The seat looked dusty. I looked around myself. There were hardly any co-passengers around. The train had arrived at the platform an hour earlier than scheduled and I guess people were yet to find their respective coaches. There was only a young girl in the opposite seat – a young woman rather. With jeans and a loose T-shirt and a silver colored nose-ring she looked weird. Her eyes were glued to her mobile phone.
Huh! Another of those gadget geeks!
I put my hands in my pocket searching for a piece of paper or even my handkerchief. No way would I sit on the dusty train seat.
The voice startled me. I looked up. A smiling face looked at me in return. Her left hand held out a muddled bundle of fresh tissues. That same weird girl!
How on earth did she know that I was actually looking for a piece of paper?
“Take some. I cleaned mine with these”, she laughed. As she laughed I noticed the twinkle in her eyes.
Normally I refuse help from strangers – that too such a strange looking stranger – but right then I had no option.
But before I could even give her a formal thanks, she got up from her seat with a spring and began cleaning my dusty seat.
“Ha, it’s all right uncle. I would have done the same for my Dad”, she smiled the same way, having cleaned the seat in a jiffy.
“Tadaaa…here you are”, she pointed to my nearly clean seat.
“Thanks”, I thanked her softly.
A few of the co-passengers had begun arriving. Porters, noisy children, worried mothers, see-off relatives….
I looked outside. There was no one for me. Geeta had to pick up her son from school, Sekhar had his office to attend. It was more than enough that they had bothered to drop me at the station atleast.
“Sorry Appa. Please….I have to pick up Rohan in another hour, the school is pretty far away from here, if I don’t leave now I would never reach and you know how Rohan is….he would just keep crying!”, she had sounded apologetic.
“No problem. Anyway, I just have to carry a single bag. It’s no big deal”, I had tried to comfort her in my own way. Afterall she was my daughter. And it wasn’t wrong either. How much would the bag of a sixty five year old weigh anyway? The heart weighed heavier!
I adjusted my sole bag near my feet. The other passengers had mostly arrived.
Someone somewhere had perhaps opened a tiffin can of freshly fried Vade. The smell of crisply fried fritters wafted through the air. If Sudha had been around she would have certainly packed in a dozen….idlis…puliyothare….she always ensured she carried meals during her journey….she hated meals from pantry.
I closed my eyes, trying not to think about the past or even food for that matter. Without Sudha, life had become a burden. Staying with married daughter is not an easy option but with a son in the IT sector in Kolkata, with an erratic work schedule, staying with him wasn’t an option either. Thought of Ravi gave me a sudden jerk – a jolt rather. That conversation two weeks back had knocked off my sleep. Geeta hasn’t stopped crying since then.
It was just a three line monologue from Ravi.
“Ummm….Appa, I have found a girl for myself….Bengali, Christian…RebecaaBiswas. I know you will never agree to the match. But please, please, please come and meet her. She would be coming from Bangalore after her training in another two weeks.”
No way would I agree to the match! A vegetarian, Tamil boy from a Brahmin family marrying a non-vegetarian, Bengali, Christian girl! I would go and try to reason with him. If he doesn’t agree I will sever all my ties with him –forever! I shook my head unknowingly! I opened my eyes.
The train had begun with a jerk. Loud good-byes,sobs , laughter filled the coach! A few of them began to call their relatives informing them of the train’s departure.
I too took out my mobile phone from my pocket. I know it wouldn’t really matter but as a courtesy I wanted to call Geeta. Just as I began to press the numbers I suddenly realised there wasn’t a single rupee balance left in my mobile. I had been asking Geeta, requesting Sekhar but they had either forgotten or not bothered. I had even gone out to recharge the phone myself but the nearest shop was closed for over a week.
I stared helplessly at the screen.
“Here, use mine!”, a hand with pink nail colour held out a mobile phone.
That weird girl again! Her face was still smiley with that strange twinkle.
“It’s alright. Use mine.”
“Okay then…no need to call. Just send an sms to my daughter: Train started-Appa”, I felt weird and ashamed at the same time.
With deft fingers she typed out the message and the number as I dictated.
“Here, it’s done!”, she smiled.
“I..I..actually I forgot to recharge my phone…and I can’t blame my daughter either…she has her hands full”, I sounded apologetic yet again.
“ It happens….with most of us. Why don’t you try one of those re-charge systems ? They are quite useful. It is actually easy and user-friendly.”
“Ha ha ha….those are for young people like you! Not for oldies like us!”, for a change I tried to sound informal.
“But online dealings are never safe. Frankly, I don’t trust these online facilities. Every other day you hear of an online scam. But in any case it sounds interesting….actually I keep forgetting about these things like recharge and bill payment. And when I remember it is either too late or too difficult. And by then I am already into trouble…like I was, just a few minutes ago.”, I laughed.
I was really impressed with this girl. Not like the usual ones, and what I liked about her is that she was very sincere in her approach. Who on earth would waste time on explaining all those things.
“Would you care for some Vade?”
I saw the girl holding out a tiffin box of freshly Vade and Chutney.
This time I didn’t mind. I helped myself to one. I suddenly felt recharged.
“Did you make these?”
“Oh no! Not exactly ! One of my neighbours made all the preparations, I only fried them ……. of course upon strict instructions from that neighbourhood aunty ! I am originally travelling from Bangalore. I didn’t get a direct ticket to Kolkata. So I had to take a stop-over at Chennai.”
She bowed her head a little – perhaps in a short prayer- before she touched her piece. That is when I noticed the little golden cross adorning her neck! Sudha would do just the same. She would close her eyes and mutter “Sarveswara”, before she would touch her food.
Before I could ask further she spoke again – this time with her mouthful, “Mmm…but you know I can almost make these as tasty but that little hole in the middle just wouldn’t come. I have to practice some more. I need to impress my father-in-law …to be that is!”, she giggled.
I loved the innocence in her. Irrespective of what she was, how she was, her dress, her mannerisms and even her religion, I loved her. How I wish I had someone like her as my daughter in law.
“What is your name Maa ?”, I asked her.
“Rebecca Biswas. And what’s yours, uncle?”