Even outside movies, strangers meet on the way, but the stories are usually less dramatic, but they are still very firmly rooted in their day and time even without the able assistance of a skillful storyteller.
“Gomti is coming here?” She demanded (like Gomti was her maid) of nobody in particular, standing by the public bench I was sitting on at the railway platform, immersed in a magazine, awaiting Gomti Express bound for Kanpur. Moments earlier, looking up from the magazine, I had cast a fleeting glance around, and had spotted her descending the stairs, wearing a duffle bag like a rucksack, using the loops meant for holding the bag as shoulder straps. Ingenious, I thought. Looks funny though, I further thought. But, to her credit, the girl doesn’t care if she looks funny; not bad, I concluded and returned to the magazine. Moments later, she had thudded her heavy bag right beside me, and had tossed a question in the air about the platform placement of a particular train that day.
“Sorry?” I looked up at her, trying to make sure if she intended to direct the question at me before answering it.
“Is Gomti coming here?” She asked again, through her laboured breath from having carried the heavy bag up and down several dozen stairs, wiping the sweat off her face with the sleeve of her kurta before pulling out a small handkerchief for a repeat wipe. What was a tomboy doing in a salwar-kurta anyway? Going home, that’s what, I would later get to know.
“It usually does come here.” “So it’s coming here today also?” “That’s what the board says.” “So it’s coming here then, alright.” She allowed no admittance to the distinction between probability and certainty that I had politely made, twice.
It was completely alien to her that a probability, no matter how high, based on past events, however frequent, uniform and clockwork-like in occurrence, was still a mere probability, and could not rise to certainty anytime before the actual occurrence of the event in question. Contextually put, at no point before the actual arrival of the train at that platform could it be said with certainty that the train was going to arrive there.
Philosophical quibbles like those are practically useless, and make no difference to lived lives, she could have justifiably thought before dismissing it, but nothing even remotely suggested that she did, or that the distinction even registered with her. But that was philosophy’s day to hold the class probably, which, as a matter of fact, I never realized in all these years until just now when I recalled the sequence of events that day. The train wasn’t going to come that day. Not on that platform, not on any.
“Watch my bag, I’ll get some water,” she said, and walked away to buy a bottle of water, assuming my unexpressed consent to guard her belongings. What reason could I possibly have to not undertake the esteemed task? Not that I would have refused it anyway, for the task didn’t take much doing anyway. She was back in no time. But the train was late. Got further delayed, and was eventually cancelled.
“What happened?” She asked when she saw people sighing and walking away with heavy steps, visibly and audibly disappointed. “Train cancelled.” “Cancelled? It’s not coming then?!” “No.” “But why?! What happened?!” “Don’t know, but it’s cancelled for the day.” She looked at me, wide-eyed, mouth agape. “Yeah,” I nodded, consolingly. It was an afternoon train, and by the time it was cancelled, it was evening already.
“Where are you going?” She asked. “To get the ticket cancelled, and get a general ticket and see if I can get on-board another train for Kanpur.” “What do I do?” “You can go home for now, and get the reservation for tomorrow, and you can come back here and get on the same train tomorrow,” I said, and started walking towards the stairs. “Wait,” she called out from behind, “I am also coming. What if the train got cancelled tomorrow again?” And with that she grabbed her bag and ran to my side. “Where are we going?”
I was going to the Ajmeri Gate side of the New Delhi Railway Station to have the reservation ticket cancelled, and get a general ticket. She tagged along. “But they cancel tickets on the Paharganj side,” she said. “Is it?” Since we had already started walking in that direction, we checked the ticket windows on the Ajmeri Gate side. She was right. They said they only issued reservation tickets from that side; cancelation windows were on the other side, on the Paharganj side, like she had said.
“Maine to pehle hi kaha tha, par tum meri sunte hi kahaan ho,” she said casually after a while as we ascended the stairs to go to the other side. That was a pretty offbeat thing to say to a stranger one had met only a few hours ago. I turned to look at her. She was carefully climbing stairs, one step at a time, looking at her feet, like they needed optical assistance. I looked a second time. She continued studying her feet self-absorbedly, and reflecting upon the physics of stair-climbing, perhaps. I shook my head, and couldn’t help smiling at the busy girl. Little did we know that a simple task of walking to the other side of the station was going to get difficult very soon. It was a half bridge, and we had to climb down to a platform and climb another overhead bridge to walk to the other side.
…to be continued