If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A misunderstood beauty

It happened long ago, before flashy cars started zipping around on our pot-holed roads, before glitzy shopping malls dotted our cityscape, before the Internet and mobile phones, before enterprising journalists coined acronyms like the PYT.

When I boarded Doon Express for Kolkata in a murderously hot summer evening at Lucknow and took my seat by a window, the girl sitting opposite to me was indeed a pretty young thing. She was twenty-something with chiselled features and captivating eyes through the corners of which she surveyed the world from time to time. She was the kind of woman who would keep her man on tenterhooks. In the times of epics, when men fought on horseback and on galleys, such a face could have, rather, would have launched a thousand ships.

I settled down while she was having a violent tussle with her little son. Sonny was sleeping like a happy log, but mom insisted that he change into a proper nightdress, a pyjama suit. The child battled valiantly even in his sleep. If Kumbhakarna could do anything similar, the Ramayana might have ended differently.

The heat and dust, the tumult of the railway station, jostling porters, and catering staff rushing with precariously poised food trays on finger-tips provided a perfect backdrop for the mother-and-son combat. Suddenly, the lady declared a brief ceasefire and yelled, ‘Didn’t I ask you to fill the water bottles!’ whereupon a young man got off the bunk above and rushed out, bottles in hand.

Things improved as the train rolled out of the station; a cool breeze blew in. The passengers fell silent. The lady was quiet too, except for occasional commands to her husband to fetch this or that.

It was a gorgeous moonlit night. Through the window, I saw whiteness dripping from trees and thatched roofs and flooding the fields slowly. Within the coach too, peace had gained a toehold: lights switched off, passengers gone to bed, a magical moonlight streaming in, and my beautiful companion, now silent, wistfully gazing at the world beyond. An irrational question kept disturbing me: how could Nature create someone who looks so delicate and behaves so aggressively? …

I would have dozed off. When I opened my eyes, I saw her writing something in her diary with deep concentration, oblivious of the world, her face radiating warmth and eagerness. Obviously, they were tourists who had taken a few days off the humdrum of the city and spent some blissful time in the quiet lap of the Himalayas. Perhaps she wasn’t really as bossy as I thought her to be. Perhaps it was the thought of going back to the drudgery that her life was that made her snappy. She possibly had a sensitive mind and at the moment, was reminiscing the wonderful time they had just left behind, and was penning down the memories she didn’t wish to consign to the junkyard of forgetting. Or perhaps she was just writing about the moonlight? I ought not to have passed judgment without knowing her! It had indeed been unfair.

Then the penny dropped. She stopped and, turning towards her half-asleep husband, shouted, ‘Ei, how much did we pay for the breakfast?’


  1. hehe, reminds me of my wife.I like the subtle humour in the 2nd para.When you were describing the pretty lady, i was saying Et Tu Brutus.Nice Post, sure left an aftertought in my mind, pondering over what she would be in actuality. Is that a different mask she might be wearing and how we all have adopted different masks of characters to cope with our life. :)

  2. Oh! That was an excruciating one! I feel for you and the lady! But then, you have a heart and don’t lose it and the quirky bit of lesson you learnt anyway. The laws of corollaries, and converses, not just confined to the realms of science and geometry, dear Santanu da.
    Next time you meet someone sitting opposite your side, who does not exactly cast a bewitching spell on you, like mother nature outside, may do her bit to enthrall you, nevertheless ; in the quiet solitude of the train, with her soft, delicate lilt, the rhymes that flowed from her pen (its metrics perhaps in sync with the onomatopoeic clickety-clack sounds of the train) , or the sharp, random contours that left her chiseled pencil!
    But then, you never know, are you so sure ? Perhaps our earlier lady had just finished penning her memoirs, her odd reflections and would have loved to read out to you anyway, but, remember, you dozed off! And may be she was trying to authenticate /garnish her account with some of the odd bit of innocuous footages, er, yes, the name of the passing stations, the number of bridges she crossed, the taste of bananas she ate in her breakfast and the bill her hubby paid for it ?

  3. Haha! Oh, the mundanity that makes us act the way we do. Maybe she was a mercenary woman? Maybe she wasn't, maybe such was life for her :-) Such an enjoyable read though :-) Your anecdotes are wonderful :-) Would it be alright if I link your blog to mine Sir?

  4. Beauty can be merely skin-deep, and even Helen of Troy always seemed to me to be a remarkably unintelligent beauty.

    But the real beauty of this post is the way in which it recalls one of the great pleasures of long train journeys - the fascinating glimpses such journeys offer into the lives of complete strangers.

  5. Yes, Sucharita, I agree, train journeys are like books; whether we open them or not depends on us. I prefer to read them as much as I can, and for that reason, I don't normally carry reading materials on trains.

    Vaishnavi, thanks for your comments. Please do link your blog to mine. I will be honoured.

    Kaushik, maybe, you are right, maybe I really misunderstood her! But just as a man (or woman) who is at the top is lonely, a beauty is there to be misunderstood, isn't she? (Hope I haven't made a politically incorrect statement!)

    M, yes, you are right too. We can only try or pretend to know people, do we really know anyone?

    Thanks very much, all of you. You have made my day!


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