Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Journey- (Part-1)

NEW DELHI 2001-
The young man asked eagerly, "Ma'am, Bhairavi is janya of which ragam?" 
"Ma'am what train are you taking?" The organization's secretary asked in an urgent tone.
Both questions came from opposite sides of the dias.
I was  packing my Veena, my hands worked at a feverish pace, tying the knots of Veena cover strings. My heart thumped, I had to rush to the railway station. Audience surrounded the stage and were trying to get my attention, talking and asking questions- all at the same time.
"Tamilnadu Express." I  answered the young man.
He looked baffled. "I asked about Bhairavi...."
My right hand searched blindly for the other end of the string of the outer covering of my Veena.
I had to pull my thoughts back from Tamilnadu Express to Bhairavi. "Oh, sorry, mmmm...Natabhairavi."
I smiled at him and everybody around the stage. I was touched by their affection and regards, and felt bad that I couldn't have a leisurely conversation with them.
"Ma'am what are the ragas you played in ragamalika thanam? At least name 2 of them." A very shy looking Mami bent towards me and asked in a soft voice.
"Aloo Paratha and Kadai vegetable, is that your order Ma'am?" The organization's volunteer who was going to accompany me to the railway station was in charge of the food packets.
I waved at him in affirmation.
I turned towards the Mami, my hands almost completing the job of tying all the knots of the Veena cover.
I smiled at her, "I can't really remember. I played vivadi ragas. Kosalam, Neethimathi and Kanthamani were among the ragas."
"Thank you" she said softly. "Can I touch your hand?" She added shyly.
Without answering her I grasped her hand tightly with both my hands. 
Suddenly bending her head she kissed my hand. Touched, I looked at her not knowing how to respond. I thought her eyes were wet when she lifted her head.
She turned and left abruptly.
Feeling moved, I momentarily felt a sense of vacuum. 
Packing completed I announced to the people standing around the dias with folded hands, "Thank you all so much! Please excuse me, I have to catch a train. I have to rush. I am sorry but I don't have time to sign autographs or answer anymore questions. Truly sorry!!"
As I was about to get up one more book and pen were thrust under my chin.
"You can't say no to signing this autograph, because it's a voucher."
The organization's treasurer laughed aloud at his own joke.
I managed a smile.
After signing the voucher I got down swiftly from the stage, the heaviness of my sweaty silk saree weighing me down. In the greenroom I quickly changed into a light cotton saree and almost ran to the waiting car. After quickly checking that all my bags and Veena were intact I got inside the car and heaved a sigh. 

NEW DELHI RAILWAY STATION.

I played Kanthamani as the main raga in my concert that evening. Improvised 'sangatis' of Kanthamani and the resonance of my Veena  rang in my ears. Waves of tiredness and hunger washed over me.

Feeling ravenous I remembered the packet of aloo paratha and kadai vegetable snuggled in the side of my handbag. I reached inside the bag for the food packet. The compartment door creaked open and my hand stopped midway. A hefty, Afghani-looking man entered the coach sideways. He stepped in with his head bent due to his extraordinary height.

Dressed in a pathani suit, a shawl-like garment rolled and tied around his head and pointed boots, he was extremely tall....much more than 6 feet. His light eyes were kohl-lined , his hair a sun-burnt brown and his leathery skin was fair. Bad at guessing ages I wondered if he was in his 30s. His hefty and towering personality seemed to reduce the size of the compartment even further. Feeling dwarfed and overwhelmed I thought I must ask the TC to shift me to a coach with ladies.

The railway porter who brought the tall man's luggage placed them under the berth with great care. The tall man turned to look around the compartment, his gaze briefly touching my face.

He looked stern, his kohl-lined eyes narrowing when he found  my Veena perched on the top berth. He quickly looked at me and back at the instrument and again back at me. My heart pounded in my chest and I wondered nervously if he had an objection to my Veena. He looked so formidable!

He said nothing but continued to stare at me unabashedly, his kohl-lined eyes fierce in its gaze. His open curiosity made me squirm and I shifted uneasily. 

To my utter relief the ticket collector entered the compartment in his black coat and a pad in hand. He sat next to me, "Ticket madam".

Eager and at the same time not wanting to hurt or offend the tall man, I requested the TC in a hushed voice "Please, excuse me, can I change my berth to where there are ladies? Please??"

The tall man in his gruff voice cut me short. Addressing the TC loudly in a certain dialect with a splattering of familiar Urdu words he wanted to know why the berths seemed narrow in size and about the pantry service.

Struggling to understand what he asked and after replying to him the TC turned towards me again, "Sorry madam, all compartments are full, all families. I can't ask them."

"How about coupe?" I asked eagerly.

"Occupied by two sisters travelling together."

My heart sunk low. 

I asked the TC, "Who else is travelling in this compartment."

"Only the two of you, unless someone boards on the way to Chennai."

I gulped nervously. "Ok".

The Jain meal in my bag lost its appeal. After some thought I felt it would be better to finish my meal quickly and go to sleep. 

(TO BE CONTINUED....)



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