Humsafar- Co Passenger

Ashish was just beginning to doze when he was rudely  awoken by her. A thin girl with glasses, she had more kilograms by way of luggage than on her person. She was struggling with the various pieces- pushing some under his seat while trying to put some up on the rack above, all the while blocking the aisle.

“Can I help you ?” he asked gallantly. She ignored him and shoved the bag up on the rack with all her might. As she jumped down to ground level he felt a sharp sting across his face – her thick plait had struck him like a whiplash!

He glared at her rubbing his face tenderly. She sat down on the aisle seat oblivious to him and took out a book, in the process strewing all kinds of odds and ends like a scarf, a mobile and some papers on the seat in between. He was glad that he was seated by the window  with one seat between them. He had no wish to be injured again by her or her paraphernalia.  He turned his face towards the window and watched the countryside rushing by.

The ghat section was beautiful. There were points when the drops from the little waterfalls on the hillsides almost splashed on the window of the AC chair car coach. He saw a bunch of village boys frolicking under one of them. He wished he could have got down and taken some pictures. They would be great for his next entry on his photo blog!

Hillsides  and children were her particular favourite….He smiled to himself. There he had again said it to himself!!

What was it with him he wondered.. why were her likes now determining his creative expressions? When he had started his photo blog a year and a half ago it was to provide a space for himself to show case his hobby- photography! It helped him cope with his day today existence of being a financial analyst who lived with numbers. His blog had little by way of words- most of it being images.

He rarely got more than a few comments. He had never felt a  need for acknowledgement from others- that is until she visited his virtual space a few months ago . She had commented on one of his favorite pictures- of a cowherd sitting on  a buffalo and playing a flute. For the first time in his life, he felt there was someone who was able to describe very accurately in words what he sought to convey through his images.

He had gone back to her blog. Unlike his, her expression was only through words. She was very witty and often rather sarcastic. She could through her words,  laugh at herself as well as others. She wrote about current affairs, her  experiences from her life and work and other day today issues. He was amazed at her ability to convey her message so clearly- yes she was often very opinionated and they had sometimes had debates on issues that had filled up the comments section on her blog. He admired her clarity of thought and her command over the language.

Her email id was “manita”- as was her blog ID. He had often referred to her as “Anita” thinking it must be M. Anita or Anita M. But she had corrected him telling him he was wrong. Manita… odd name- he had thought! There was nothing on her blog to suggest who she might be in her real life. She had written up her profile in such a way  that it conveyed a lot about her beliefs without actually revealing anything about her identity! Clever!

He had sometimes tried to search for her profile on facebook but predictably could not locate her. The blog did not make her email id public so there was no way he could mail her. Therefore, all communication had to be restricted to the blogworld. Sometimes he felt that he said more than he meant to in his comments on her blogs and when she commented on his he wondered if he imagined meanings beyond what her words had conveyed….. He could not deny it but he had a mental image of her as a graceful woman with an enigmatic smile.

His thoughts were disturbed by a clicking sound- the girl on the aisle seat was working on a lap top. He scowled at her for intruding into his thoughts. She ignored him and continued with her typing. She also had an annoying habit of shaking her head and sometimes her body as she typed- it made the seats creak loudly. She was humming something under her breath- completely out of tune! Did he imagine it or was she smiling to herself ? Okay so she was smiling to herself why did he think it was a private joke at his expense…?

A coffee vendor was coming down the aisle. He beckoned him towards himself and as he was trying to collect the coffee with one hand and pay the fellow with the other – the girl on the aisle seat suddenly made a movement..

“ Ouch!!” he screamed as hot coffee split down the front of his T shirt

“Sorry Uncle. I was just trying to plug my computer to the  point on top of your window” she said settling back into her seat.

He did not know what angered him more – the fact that his favourite T shirt was stained with coffee or that she had called him “Uncle”!! He decided he needed to sit somewhere else- the seat was anyway sticky and he did not want his pants also to be stained with coffee!

“Excuse me” he said as he took his satchel from its spot under the seat in front and moved to a vacant seat two rows ahead. He would speak to the TTE later about this change.

Uncle indeed!!! Agreed he was prematurely grey but he was not a day older than thirty six. And she was definitely no teenager either. She must have been around twenty five or so..! A clumsy girl with no manners!!!  He should have stepped on her long plait while getting out…

He turned his attention to the countryside once again. But the sights on this side of the train were not so picturesque. He got out his iPOD and connected up. The song began to soothe him. As he listened to Kishore Kumar sing about his “Sapnon ki Rani” he began to calm down. Ironic he was on the train and there was a road running parallel just like in the song– he looked at the vehicles passing by. Where was she? His thoughts went back to where they were .. to his unknown soul mate in the virtual world. Manita…. he wondered.. again. There was definitely something there.. “Could it be .Ofcourse!. Namita! A clever shuffling of words” he thought with a smile.  Yes!!! He wanted her to know that he had deciphered her name!

He took out his lap top and plugged it on and inserted the internet data card! Unfortunately the signal seemed to be bad. It was not connecting. “ Maybe at the next station the connectivity will improve” he thought setting his lap top on the tray table in front of him. He leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes in anticipation. This was some kind of an omen – his stumbling upon her name. He had not waited thirty six years for nothing!  He was sure now that he knew her name he would be able to find her. And then? Well… life held many possibilities!

The train was slowing down. There was some commotion from behind as his former co passenger – the girl with the long hair and many bags tried to move towards the door. He heard someone shout  “Ma’m pleeesse. Watch where you put your bags” This time she did not seem to be bothered about apologizing as she moved down the aisle towards the door. He was thankful that he had escaped her departure otherwise it might have been his foot that had received her bags.

He looked at his computer – the internet had connected! He opened up Firefox and clicked on the icon that listed his favorites – the URL to her blog.

Ah.. there was a new post today.  What was this…? “Humsafar” – a fictitious letter written by her to a co passenger on a train journey. He scrolled down quickly reading bits and pieces “ grouchy young man with an old man’s hair and demeanor”               “ pretending to be asleep” “ comical expression when some drops of coffee spilt ”  “Ran far away”…

Oh my God!! It couldn’t be!

He rushed out of the train and tried to look for her. The milling crowd made it impossible to spot anyone.. He walked down the length of the coach and back again. Meanwhile he heard the train whistle. He ran up to the door and just as he was going to board the coach his eyes fell on the reservation chart.

He looked at the name against seat no 23 – it said “Tanima Chaterjee F, Age 27 !

( this is my first experience with a new age love story. It is based on some interesting experiences I have read on posts by fellow bloggers about  travel companions. Hope you like it too)

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IMPRESSIONS

Kalpana stared at Shyna in wonder! No matter how many times she looked at her, she always felt as though she was gazing at a masterpiece. Shyna ma’m was probably one of the  most beautiful among the clients who came to the beauty salon where she worked. A peaches and cream complexion, with huge limpid dark eyes fringed with thick lashes. Kalpana often wondered why she bothered  coming to a beauty parlour in the first place. Nature had endowed her with so much beauty that it was not necessary for her to seek assistance from human beings.

And it was not just beauty that made Shyna attractive. There was about her a quality that could only be called “glamour”. She looked like a film star and probably lived a life like one. She wore the top brands in clothing and  expensive jewellery in the most casual of manners. Her bags and shoes were obviously the best that money could buy! She drove a Mercedes and all those boys who worked downstairs at the valet parking service fought with each other not just to park it but have those few moments with her when she handed them the keys.

Kalpana, who had joined the beauty parlour as a trainee six months ago often longed to be given an opportunity to attend to her. But Lakshmi who was Shyna’s regular beautician jealously guarded her prized client. The closest that Kalpana had come to attending on Shyna was to give her a pedicure.

As she had scrubbed those lovely toes, she had wondered how anyone could be so beautiful! People at the parlour said that Shyna ma’m was almost fifty four years old. But it was difficult to believe it. One could not  imagine that she was a day older than thirty!

Kalpana sometimes thought about the kind of man that Shyna must be married to – handsome like the heroes of the movies that she was sure of. He must be worshiping the ground those lovely feet landed on. If she was driving a Mercedes, he  must be flying around on  a plane was her belief!

When she had told this to her boyfriend Ravi, he had laughed his head off…!!!  She had been most hurt – the way Ravi laughed at anything she said. “As if I am some sort of an idiot” she grumbled. “May be I should just dump him and marry someone else. Someone with more money than a plumber” she thought angrily! But as a girl brought up in an orphanage she knew she was lucky that she had atleast someone who cared for her. So what if he was a plumber? He did not drink, earned decently and had even taken her home and introduced her to his parents as the girl he wanted to marry. Now how many boys would do something like that?

“Kalpana.. Do you think you can manage a facial for Shyna? Lakshmi had to go out suddenly”  asked Lavanya the manager of the beauty parlour in a whisper.

Kalpana could hardly believe her luck! She would get Shyna ma’m completely to herself !!! She was happy, nervous and excited all at once as she started getting the things ready for the facial. She was impatient to feel that silky skin under her hands. She would tell Ravi today about how a fairy’s skin felt!

She wiped the cushioned table on which Shyna would be lying down during the treatment. She opened brand new jars of cream and lit the aroma candles as she waited for Shyna to enter the cubicle.

Kalpana watched awestruck as Shyna walked in and sat down on the couch in the cubicle. She was so close that Kalpana was afraid to breathe. Shyna’s  mobile was ringing. She rummaged through her bag for her phone with one hand as she took off her sandals with the other. Kalpana gingerly took those sandals and put them on the shoe rack. She was afraid that her stubby work worn fingers might damage those delicate straps.

Shyna was now taking off her clothes and trying to get into the robe that was laid out for her. Kalpana fussed around picking up the clothes and putting them on the hanger. She unfolded the robe and went round to help Shyna wear it. It was just as Shyna turned around to slip her arm into one of the sleeves that Kalpana saw them..!!! She froze in action staring at them transfixed!

Red welts – they criss crossed that beautiful bare back..!! There was only one way those marks could have found their way there !! Kalpana knew that very well. She had spent her entire childhood cuddled next to a mother whose back had turned like that every night until the day she had decided to end her life. She remembered the sound of the leather belt swishing through the  air and her mother screaming in pain until her father fell down exhausted in a drunken stupor.

Shyna was now lying down on the table. As she wiped the lovely alabaster skin with cleanser Kalpana remembered another face she had wiped similarly ten years ago with Eau de cologne . A tiered face with eyes that had closed on a life of violence. She looked at the face under her hands now. It felt as cold as her mother’s. What was the difference she wondered?

Yes, there was a difference – the face she had held in her hands on that day had been that of a dead woman while this was a face of a woman who was only pretending to be alive!