Tr. Harish Mahuvakar
Gujarat Express arrives at 08.20 am at Anand
and around 09.10 am it reaches to Vadodara. Since my joining to
the M S University as a professor, I found this train very much
suitable to me. Every day to and fro I stood and travelled.
But things on that day were quite different than the routine days. On my arrival I found not a single soul on the station. It was really surprising. Before I could get anything, Gujarat Express was seen on its regular platform. Without giving way to any other thought to my mind I got on to the train. Except the lunch boxes and college bags, the whole train was empty. I preferred a window seat. It was the first time ever that I got so much space and in that mood of joy I put my ear phones on and began to listen to songs.
Though the eyes were closed, things came in to my mind that people would soon flock the train at the last moment. The train with its usual crowded compartments, noise, and gossips of the whole world would start on its regular journey.
The train now started. It was after sometime that I realised that there was no one in my compartment. I was sitting all alone. Really all alone. With my wide open eyes I saw again. There wasn’t anybody. I removed ear phones and saw again, but really there was none. Not even a shadow, shadow of any man. I noted the day and date: Tuesday, 12 July, 2011.
For a moment I trembled with an unknown fear. Did I pick up a wrong train? No. No, it was the right train. Gujarat Express. But where did they go? Any strike today? Won’t the train move up to Vadodara? Such and like many questions filled up the train.
A thought flashed: I should check the next compartment. May passengers must be there. As I entered into that compartment I saw an old man sleeping. I felt relieved on seeing him. At least there was one. Nothing wrong with the train. Men are eaten up by loneliness as they are used to daily crowds. I asked him, ‘Why none’s in our compartment?’
He responded in Hindi. ‘How do I know why all of them wedded at the same time!’ Then scornfully he looked at me. I didn’t find anything of sense. I began to go back.
It was drizzling. As I assured myself of not being all alone on to the train I began to listen to the songs. A known voice came up, ‘Excuse me, anybody occupied this seat?’ I removed earphones and refused. It was the same one: the girl with blue shirt and black jeans, and curly hair. Though the whole train was vacant, why did she ask for this particular seat?’
This girl too everyday travelled in this very compartment. I always looked at her and thought to talk to her on the very first opportunity I get. Now here was the opportunity. She was sitting exactly opposite to me. I thought it was my day. I had a good seat and now a sweet company. Wow, a fanciful time! I watched her and listened to the songs.
‘You have songs every day. Don’t you like if anybody talks to you?’
‘Yeah, yeah. Why not?’ I stopped the songs. The brightness on my face might give anybody a thought that it descended from the heaven and the heavenly bodies left their routine to showers flowers upon me.
‘Why didn’t any one turn up today?’
I said, ‘No idea. But isn’t it a good thing? We have plenty of space as everyday crowd is missing, otherwise we would have been standing at the compartment door.’ Now my eyes with the colours of my heart very slowly began to paint her eyes.
‘Your job at Vadodara?’
‘Yeah. A professor in English at the M S University. And you?’
‘A cashier in the Bank of Baroda. It’s my first month in the job. Well that’s all okay but I like literature very much.’
So naturally the words ‘oh really?’ rushed out of my mouth.
She asked, ‘Should I tell you something?’ and then as if she knew I won’t stop her she continued, ‘You teach literature, no? Won’t you recite a poem for me? Please...’
Her request was a decree for me. I thought that this was an interesting time so a poem of love would be quite suitable. I travelled with my Gujarat Express into English literature beginning from the Elizabethan poetry to the Modern poetry but not a single piece became handy to me. Idioms are never wrong: A horse doesn’t go on the race day. Right on this moment a raindrop fell on my fingertip. I played with it and then took it to my ears and started to recite:
“Restless is the soul, drenches us rain
Restless is the mind, drenches us rain
Here are we two, and drenches us rain
You drench me and drench you rain.”
I saw through her closed eyes. She was fully absorbed in to my recitation. I hardly realised that the droplet flew from my ear to her lips and adorned her.
As she opened eyes she asked, ‘I think the last line was your addition, no?’
‘It smells so. But it is the poet Ramesh Parekh’s creation, not mine. ’ After much arguments I could convince her.
‘How nice is the drizzling, no? Let’s go to the door.’ Was it her request or order? Before I could get it she held my hand and fetched me to the door.
Ravines on the Mahi River caught to my eyes when I looked outside of the door. Strange was their attraction. They drew my heart into their labyrinth. The train was on the bridge now. We were standing very close to each other and whole the Mahi River was flowing in between us.
I always had a thought in the back of my mind. On a fine day after a long whistle, taking a U-turn from this bridge passing through the ravines if the train begins to float on the river, then...? Even before the thought take place in my mind, the train really blew a long whistle, crossed the bridge and took really a sharp U-turn. This Maneka slowly began to enter in to the ravines that stood in peace like the Rishis. The beautiful saplings that came on the way played affectionately on her cheeks and sent the scent of their love to me as well. It filled me.
The whole of the situation seemed to be a balloon of amazement that burst repeatedly. Like a crocodile that floats without disturbing the water surface and becomes a part of the river, the train too enters into the water and becomes a part of the flowing river. Before my surprise of very heavy train floating on to the river dies down, I come across some mermaids.
‘Mermaids?’ she couldn’t believe.
I said, ‘They are in the marriage party. Sagar is getting married to Mahi.’
No sooner than I finish, she left the train and started gossiping with the mermaids. I too left the train and began to follow her. Meanwhile a fisherman’s net fell upon her. In the efforts to come out of it she got trapped more and more. We tried hard to save her but couldn’t succeed.
Suddenly I looked at my wristwatch. It was 09:10. Oh no. Today I am to teach Emily Dickinson poem, ‘Because I Could not Stop Death’.
My thought led me to the train. Like superfast speed of my thought Gujarat Express returned to the track. Vadodara station was seen from far away.
As I began to prepare myself to get off, that girl appeared suddenly. ‘It was good that the mermaids never ever stopped their efforts till the last moment... and I could come out of the net.’ She still breathed heavily. I smiled and showed my happiness.
The train very slowly entered into Vadodara station. In the same speed the college, bags, tiffin-boxes too prepared themselves to get off.
‘But, what’s this?’ I was greatly surprised when I saw the platform. That ‘one’ was also looking at me with the same surprise. No one was here on the station- like Anand station.
In the meantime a rolled newspaper fell from someone’s bag. Before I pick up and put it back into that very same bag, the bag was lost into the fair of bags and tiffins. I glanced at the headlines. Special news in the Kheda-Anand section drew my attention. The news followed:
(11 July. Monday, Anand) Ahmedabad Mumbai bound Gujarat Express met with an accident yesterday morning. While the train was on way to Mumbai on its scheduled time, the driver saw an old man lying on the tracks. Sensing the situation he went for the emergency brakes. As the train was running with a high speed it couldn’t stop completely and the man was cut down. As the train stopped so suddenly all the compartments felt a big jolt. The train could have derailed. In a jolt an young man and a girl standing at the door lost their balance and fell down into the river. Both of them lost their life. The young girl’s dead body trapped into the net of a fisherman was found somewhat far away from Vasad while the young man’s dead body was stuck up into the marshes under the bridge. The dead body had been identified as Vishal Bhadani who was working as a professor in English at the Department of English, M S University, Vadodara. The girl remained unidentified.
As I looked up and saw that ‘one’, she had turned into a white feather and began to float in the air. And me? With a sense that I am not with me I travel to and fro every day in Gujarat Express.