In my twenties, EMU train journeys would consume my mornings and evenings. Ladies compartment used to be my home on wheels in those hours. This lady, who I met one morning, had short hair; weird cut that looked unkempt. I vaguely remember her dressing up only in sarees. Absorbed in her world behind her closed eyes, she would sing bhajans. I was not interested in bhajans, but her absorption in her devotional songs was what made me notice her; her hair, too. What was her name? Oh, my memory doesn’t serve me right anymore. It’s been quite undependable as far as I remember.
I sat next to her that day. On local trains no one gets to decide where one would sit. Choice is a binary illusion. You might be lucky to be standing at a spot which is closer to someone who might get down at the next station. You and a couple of more women run to grab the seat. One who gets it becomes the lucky commuter of the day. I got the seat. Next to me I saw the spiritual lady who was singing bhajans. Some conversation must have started. How or what I don’t remember. But she said she would bring her writings for me the next day.
As if it was planned, we found each other next morning easily. She handed over her folder to me and said I didn’t have to return it. Why was she so detached from what she wrote? Creative writing is not pen pushing. Why did she decide to give her treasure to me? I took her folder home with me and made a few feeble attempts to understand her journey through her words. Whom was she addressing through her words? All I could gather was, those were devotional songs. I couldn’t retain my interest. Her songs didn’t appeal me.
I took her folder back with me the next day to give it back to her, to be relived of that which I didn’t need. Those words must have been precious to her. So many lives we pass through to become who we are. Words of a writer are concentrated capsules of her eternal journey to the point where she stands at the moment when she writes something. A smile one wears has millions of stories behind it. We’re not a product of this moment. We have been in the making since forever. We have passed through 84 millions species. We have designed ourselves, a kaleidoscope of hopes, fears, betrayals, anger, lust, greed, illusion, madness. Her words on those sheets of paper were not a product of few hours, but millions of lives she had invested in her words. Her words were her unique code that stored millions of her sufferings, pleasures, realisations, and transformations. Only she could decode her words, or the one she wrote them for could.
I was a foreigner who didn’t understand the language of her heart. We shared the language of words but not their inner meanings. Her thoughts and feelings behind those words were alien to me. I had an underdeveloped heart. Why did she give her treasure to me at all?
This one-way sharing of inner treasure took place 20 years ago on a local train whose doors never closed; whose windows would always remain open to let the wind enter freely, naturally. Mobile phones were a luxury. People would be all ears to what one had to say. You could speak to your friends and acquaintances and simultaneously admire their clothes, hairstyles, and accessories. You could whisper how the other woman standing at the far end looked weird, or was she sad? When men would barge in the ladies compartment, women of valour would get together to push them out at the next station. Boys would impress pretty girls with their heroism which they flaunted by swinging their bodies on the edges of the open doors of the train. Their only support used to be iron handles. Every year a few would lose their lives on railway tracks. Every year some parents mourned the loss of their young children.
On the train people would sell snacks, cosmetics, and what not. Once we saw a girl changing into a western dress, stacking her Indian wear in her big handbag. Something or the other would shock us each day. An expert beautician was once threading her friend’s eyebrows on moving train. I wonder if she ever made a world record of some sort. Metro rails are lifeless. People on metro rails remain silent but their fingers chat incessantly with those who they meet only over their smart phones. Eating is not allowed on metro. Only commuting is legal. Nothing can replace the charm of local trains.
I kept looking for the lady in the ladies compartment. I went everywhere to find her as soon as crowd lessened. She wasn’t there. I didn’t want to keep her folder with me. I remembered she had mentioned where her office was. She worked for a government department which was located only a few meters from the Indian Express office in Jhandewalan. Before going to work, I walked down to her office. I asked for her. The office peon showed me her desk. I left the folder at her desk and hurried to my office.
She was not on the train the next day either. I never saw her again on the train during my remaining months at the Indian Express. My 6-year relationship with the EMU train ended with my job. A new phase of life began. Her devotional songs didn’t etch a feeling on my stone heart.
In last couple of years I have thought of that lady many times. A faint image comes before my eyes. Her eyes are closed, she is singing, has short hair… I wonder where she is. Has she found what she was looking for? She must have retired or nearing retirement. Who knows she may have left the household life for her eternal lover. I often tell myself that she must have seen my future, so she wanted to share with me the glory of devotion. Maybe she wanted me to walk the path of divine love. The super soul in her heart must have guided her. I wonder if I would ever see her again to let her know that I, too, have resumed my journey back Home.
No matter where she is. No matter what she did to her songs. The one whom she wrote them for cherishes them. Krishna loves His lovers. He sings to them who sing for Him.