The breeze from outside, like opium, prodded the passengers to
sleep. In matter of minutes the shuffling and restless bodies
were at rest. As if nothing had happened at all.
I was awake. So was she, Shruti!
It was as if the entire episode of the train halting with a
sudden screech and moving again was only to shake things up for
It was around 1:00 a.m.
The train had gained momentum, cutting across tracks, making that
heavy thidhick-thidhek… thidhick-thidhek… war cry. The strong
gush of air from the window was making it difficult to keep the
eyes wide open.
For the next five minutes we did not initiate any conversation.
Perhaps it was my turn to utter my name. Make friendly
conversation and then linger on until the conversation died down
for lack of common ground. I was perhaps not interested to make
the futile attempt.
But we kept stealing glimpses at each other… eyeing each other's
faces from the top corner of our eyes pushing up our brows. There
was some connection after all.
I was still inert. She sensed that perhaps. Girls sense a lot of
stuff. That too girls wearing kurtees are extra perceptible or so
Picking up my book again she flipped a few pages in the dark.
Then she reluctantly, in an attempt to strike a conversation,
asked "do you believe in ghost stories?"
I was not really in a mood for a prolonged conversation. So an
evasive answer came out promptly "not really". I thought it would
perhaps ensure foreclosure of this conversation.
But fortunately, at least in hindsight, it did not. She was a
journalist, a persistent one at that.
We then talked, connected, contradicted, solved, resolved,
disconnected for the next five hours of our overnight journey.
By the end of it, I was unsure of what I wanted from the train
journey. A temporal shift from the clear objective of getting
down at Dehradun, travelling to the end of the world and then
She too was headed towards the hills. The Queen of Hills.
She had a purpose and I did not. At least not in the 'normal'
worldly meaning of things. I was just detaching myself from the
pigments of pain in my life. She on the other hand was out there
to prove herself. Prove herself, as journalist, more so as an
individual. I had no such longings left. Proving and disproving
have proved to be of no real use to me.
I could, even in the dead of the night train compartment, see her
sharp cutting eyes… they were big and penetrating, teasing and
provoking. The kind of eyes that settle and unsettle feelings in
men, all sorts of men.
Breaking my train of thoughts… she interjected.
"I am a journalist working for The Statesmen and currently on the
lifestyle beat. However, art and culture fascinate me a lot and
am hell bent to prove myself as a good enough scribe on this
As for me, I once fancied myself a journalist. However, did not
have the perseverance to pursue it as a profession. I still fancy
myself a writer though. I did not tell her any of this, not at
I just displayed a forced pleasant surprise on my face on hearing
about her profession. In all of this, I was being pulled towards
her. Not sure for what, not sure why…
Then she gave me a shocker.
"I am on my way to interview Ruskin Bond", and she smiled half
expecting me to jump up and finally let my guard down.
I must confess, I was taken aback that she was headed to
interview Mr Bond. It all suddenly made sense to me. She was not
too interested in an average looking stranger but in the book the
chap was carrying along. Season of Ghosts!
It all made sense. Her initial quizzing on my belief around
ghosts… but was it mere coincidence that she had to park herself
on my berth for all this conversation to happen.
Well, I decided to give in to the conversation. I probed, for the
first time, on her interest in an old, sedate man like Bond. He
was surely not a James Bond to kindle a fondness in most young
girls of these days.
She gave me an abstract answer and started appreciating his
writings, his course of life and his personality. She was totally
sold out on Mr Bond. In times when girls drool over Daniel Craig,
I was sharing the train berth with a girl who was sold out on Mr
Ruskin Bond. I was impressed.
But I kept my gladness to myself. I have, for most part of my
life, revered writers of his stature, brilliance, character and
honesty. Over time I have, to an extent, developed a stiff
possessiveness for all concepts that related to the 'literary and
Just hearing someone else praise my heroes gave me both a feeling
of exhalation and chieftain possessiveness.
Before my mind reeled under its own train of thoughts, I pulled
myself out so as to continue my conversation with this beautiful
girl by my side. My unknown thought partner for the journey.
She kept taking about some of the stories Ruskin had written, the
feel it left in her head and how all this summed up her trip to
the hills. I, on my part, at carefully chosen intervals, gave her
well thought after reassurance that I could understand what she
But soon I was out of grip. I could not control or temper the
conversation… I spoke from the heart. Carefully chosen words gave
way to flurry of abstract thoughts from a mind that has seen more
world than what those carefully thought words could have carried.
That was the last blow. Shruti saw what I was potentially made
of. She was, at a nightly hour, dealing with a poet whose heart
has drifted. This kind of gave her a weird zeal to understand me
We started completing each other's sentences. Thoughts were only
half shared and understood in toto. It was racy, intellectual
with a hint of underlining attraction.
I was either ways, chipping at my edges. Attraction made its
contribution. Little scraps of my personality were pulled towards
her magnetic eyes.
I intent to clarify... this was not love. Far from it. Far from
such beaten concepts.
Just then the train started to slow down… it was entering a small
two-platform station. It was really late at night and the dim
glow of the platform flowed into our compartment like a magic
carpet… the light struck Shruti's face and I for the first time
saw her face as it was. Any man would have skipped a breath. She
looked back and perhaps through her eyes, teasing smile and
slight tilt of her head reassured me that I was tolerable to look
The direct exchange of glances, for the first time in some light,
put us together for the next few days.
Togetherness is a strange thing. It smelled of certainty. I was
running away from all such certainties. But the next few days
were a roller coaster for me. And I am not exaggerating.