“If you’re reading this… Congratulations, you’re alive.
If that’s not something to smile about,
then I don’t know what is.” -Chad Sugg, Monsters Under Your Head
It was morning 6 a.m. on December 6th last year. It was still dark, not very, but not dawn either. Just like winter mornings in Delhi are. I pulled my luggage onto the platform, almost panting, post the hurried rush I made through the station over bridge, climbing up and down the stairs. The steaming kettles of freshly made ‘chai’ seemed to be the bonfire as people meddled around it in hope of respite from cold. Despite the urine stench and ‘Paan’ stains, Railway stations generically fill me with ecstasy for the journey. This particular time it was homewards journey post end semester examinations. I heard the announcement being made. I was just in time to board train no. 12004, Lucknow Shatabdi that was pulling in on platform no. 9 of New Delhi Railway Station.
I hurried a glance towards my ticket, checked the coach no. and boarded the train. Making way to my seat, I tried putting my bag on the overhead luggage shelf just to realize it was too heavy. A kid of eighth grade maybe, saw my failed attempts from across the aisle. He got up from his seat, and helped me lift my bag and finally succeed. I whispered a thank you, almost inaudible I guess, and smiled gratefully. He beamed. “The world still has good people.” I thought. My college texts and references force me to believe otherwise though. If you are a student of literature you will know the ‘reason for every good deed’ theory. That smile of his remained with me till the next station.
The train halted at Ghaziabad Railway station. I saw people rush in with huge suitcases in the short two minute halt. I wondered why the train did not halt for longer duration on such a crowded station. “Indian Railways” I sighed. The seat next to me, which was vacant previously, was occupied by a middle aged pot-bellied man. He was almost a live disguise of the often type-casted middle class tobacco chewing men with a broader horizontal plane. He reeked of tobacco, and had a certain shrewd grin. He fit into the seat and undid the armrest. I was appalled. I pulled back the armrest and continued reading a book, or pretending to do so just so he does not notice my critique of his actions. His phone rang. The ringtone was loud enough to wake a hibernating bird. He received the call and spoke in a rather arrogant tone to the person on the other side. He seemed to have been forced by his employer to visit Kanpur and receive one of his payments. He used foul words for his employer due to the sudden plan. “How critical.” I thought. Moments later it sprang on me, was I not being critical of this man. I hardly know him. The journey till Aligarh was an uncomfortable one for my neighbour slept snoring, almost half hovering on my headrest.
An hour and half of discomfort later, the train halted at Aligarh. The station was quiet at that hour. I watched as only a handful people rushed through the platform to board their respective coaches. I watched carefully as I saw a young girl, almost my age, boarding the same coach as I was on. Following her in was a young man, maybe a few years older tagging along with her luggage. I felt I had seen her before. Maybe just someone with a striking resemblance to a much loved junior I had at school. She looked nervous. She saw me and looked as though she knew me. She was my junior, no striking resemblances. She passed a nervous smile. I returned a smile. The man with her introduced himself as her brother as she whispered something in his ear. Maybe that she recognized me, that’s what I guess. He hesitantly told me how she was travelling alone for the first time and how he was worried if she would be fine. I assured him she would. He looked worried. He asked the man seated next to me if he’d mind exchanging seats. I could feel my inner self jump in joy. I held my ecstasy realizing I was being too critical and judgmental, also rude. The man agreed and moved to her seat as she got seated next to me. Her brother’s face expressed gratitude of great magnitude. His smile felt like I was his sister’s angel in disguise. The thought of having helped someone filled me with happiness. The satiation of content made me beam too. The train took off. The girl had a tearful goodbye. As we moved, she read the title of my novel and said, “You like classical literature?” she seemed surprised. I giggled, “Literature student. Can’t help it.” She giggled too. From there, we had no looking back. We spoke of our choice of fiction, our favourite actors, television series, everything. It was as though we were long lost friends who talked after ages.
At Kanpur, the train halted for its regular five minutes. People disembarked and people boarded. An old lady, who reminded me almost of Khushwant Singh’s description of his grandmother in “The Portrait of a Woman”, boarded the train cradling an infant in her arms. His soft, delicate fingers gripped on her shawl, moving slowly as he looked around absorbing the strangeness of his surroundings. His pink petal like lips formed an adorable pout before finally curving into a smile. As the lady took her seat, the baby bawled, wailing in loudest tones, tears flowing down his cushiony cheeks. She tried pacifying him in every way possible. She seemed to be his grandmother. The baby won’t relent. Finally, the girl next to me tried to distract him with funny faces. He clapped in delight and sniffed at her. She sniffed back, almost imitating him. I looked on amused at them. They seemed to have bonded over actions.
As the train finally reached Lucknow station and I said my goodbyes, I realized four stations later, I was richer. I now had one more friend- I didn’t ask her name, one more lesson- being critical is not the best option, one more thought- Happiness and good deeds are best when passed, one more smile- from the first good deed that morning. The fifth station was my destination. There stood Dad waiting, my fifth gift for the day, as I gifted another smile and almost rushed to him to be home.
This was my experience of a journey not wasted. The smile that kid gave after helping me, lives with me till today, and I love spreading his smile. I am sure each one of us has had certain experiences on a train journey that are unforgettable memories. Care to share the smile?