learn to behave in a responsible manner in society, particularly at public places of utility meant for everyone ………”
“I wish you a pleasant journey with your family ! ” While talking, her face was red with anger. The Bengali family was looking at her with open mouth; just flabbergasted, and all the fellow passengers were marvelling at her courage, the college students also switched off their music system and even started clapping for the young lady. The train stopped at the Agra station. She turned again, smiled at the Bengali babu and said – ‘I am from Orissa, but I can understand Bengali quite well …… .’ And saying so, she got down from the train and was gone with her little baby and the bag.
I wished I could stay in that train for some more time to see the reaction of the Bengali babu and his family, but my interview was more important. So I also got down, but still I was able to see the entire Bengali family, still sitting in the train, gasping with open mouth and quite astonished at the sarcastic remarks of the young lady, who had just left the train…………. after teaching them a valuable lesson – as to how to behave and interact at public places, with other passengers – in a train or a bus !!!