My colleague rang up to inform me that the previous evening he had taken a bus home. News indeed! Given his fastidious fondness for his car! He had often told me how he hated being pushed and jostled in public conveyances and preferred his car over any other means of transport. A perilous passion considering the hardships involved in maneuvering a vehicle on the heavily congested roads of the NCR. But lately he had taken to car pool with two other gentlemen of the office. The one whose turn it was to cart them to and fro had left early on official task. Hence, the inevitable bus journey which left my colleague seething in disgust. I asked him why he did not take the Metro which was a much more comfortable option. “Metro commuters stink………….in summer because they sweat and in winter because they don’t bathe” was his graphic summary.
After his vehement disapproval, I could not possibly tell him how I loved to mingle with the crowd, loose my identity thereafter and be a detached spectator observing human antics for hours which sometimes would just be pure fun, at times extremely infuriating and occasionally a great learning experience. Just two days back these two, young girls, apparently ex-class mates, who having bumped into each other in the Metro, spent a cheerful half an hour reminiscing their college days – crazy batch mates, funky professors and the fun pranks they used to play on them and each other, unmindful of the twitching ears and wistful smiles hovering on the lips of many a fellow passengers.
Sandwiched amidst a herd of bodies, I invariably snatch fragments of conversation, the only source of entertainment, in an otherwise unexciting and exhausting travel. Crushed against these two ladies, the other day, who were perhaps estranged colleagues, exchanging notes on the latest happenings in their lives, I munched on their snippets unaware. One of them complained of helplessness managing a household, children and aged parents, without her husband, who, in turn, was struggling to get accustomed to an enforced bachelor’s existence, being transferred to another city. Ironically, her friend, with whom she shared her plight, was in the department which took care of placements and postings. She tried to bolster her unhappy friend up by giving examples of female employees who had to leave their husband and children under perforce transfer as per dictates of service rules. One such example (picked up from their conversation) which is still ingrained in my mind is that of a female transferee who having rented a room in the city complained of perpetual sleeplessness to her colleagues. She was not used to staying alone and would hear imaginary knocks on the door throughout the night, spent fitfully, turning sides. Being in a job wherein the dread of transfer always looms large, my heart went out to that anonymous lady who perhaps delivered her job, without a hitch, within the sterile bounds of her office, during daytime, but whose courage failed her when it came to facing lonely nights in an unknown city far away from her near and dear ones.
It would be a Sociologist’s delight to see how the Metro premises are being put to varied, alternate usages in addition to what it is actually meant for. It is the waiting room for friends and lovers, reading room for students, and, unbelievable though it may sound, I once even witnessed a matchmaking session, carried out in its intricate details, in the winding corridors of the station building – the proposed couple having their first dekko at each other while their respective families parambulated hither and thither pretending to be invisible. But of course, Metro at that time was in its inaugural phase and was not frequented by the multitude as it is now.
Another incident, which whenever I recount, elicits caustic comments from the listeners! It was last to last winter – a time for Delhites to show off their colourful collection of shawls and woolens. As I entered the cubicle for a mandatory body scan, I came face to face with this young, DMRC Security Guard, a pretty girl with chinky eyes, chubby cheeks and a cute smile. The name on the plastic badge pinned to her uniform confirmed her native place. I had this embroidered shawl callously thrown across my shoulder, an exclusive piece of threadwork, a souvenir of the place she hailed from. Her eyes dilated with undisguised pleasure as she lovingly caressed my shawl with her fingers and asked, “Yeh ____ ka hai, na?” An unmistakable accent heightened the sweet innocence of her question. I nodded acquiescence to which her response was, “Aap jaao”. And she let me go without the routine examination. Many tell me that this is an incident which I should have reported to the Authorities given the turbulent times that we live in. But her unbridled happiness was so child like! A manifest of a heart longing for the deserted hearth! I am sure the flowers on my shawl must have reminded her of an unassuming dwelling in some remote village in the foothills of a rugged range where her mother or sister might have spun many an idle afternoons similar patterns on home woven textiles in an attempt to stitch a handy coverlet for the scantily clad children, an inadequate but love-hewn protection for cooler nights. I would have asked the name of her village but unfortunately she was replaced by a new face soon after.
A family of four boarded the train one morning. Father, mother, son and daughter – all well dressed in a modest way. But the only thing which pricked my eyes was the daughter’s bare feet. She pranced happily in the compartment totally oblivious of her incomplete attire. My eyes were glued to her naked feet – the cracked ankles, the chipped nails and the dry, scaly skin. The father combed the son’s oily hair with his fingers under her mother’s doting gaze. The girl was blissfully ignored which she seemed not to mind at all, perhaps, used to being overlooked by parents. I gritted my teeth in an endeavour to control my urge to rebuke the parents for being so careless with their girl child. The family got down at the next station leaving behind a pair of tiny, chapped ankles dancing in my mind’s eyes for a long, long time.
The old man who boarded the train one evening appeared to be in his seventies. He was gray haired, slim and quite agile for his age. At first he quietly took a corner seat but after a short while started talking to the man seated next. As the conversation deepened, the old man’s pleasant voice rose slightly in pitch drawing the attention of many. Soon a coterie of unwavering attention collected around him. Most nodded agreement as the septuagenarian in his own inimitable style divulged the secrets of a happy and healthy living – a gourmet ladled with the preaching of Baba Ram Dev and various other motivational and spiritual gurus with a dash of Laughter Club Philosophy thrown in as the ultimate garnish. The gathered group had a uniform mop of salt and pepper intercepted by bald patches, hollowed cheeks, lined foreheads and darkness encircling the eyes. The old man fished out a few pamphlets from his pocket caught by flying hands. The energy reverberating in the compartment converted a dull evening into a lively, chirpy gathering, a sharing in unison of thoughts and vibes with each other and the old man.
The Metro takes two minutes to cross each station and two minutes at each platform are allotted for boarding and de-boarding. Within a short span of ten minutes the old man had marketed a taste-bud-tickling recipe of lifestyle management with ease and élan which he said was his way of serving the society at large, friends and foes irrespective, free of cost or any other encumbrances, and more importantly, making an interesting vocation of his post retirement leisure. Undeterred by the winter of life, he had preceded a drab and dreary exit by an exciting, new chapter. Who said end of a career meant oblivion?
The old man de-boarded at the next station, leaving behind a wisp of charisma and a horde of friends from whom he had suavely extricated promise of conformity to his home grown ism of an alternate life just a few minutes back.