From what I’ve personally observed, I’m inclined to believe there are two kinds of families in India. One, the kind that equates travel with trains, relying on the them for local and long distance travel, and two, the kind that usually restricts itself to buses and cars. Mine belongs to the latter.
That in a country home to one of the largest Railway networks in the world, we should opt for traffic jams and rocky rides has always struck me as an oddity. But since no one cares for my opinions, we continue to be enthusiasts of road travel. While there is probably some kind of charm associated with traversing guttered roads amid blaring horns, most of my childhood memories of travel are tributes to motion sickness thanks to the diverse terrain of my residential state. Hence train journeys have always held a fascination for me as a vomit-free form of transportation, with the ability to walk around or read being additional perks. Unfortunately, the only time my family ever chose rails was when we visited my paternal grandfather during summer holidays in his distant home in the hills, and so my acquaintance with the blue wagons remains limited till date.
Two weeks ago, I achieved a personal milestone by taking a train by myself for the first time. I stepped out of the auto rickshaw that dropped me off at the railway station brimming with self confidence. I felt like a symbol of woman empowerment as I grabbed the bags and made my way through the arches on my own. The four hour journey ahead held as much sense of adventure to me at that point as hitchhiking through Western Europe. (Clearly I need to get out more.) I made my way in beaming.
Half an hour later, I still stood at the same spot. For someone undertaking an adventure of sorts, I clearly did not do my homework. I had no clue which train to get on, where the platforms were, and where they sold the damned tickets. (Clearly there is a reason I don’t get out more.) Mind you, for someone accustomed to jumping up onto buses which laze around in the depots displaying routes in bold letters and being greeted by the bus conductors in due course with tickets, the whole rail system is little less than a culture shock. I decided to put the whole independent thing on hold and phoned a friend. Step by step instructions duly coated in ridicule led me to all the right places in the right order and I was soon walking down the platform reviving my spirits.
The train was late as usual. I settled down on a bench in what seemed like the only empty spot in the place and wondered about my next course of action. The ordeal of buying the ticket left me somewhat famished and I contemplated buying a packet of biscuits for the trip. As I eyed the snacks store, I noticed a Higgin Bothams outlet next to it beckoning me with its array of fresh paperbacks. But going over would entitle dragging all my bags with me and probably returning to find my seat taken, so I decided against it and dug out a candy bar to munch. It was at this point that the guy seated next to me started talking.
I am never one to initiate chats with anyone, let alone strangers. The ability for such small talk is a character I envy in many of my friends. Talking to a random person can be quite enlightening I believe, and can lead on to interesting exchanges and fresh perspectives. But being comfortable with silences and possessing a head incessantly filled with my own introspective chatter leads me to never venture down that path. I had not even noticed the person before he addressed me.
He wanted to know something about the rail schedules and I immediately professed ignorance in the whole system. Thus began a conversation that extended over two hours in a shared train compartment.
Yes, I am well aware of how unsafe it is to strike up conversations with random men in India and had been adequately warned against serial sex offenders prior to the journey, but the fact that he was accompanied by his elderly mother seemed to limit the possibility of him being a potential rapist. Plus, there was something about him. I pride myself on possessing good feminine instincts armed with state of the art anti-bad guy capability and my gut in this case happened to take a liking to him. The fact that he taught at a school for blind children immediately caught my fancy. It is not every day that you run into people who can read the Braille script. The conversation drifted to other topics but I could sense something different about the way he spoke, a tad bit of eccentricity but also a marvel of sorts persisting in his words as he described his love for nature and creation. He asked me if I was acquainted with the art of Reiki and I confessed I had never heard of it. It was something close to his heart he said, it changed his life. He suggested I find a Reiki Master and learn more about it myself. I smiled and nodded along, thinking it must be some kind of martial art technique for self defence.
Once he left, I turned to Google for enlightenment. As it turned out, Reiki is an alternative medicinal branch based on channelling of positive energy, the life force, from the therapist to the patient by touch to cure all diseases. Most of the websites seemed to consider it quackery based on no real science whatsoever, and as a practitioner of evidence based medicine I was inclined to be sceptic as well. But then I remembered his demeanour. Time and again I have come across people who exude positivity simply through their varied beliefs. So what if all of it does not make sense? What if a lot of it is just psychological hocus-pocus? A little bit of blind faith is not a big price to pay for tranquillity in a society plagued by cynics at every corner.
I gazed out of the window and smiled at the trees whirring past, wondering about the life force of the universe.