Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Strangers on a train

It never rains, it pours. How else do you explain the fact that after more than two and a half years on not having set foot on a train, I find myself traveling thrice, and that too three overnight journeys, in the space of a month? Allow me to elaborate. The first of the three was an accident, but the other two were far from one. Unless accident has now acquired a new meaning which means ‘meticulously planned and looked forward to’. It’s not that difficult to imagine. Words do adopt new meanings. Look at pathetic. A beautiful word killed by the excessively negative use bordering on asperity. And then of course, there’s the G-word, as Dela politely refers to it.

I’m beginning to prevaricate, I see. Let’s get to the point. In this case, a flurry of train journeys. The latter 2 happened because the geek in me (a very very small one, hardly noticeable) decided to go to Allahabad with some others of my geeky ilk to take part in a geeky celebration. The whole trip is worth another post. I shall try to do justice to it in the near future, unless of course, I do what I’m beginning to think I’m best at- procrastinate.

I’ve had far more than my fair share of train journeys. My Dad gets an LTC from his office which allows us to travel at the Bank’s expense once every 4 years. Those weeks are like moments stolen from paradise. They’re actually better. Trying to describe them would only belittle their aura of ‘special’. The truth is that I just cannot say how important they are to me and how much I look forward to them. Every family has some features which set it apart from the thousand other families that share what happened during the day on the dinner table, look forward to a quiet Sunday after a highly social Saturday night and subtly but determinedly fight over who gets to read the morning paper first. Having members that are often not aware what mornings are like helps matters to a great extent, of course. In our case, one thing that I feel sets us apart is a collective wander-lust. We all love to travel and in our unique, what we rustically call, ‘khutta chhoona’ way. Hence, I’ve train-hopped across Tamil Nadu, Kerela and Bangalore when I was 2, Rajasthan and Gujarat when I was 6 and Orissa and Andhra when 10. That’s not to mention the countless trips to Calcutta, Lucknow, Jamshedpur and the et cetras. The strange part is that during the latter half of my life, I’ve hardly traveled by train. The usual stories of Boards and JEE and other dampeners of a happy life would naturally take the blame.

In both the train journeys to and from the land of the Kumbh mela, I had repeated jaunts down memory lane as I observed, that despite the years that had passed by, the co-passengers in a train journey had not been affected by the relentless tide of time. They could still be classified in the same earlier categories. While we were going, there was a kind old gent sitting in the side berth. He was the epitome of that class of people who are exceedingly helpful but do not hesitate a fraction of a second before giving unsolicited advice. Just before the train started, he saved us from a mammoth problem by dealing expertly with a pair of eunuchs who would, otherwise, have hassled us no end. The small smile of gratitude that I offered in return could not even begin to describe how indebted I felt to him then. For most of the remainder of the journey though, we were treated to a lecture on the various routes that trains in India take. This was followed by one on tea plants (I think) and then some bazaars. All fascinating stuff I’m sure. He was just the person I would have said KGND to had I not been brought up to be so well-mannered. Mind you, his intentions were the best. He even had my best interests at heart. The reason he was sharing all this knowledge was in the hope that I would clear the IAS and improve the current scenario. Later, he even told me that it would be better to do an MBA as that was where all the money was. I was specially touched when he said that I reminded me of his nephew and hence, he was talking to me so much. The rest of the story doesn’t get very sentimental if you’re wondering. He just told me bit about himself, played around with the caste card a bit and then I got away. Later, at night, as I tried to sleep, I could hear him offering generous helpings from his bottomless box of free advice to some other soul. This one though, was a far more appreciative receiver. They even discussed politics, and I came to know that the guru was a Congress supporter while the shishya knew some hot shot in the SP.

On the return leg too, there was some guy who insisted on treating the whole compartment a number of times on the intricate arrangements he had made to fight the winter chill, and his success. We were made to listen time and again, and with enthusiastic gestures, to the layers of clothing he had adorned himself with, the blankets he had chosen and his escapades with the cold in previous trips. How reminiscent it all was to the hundred odd trips that I’d made a long time ago. There was once some guy we’d come across who, if he were to be believed, would in every train journey meet someone that he was ‘acquainted with by name but not by face’. That someone would mysteriously be in some trouble and our friend would naturally rise to the occasion and help him. Clap clap.

There have been a couple of memorable incidents as far as co-passengers are concerned too. When I was traveling to Hyderabad, in the Coromandel I think, I’d met this really nice lady. She was the one who’d answered the question that had been troubling my 10 year old self- if compartments are the bogeys in the train, what would you call the inner compartments, i.e. the set of 6 main berths and 2 side berths? Cubicles, she said. Why, indeed, I replied and the ice was broken. This was the time when I was either taken to be the younger sibling or my younger sister and I were thought to be twins and the lady in question was no different. When I said that it was probably my short height that caused this confusion every time, she said that it was not just that, but I had a very youthful face too. I guess I still retain vestiges of that youthful face. Just the other day, some guy, on finding that I was about to graduate in a year, remarked that I was too young to work.

On the first journey that I made to my hometown after taking my entrance exams, I had a symbolic surprise. My mother had come to drop me off and as she bid me a fond farewell and left, some stranger on hearing her say my name asked her, “Are you Lefty’s mom?” (A subtle Up Yours to all those who think mine is a common name comes here). Mother dear replied in the affirmative, and the guy introduced himself. He turned out to be a neighbour that my folks had had when my Father had had a short stint in Tarapur (not to be confused with the one of atomic fame). I’d often heard of him. He was a young fellow then and would often come down to play with me. He had a baby of his own now, a teeny tiny chap. I was summoned to meet the gentleman and he told me, now a high school graduate poised on the brink of adulthood and making my first independent journey to the land of my forefathers, that his offspring was as big as I was when he had last seen me. The wheel of time had indeed turned a full circle. And the lesser wheels of the train chose to emulate that great one and turned their own small circles. The train gave that familiar lurch forward and another journey began.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Sultan of Swing’s back

Statutory warning: Most of this post is highly narcissist. The author is aware of the fine line between boasting and lying; the reader should be aware of it also.

It’s been ages since I posted. Whenever that happens, there usually is a lot that has occured between my last post and the current one. This time is no exception. It’s not that I’ve not written for so long for a dearth of things to write about. In fact, I’ve thought of posting something at least 5 times but have not, either because what I was contemplating was too personal, too opinionated, too iconoclastic or because I was too lazy. The last reason generally dominated. Better late than never though.

The year of Bond ended on a high note, not alcohol wise. Spent 31st night chatting away with two great friends, both long-time neighbours. One of them is actually my oldest friend. I believe I’ve known him since I was 5. There was a party, too. My cousin tried to get me to dance but I didn’t feel like it so didn’t, much to the chagrin of her friends who, I hear were hoping to dance with me (It’s my blog, I decide what to write here). My mom as well as my friend’s also tried to persuade us but we were stubborn mules. Plus, there was a bonfire where we were sitting and it was pretty comfy.

Back to college then. The sem’s just started. Everything seems hunky dory. I’ve not screwed up my attendance yet. It should be party time 24*7, but for reasons that will probably remain unknown to mankind, I’m just not enjoying myself that much. There’s often an emptiness that seems to be gnawing at my insides. On the contrary, there are these sudden unexpected bouts of uncontrolled mirth when I find myself laughing away with friends at any odd place. Passers-by may look askance at us but who cares. Good times indeed.

I’ll get to the title justification in my own verbose way. The placement season is on and most of the seniors here have landed cushy jobs with fat pay packets. CAT results were announced the other day and I believe there are more than half a dozen BLACKI’s this time. Another dozen or more have got calls from the IIM’s. To be precise, the seniors are on a roll. Great work, guys. It is but natural then, that in their last semester, they have every right to indulge themselves. What else are the poor souls supposed to do, with only 12-15 contact hours a week? It so happens that the means of entertainment that they’ve chosen is that perennial favourite of young lads and old men throughout the subcontinent- cricket. The farmhouse is proud to be host to their desires and the lords often join them for a game.

I’ve been an avid cricket enthusiast for most of my 20 (Goddamnit) years of existence. I might not be able to bat for nuts, but boy can I bowl. To see me bowl is like poetry in motion. Appearances notwithstanding, I’m quite the pace spearhead of the team. Being Lefty, I aspire to copy Wasim Akram, the original Sultan of Swing, as much as I can. I generally bowl left arm over (right arm around for the ubiquitous right-handers), pitch the ball between middle and leg, good length, and let the pitch do the rest. More than once, I’ve been told that I manage to get the ball to move. I confess I have no idea how I do that. The other day I bowled a peach of a delivery to get the prize wicket of the best batsman in the opposing team. The minute the ball had left my hand, I knew that this one was going to be a beauty. The ball pitched at middle stump, began to move away from the right hander who rightly decided to leave it. But then, it swung right back in and hit the top of off. Thank you. Thank you very much.

The only glitch in this apparently perfect scenario is that after 2 days of intense cricket, my body began to show vigorous signs of protest. I couldn’t move a muscle without causing pain to myself. I had to stop watching South Park because my sides ached so much whenever I laughed. Coughing became a strict no-no too. And it was then that I decided that it was just too high a price to pay. I would take no further part in the gentleman’s game.

I might have chosen comfort, but sometimes I think of what I’m missing out on by not playing. The truth is that I love to bowl. The air that blows against my face even on a still afternoon when I take my run-up, the hopeful scent of a wicket that beckons whenever I jump, the will to put the last ounce of energy into that one delivery to get that extra yard of pace, the desire to pitch the ball in the right place stemming from the knowledge that pace alone is not enough, the elation that begins to form when you instinctively know you’ve bowled a beauty, the boost in confidence every time the batsman is beaten and above all, the incredible pump in adrenalin when a scorcher gets an edge or better still, a stump- am I prepared to forego all this just because of some sissy excuse regarding ‘Hai meri kamar’? You bet I am. Give me a cozy bed any day. Toodle-oo.

PS- Steve Bucknor is a bad bad person.

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