The train jerked to a stop. The boy awoke, startled. The old lady opposite him smiled and told him “station aa gaya beta!” He rubbed his eyes and saw the honeymoon couple stacking up their luggage. There was another elderly couple which he hadn’t seen the night before. Were they Mr. and Mrs. Bakshi? He looked around. Seema was nowhere to be seen. He looked down the narrow aisle. She wasn’t there! Had she gotten off at the earlier stop? But he remembered her telling him last night that she was going to Kathgodam. He could not believe that it was only last night he met the girl. Last night …
..The air was warm and dry when he got off the auto at Old Delhi railway station the previous night. 10.10 pm, his faithful Titan watch told him. He checked the giant electronic screen hanging above the entrance to the station . Ranikhet express to Kathgodam. 10.40 pm. Platform 8. There was still time enough to grab a quick bite at Come Sum restaurant.
When he reached the platform at 10.30, the train had already arrived. He checked into his seat A3 20 and stepped outside to do his customary scan of co-passengers on the reservation list stuck on the side of the door. He had this weird fascination for on-the-road love stories, especially on trains and himself wished to be a part of one! Perhaps that’s why he liked Jab we met and Dil hai ki maanta nahi so much. But he realised that some things happen only in the movies. The laws of probability fail in the real world. He quickly scanned the list.
A3 17 – Maya Srinivasan – 62.
A3 18 – Shilpa Singh – 25. A small smile.
A3 19 – Prabhjot Singh – 26. The smile disappeared.Probably a newly wed couple off on their honeymoon to Nainital.
A3 21 and A3 22 – Mr. and Mrs. Bakshi, an elderly couple in their forties.
He sighed! Somethings are not meant to be. He climbed aboard and sure enough there was the honeymoon couple and the old lady. The Bakshis were nowhere to be seen. The Ranikhet Express let out a loud hoot and the journey began. Maybe the Bakshis were boarding from a different station.
On a train which departs so late and is scheduled to arrive at 5.10 in the morning, passengers usually wait for everyone to settle down and go off to bed early. As if on cue, Mrs. Srinivasan raised the middle berth, made her bed and retired for the night. The honeymoon couple couldn’t take their eyes off each other. And they sure seemed in a hurry to reach their hotel. After 10 – 15 minutes, they climbed to their respective top berths. The boy glanced at his watch. 11.27 pm. Ghaziabad came and went but there was still no sign of the Bakshis. He too was feeling a bit drowsy now. He could feel his eyes telling his mind to sleep. The eyelids slowly began to droop …
…Suddenly he could smell a whiff of perfume. He shrugged off his sleep and looked up. It was at that moment when he saw the girl. She was about 5″4, hair straight and slightly curved at the edges which dangled delightfully just below the shoulders. Sharp face, high cheekbones, bright eyes. She was wearing a white Kurti and light blue denims. She came and sat just a few feet away from him. She couldn’t be Mrs. Bakshi. He was wide awake now.
She pushed her luggage underneath the seat and turned. She caught him staring at her. He quickly looked away, and had this sudden urge to open his rucksack and find something which he himself wasn’t aware of. She pulled out a book and started reading. Of course, that’s what he was looking for as well! A book! He took one out ever so slowly and pretended to read. He stole a quick few glances at her but was careful enough not to overdo it. Just 3-4 glances every 15 seconds. She seemed engrossed in the book and did not look up even once. She was indeed quite pretty. In a span of 5 minutes, he thought of 500 ways to initiate conversation and all those cheesy corny pickup lines he had read about. He finally settled on one and was about to speak when she giggled. For the first time, he noticed the book she was reading. Three men in a boat! The funniest book he had read thus far! He smiled. This was his chance.
“Ah! Finally! I was wondering how long it would be before you laughed or giggled! When I read that book, I used to laugh every 2-3 minutes!” The girl looked at him from top to bottom and replied with a straight face “and I was wondering how long it would be before you realise the book you are supposedly reading is upside down! Unless of course that is a special trait you have!” At that moment, the boy wished he could disappear into the bathroom and hide there till the morning. He was tongue tied for a moment but said “umm..oh..yaa..some sharp eyes you have! My mind was actually preoccupied in something else “
“Lame explanation! But I think I know where your mind was preoccupied as well”. There was added emphasis on where.
“Well, you have a sharp mind as well then”
The girl smiled. “By the way, the book you are reading, ‘the case of exploding mangoes’ is also very interesting.”
And that’s how it started. A discussion on books and favourite authors and common books.
Her name was Seema Bisht. A common surname in Uttarakhand he felt. Indeed, she was born and brought up in a place called Lansdowne in Uttarakhand. A lovely hill station. He had not been there but he knew a lot about the state since he had already been there a half a dozen times. An honorary citizen of the state, as his friends jokingly called him. This was his seventh visit to trek across the Kuari pass. She had already been there, done that. In fact she rattled off a list of must do treks. And the discussion veered onto places travelled, treks completed and favourite sights. Interspersed with humorous anecdotes and stories. So far so good! Somewhere in the distance, the train whistled loudly…
She had done her M.A in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. He was even more impressed. And the discussion took on tones of latest trends. Movies. Life in a small town vs life in a metro. He felt good. But she stifled a yawn! She said ” I think we better sleep. Will see you in the morning! Good night.” The boy wished time could slow down and reluctantly wished her good night and dragged himself to sleep. But as soon as he hit the bed, he wished time would hurry up. He couldn’t wait till the morning…
…but today morning she was nowhere to be seen. He asked Mrs. Srinivasan. She also had not seen anyone wearing a white Kurti. He got off the train and looked around the platform. No luck. He now checked the passenger list of his entire bogey again. There was no one called Seema Bisht! He was confused. He needed a hot cup of tea. He took a ten rupee note from his front pocket and was about to pay the vendor when a note fell to the floor. It was white in color and he opened it. There was a cell number on it with the initials S.B! Seema Bisht! She must have slipped it in when he was asleep. Whenever you are confused or frustrated, ek garam chai ki pyali always helps. In one way or the other. He quickly dialled the number. “The number you have dialled does not exist. Yeh number astitva mein nahi hai.” He dialled again. Same response. What the hell was happening! And just then, someone tapped him from behind…..
…The boy awoke, startled! Mrs. Srinivasan was tapping him from behind. She smiled and said, “station aa gaya beta!” The boy looked around. There was the honeymoon couple. And an elderly couple who were probably the Bakshis. And of course there was no Seema! She was a part of just a strange but wonderful dream. He smiled, got off the train and checked the passenger list once again ….