” The Chennai Express arriving from Mumbai is ready to depart from Platform 1″ said the loudspeaker in three different languages. She waved at her mother from the window of her 2nd class, non-AC compartment, the whistle downing out her last-minute instructions. It was more than 4 years since she had taken the train and forever since she rode it alone. She remembered the last time, how while admiring the view she had lost her seat to the aggressive ladies. They just kept pushing her and one even sat on her hand, making her instinctively snatch it up and lose the space forever. She had tried to reason with them, showed them her ticket and said she had a right to the space, but they just ignored her and chatted with each other in their loud, crude voices. Thankfully, there was just one stop left, so she had spent it standing up. She was determined not to let that happen to her this time. She sat with her legs folded, elbows sticking out, ready for any attempt to wrest the space from her. She switched on her Walkman, tuned to her upbeat exercise music and opened her book. Two more stops before the crowd gets in, she was all ready.
“They’re in your way, But as long as you’re swinging Strong then you’ll get byayayay” shrieked The Offsprings in her ear as the first wave of passengers got on. That’s right, I am swinging strong so don’t you get in my way, she thought and kept her elbows well cocked. A family of three sat opposite to her, their little kid in between them. They were still getting their luggage sorted in the space under the seats when the train pulled out of the station. She heaved a silent sigh of relief, no one on her bench this station. Maybe this was going to be a better journey after all, she thought getting back to her book.
The smell of hot pongal dripping in ghee and roasted cashews dragged her from the book. She looked out the window and noticed they had passed the half way mark. Still no one on her bench, just one guy at the aisle end chatting away to the people across. The family opposite to her had gained two more people who were all playing cards and munching on the pongal. They were sharing their food with those from across the aisle. They saw her look up from her book and smiled. She quickly looked away afraid if she made eye contact, they would strike up a conversation. From conversation to moving over to her side and taking over her place was just a natural progression. She pulled out her bag and took out the curd rice her mother had packed for her journey.
As the train finally pulled into her station, she was the first one-off it. She stood to the side scanning the crowd for her friend who was going to pick her up. She noticed the others getting off one by one, exchanging numbers, Facebook ids and helping each other with their luggage as they walked towards the exit.
* Literally translates to Train Friendships. It was taken from the title of a TV series in DoorDarshan in the ’90s.