Thursday, August 11, 2022

The Journey- (Concluding Part-3)

It is a pleasant coincidence that the concluding part of The Journey is being published only 4 days ahead of our country's Independence Day. My travel experience described in the 3 parts of 'The Journey' is all about peace and harmony. This incident stays in my mind forever. 

Turning towards me the attendant assured me, "Don't worry, I will remove the trash bin from the compartment and request him to dispose off trash in the outside bin near the toilet".

The attendant smiled widely at the tall man. Talking in Hindi he asked, "Saab, hope you are comfortable and everything is fine."

The tall man patted the attendant's shoulder and nodded.

"Saab, please don't throw food inside the compartment. Madam is vegetarian."

The tall man's brows knit in confusion. The attendant added in broken English, "Madam... no meat... only vegetables eating."

The tall man looked surprised and nodded at me. 

The attendant added, "Saab, tomorrow breakfast, what will you have?"

The tall man looked at me while addressing the attendant, "Madam food, same same."

The attendant asked in surprise, "No eggs Sir?"

"No. Same Madam breakfast."

I did not mean to stop him from eating whatever he wanted. Frustrated at being mistaken I addressed the attendant, "I didn't mean to object to nonveg at all. Only to disposing off food inside the compartment!!".

The attendant was not listening to me, focusing on the tall man he asked curiously, "Idli, pongal and vada Sir??!!"

The tall man gestured elaborately with his hands conveying that the names of the dishes didn't matter. He added, "I happy vegetables eat." 

I asserted, "No, no, please have your usual breakfast, I don't mind if you eat nonveg."

The tall man stared and I turned to the attendant to translate.

The attendant told me in Tamil, "Please leave it. He wants to have vegetarian, let him taste our idli, pongal and vada".

"Oh, okay", I said in a resigned tone feeling like a spoilsport.

Guilty, I became tongue-tied.

As I turned towards my berth the tall man started talking to the attendant. His Urdu mixed Hindi was heavily accented. In between I saw him gesturing towards me.  Irked, I mentally decided not to talk anymore and as usual put up with whatever happens as God's will.

The attendant looked at me hesitantly. Irritated with the attendant for miscommunicating I ignored him and sat on my berth.

Approaching me the attendant said in an embarrassed voice,  "Saab is saying that you seem very frightened of him. He's asking you not to worry. He says you are his sister and he will take care of you in the journey."

I was taken aback. Pleasantly surprised and touched by the sentiments expressed by the tall man I felt my mood lighten.

Embarrassed,  I smiled shyly at the tall man, "Oh... thank you so much!!" He nodded seriously.

With the weight lifted off my chest, I thanked the attendant and prepared to lie down on my berth.

Picking up the trash bin the attendant walked out, pulling the shutter-door behind him. The tall man immediately pushed the shutter-door open, looking at me pointedly. His action of pulling the door open was deliberate, as though assertively conveying to me that he meant no harm. The compartment door remained open all through the night.

Finding it difficult to unwind and quieten the Veena inside myself I was awake for a long time.

I was surprised to see the tall man climb up the opposite top berth even though the opposite lower berth was reserved for him.

Feeling totally at ease I drifted off into an uneasy slumber.

Something made me wake up with a start and I found myself gazing at the tall man struggling with the most exotic colorful mini-carpet in the alleyway outside the compartment. The carpet looked like a yoga mat. Baffled and fully awake I wondered what he was trying to do in the dead of the night. My wristwatch was somewhere and I didn't know what time it was.

Somehow feeling responsible to help him I got up and walked to the door.

He glanced at me and continued his efforts in spreading the mini-carpet. The carpet was wide and too big to fit in the size of the alleyway.

It suddenly struck me that he wanted to pray!! Was it early morning? My head felt fuzzy from inadequate sleep and tiredness.

Feeling at ease with him, I cleared my throat, "Excuse me, do you want to pray?"

He looked at me blankly.

I showed in action by raising both hands like how Muslims pray.

He nodded.

With both hands I gestured towards the inside of the compartment, "Please pray inside." I combined my statement with the action of praying.

He understood me clearly. He stood for a moment, pondering doubtfully.

I understood the reason for his hesitation.

Looking at him directly I told in a firm voice," No, No, please pray inside the compartment. Main bahut khush!!" I added in broken Hindi. I combined with elaborate hand gestures to make myself understood correctly.

Not waiting for his answer I bent down to pick up the other end of his carpet. He immediately stopped me with his hands and somehow preferred to pick up the carpet himself. I backed away realizing that probably non-Muslims are not allowed to touch their prayer mat. Before picking up the carpet he bowed to me. When he lifted his head he was actually beaming. His smile reached his kohl-lined eyes that lit up his entire face. 

I felt oddly rewarded by his hearty smile. Feeling odd to bow down in return, I folded my hands in a gesture of 'Namasthe' , smiling back at him heartily. Spreading the mini-carpet between the berths he started his prayers first in a standing posture and bending several times. I pulled my legs up to sit cross-legged, sitting close to the window. Bending sideways I pulled the loosely hanging bedcovers so that they did not come in way of his prayers. Fascinated by his chanting in low tone I noticed that he sat down in Vajrasana. Marveling and admiring him for his steadfast devotion to God, I closed my eyes to meditate on the stillness of Kailash Mansarovar in my heart region. Somewhere between sleep and wakefulness I felt an enormous sense of peace descend on me, to fill me, spill out of me to spread its wings, encapsulating the compartment in a golden glow.

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