I remembered Abba’s Nina Pretty Balerina’s lines, that goes thus : “Everyday in the morning on her way to the office you can see her as she catches the train – Just a face among a million faces – just another woman with no name ” –  whenever I saw her. She was there, on the dot, at 08.30 a.m., for the morning train. She wouldn’t smile, but she always wore a pleasant face. Some days she would look at me directly, just an acknowledgement; just to let me know that she knew I was looking at her. After all, all of us boarding the train were strangers, and it was just the half an hour train journey that
acquainted us to each other.

She must be in her mid fifties, but could pass off as a lady in her thirties if one doesn’t look very carefully. Her maroon coloured round bindi matched her round face. All the days that I saw her, she was almost always impeccably dressed. I don’t know where she worked, but I knew that she was someone important, wherever she worked.

Just once, she spoke to me, to find out whether a particular local train had gone. Otherwise, we shared no more a relationship than the fact that both of us were co-passengers who traveled in the same train to our respective offices. Both of us boarded the train at the same station, and both of us got down at the same station. But the minute we get down, the milling crowds will see to it that we lose sight of each other in seconds.

I was no sauve gentleman, not impeccably dressed, not handsome, not very modern, or very “fashionable” either – I was just a worker in the huge concrete building that overlooked the Railway station. But I had one thing in common with that lady. I too, was always punctual like her – it was the local train that sometimes mocked at our punctuality and delayed us on our way to the office. But The daily routine of
train commute to office, had a set of people, friends, strangers and acquaintances, and she was there amongst them.

Until one day, I did not see her. Or the day after. Or the next day. I surmised that she must have taken ill or must be on leave for some reason. And then I saw it – a small picture of her in the local newspaper – yes, there was a name on it – born on a particular date, and died on a particular date – the date of death matched the day I
missed seeing her the first day. The obituary was inserted by her family, which thanked her for being in their lives, and for being there for many others. I wondered whether she would have ever mentioned about me, or any other commuter for that matter, to her
family….

Since I did not know her personally, I did not grieve – but since she was a co-passenger who shared the same train commute and was part and parcel of the group of people who made “MY” train commute, I felt sad that her pleasant face would not greet me, even if unsmiling, from now on. Would I miss her? To this question, my rational and reasoning mind was telling me, “How can you miss her? She was JUST a passenger who shared your commute! And besides, you don’t even know her!” But my heart was telling me, “What if she was JUST a passenger? She WAS human, just as you, and you know she acknowledged you. Remember the time she almost smiled? Remember the time she asked you whether the train had passed?”  The heart has its own reasoning, justifying the emotional bonding, the occasional teardrop, the affectionate (construed) glance. The heart, in its eagerness for justification, may find reasons where none existed, and I was aware of that.

Excusing myself from both my mind and my heart, I sought solace within my soul, and it was then, that realisation dawned….We come into someone’s life, just as a train commuter, and get out just like a train commuter – But the journey of life, goes on. Whether we miss someone or not, should NOT be our worry. And whether someone misses us or not, should NOT be our worry either. But we should NOT miss being there, when we SHOULD be there….

To end the story :- the daily commute continued mechanically, and none seem to have noticed, nor seemed concerned, that one person was less, that one person was missing, that one person who made up the commute, was not there. It was, business, as usual….

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28 responses »

  1. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    Fantastic blog Omji!

    Touches the heart !

    It reminded me of the film “Wednesday…” where Naseeruddin Shah was a daily train commuter and had an “unspoken, undefined” relationship with a young man who gets killed in a bomb massacre which makes Naseer react to the apathy of the system and society and retaliate.

    Thanks for sharing your experience which finds a ring in other lives too.

    We all are daily commuters in the journey of life.

  2. Shernaz Madam,
    I was missing your usual poetry this time, and you have compensated for the absence of your poetry with this comment. Thank you, and yes, on this journey of WRITING this SPACE, we are all, co-travellers. So succinctly put.

  3. Shernaz says:

    Om, though not total strangers, all of us on this journey of minds in this space, are co-travellers. Your thoughtful article teaches me that at least here, we should all be there for one another – encouraging, discussing, empathising, growing together in mind and spirit towards becoming better human beings. Thanks.

  4. lu says:

    Dear Om,

    Ur style of writing make the people think that they are true stories ,this is evident from the above replies you have recieved.Since i am ardent admirer of your writings for a very long time i was able to understand when i started to read this should be from your imagination .
    Thank you for your new greetings and i am keeping the envelope safely reserved for my daughter to read it.

    • Dear Lu,

      Thanks! Since you know me well, you would have easily guessed – I hope you saw my reply to Varun on top – which clarifies further as to from where this woman arrived!

      Always nice to receive SNAIL MAIL, no?

  5. Indrani Talukdar says:

    A very warm and moving piece to a lady unknown. Sometimes people make an impact, however subtle, for no known reason. They linger in ourt minds long after they have gone. Very good.

  6. Beyniaz says:

    Lovely train of thoughts, Om.

  7. J S Broca says:

    Dear Om, a really moving piece ! Sad to know that no one missed a fellow commuter. However, you surely remembered her smiling face,her matching bindi and other small details of your brief interaction wih her.She lives in your memories….Somehow it reminded me of an old song from “Anurodh” which goes thus :
    “Aatey jatey khubsoorat awara sadkon pey, kabhi kabhi ittefaq sey,kitney anjaan log mil jate hain,
    unmein sey kuchh log bhool jaatey hain, kuchh yaad reh jaatey hain,unmein sey kuchh log bhool jaatey hain, kuchh yaad reh jaatey hain…..”
    You revived some of my memories too.I still remember a girl’s song heard in 1980 in the branch of my bank.If interested,go to my blog and search for ” A blast from the past…!” I met her just once,but till today, her face,her song haunts me !
    J S BROCA
    NEW DELHI

    • Dear Brocaji,

      Thank you very much for the visit and the comment.
      First and foremost, Welcome Aboard!
      Second, I was out of station almost the whole of last week, which is why I could not comment on your shoes naama – which I will do shortly.
      Third, Kindly see the reply I had given Varun – as to who the woman in the train really was!
      And last, but not the least, I am glad that it reminded you of old memories – I will definitely look up your blog, a blast from the past. I myself, often hum Mohd Rafi’s “Pukarta Chala Hoon Main”…….

  8. Smita Luthra says:

    Om, a very beautiful writeup. Very thoughful and poignant.

  9. D.selvaraj says:

    dear sir
    As usual your article was touching and impressive. You made me recollect my old memories. There are incidents like these in everyone’s life. Some one like you only retrospects. “Ennaivittu nedunthulaivu anal ennukul un ninaivu” Wonderful write up.

  10. sreekumar says:

    Wonderful piece of writing. The summary ‘ The show should go on’. Keep posting.
    Sree

  11. A.Hari says:

    Very interesting OM. I have lots of such experiences with commuters who remain silent but sometimes help you to great extent without any request. Similarly many strangers help or guide you during emergencies. But we don’t get a chance to meet them to thank them for their timely help.

    Hari

  12. P. RAJA MONI. says:

    Dear Om,
    Very often we become friends unconsciously even without speaking to them and we remember them for ever. This happens mostly among co-passengers in a train and among Railway men. When we meet again it is happiness and joy. Family union!!! The friendship becomes thicker. HATS OFF TO RAILWAYS.
    RAJA MONI.

    • Dear Sir,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I wholly endorse the view : Hats Off to Railways.

      Indian Railways takes in perfect strangers into its compartments at the originating station, and offloads them as perfect friends at the destination station!

      I also wish to add, sir, I met a passenger on a Madurai bound train in 1990 – we became friends over the years and last year, he was at Chennai to invite me for his daughter’s wedding! He said that even if he doesn’t keep in touch throughout, he remembers me atleast once a year, when he sends the New Year Greetings!

  13. Mira Pawar says:

    Your writing has always inspired me. People come and people go, but the memory remains for ever. Thanks for sharing your memory with us

  14. vimala ramu says:

    A very interesting interlude.Sorry to go at a tangent. But how did she die? accident? If you had been seeing her travelling hale and hearty, it couldn’t have been any disease that killed her.

    • Vimala Madam,
      Kindly see the reply that I have given Varun Reddy. But thank you so much for reading and commenting. I do have a lot to say on your piece in Femme Fatale, and I hope to do it soon – not having much spare time!

  15. Varun Reddy says:

    I guess it’s been your writings that I have consistently liked, loved and learnt from in all of WriteSpace’s articles…

    “The heart, in its eagerness for justification, may find reasons where none existed” is very true… I can relate to this article, being a Delhi Metro commuter (not as punctual though)… I happen to bump into certain people whose faces I recall… And I think about each person having made a small impact in my life just because of this common ride we share…

    I hope the lady remembers you for sure, wherever she is now…

    • Dear Varun, Thanks a lot. I am humbled.

      Actually, I would like to clarify what made me write this – There was a cobbler by the side of the road, whom I used to see almost daily. Even though I never even once went to him to mend my shoes or sandals, I always saw him on my way to office. One fine day, he disappeared. I did not know what happened to him. Did he die? Die he move away to a different place? Did he fall sick? I really don’t know – but the first few days, I almost eagerly looked at the blank empty place of his so called shop hoping to find him there. It was then, that I had this conversation between my mind and my heart, which I have reproduced in the blog. It bothered me that not once I had wished him or smiled at him even though I had no business with him. So, when I had to write for writespace, and since anyway I was writing a story, I added a lady and made her very attractive, and substitued the cobbler with the lady, and added some inputs from my commuting days
      (Marketing Strategy, Varun, as you would call it at IIML!)

      But the original intention of writing this was to convey the feeling that sometimes, a smile or a kind word to a total stranger, may mean a lot to that stranger – and we almost always never do it, for fear of being seen as “naive” – and even if ONE reader of the many who read this, feel that, I am happy.

      Now that the cat is out of the bag, I hope Vimala Madam also see this!

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