Anuja Shinge, Longlist, Short Story 2017

Happy Train Travel

Anuja Ajit Shinge

At 2 O’ clock in the afternoon I was standing on the railway platform all sweaty, irritated and frustrated waiting eagerly for the arrival of train. Being completely tired by attending lectures from 8 O’ clock in the morning, I was desperate for a nap. Just when I was about to check the app for confirming the train’s exact time, the announcement that the train will be ten to fifteen minutes late today goes off. Taking a deep sigh and having no other option than to wait, I choose a seat directly beneath the fan so as to get some respite from the sweltering heat.

Hailing from a small town, I never had to worry about travelling in local trains. School and classes were merely fifteen minutes away from my home. Many relatives were in the same town, and so I had travelled only through express trains to reach my native place.

But after my 10th Standard, we moved to Mumbai. I had heard of Mumbai through the phrases like THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS OR THE CITY THAT RUNS ON THE TICK OF THE CLOCK.

I was really happy that it was going to take only twenty minutes to reach my college through the local train. The first day of college finally dawned and I was ready with my bag and my purse that contained a shiny new train pass adorned with a bright navy blue cover. But not everything goes as planned. I left three trains that day in hope that the next one will be not so crammed with people. Finally I got the fourth train and managed to secure a safe place in the aisle, albeit after getting stamped and pushed. That day, I learnt a very important lesson- that you never, ever and ever carry your bag on your shoulders on the backside while travelling in a local train. Always carry your bag on the front side of your body. Lesson learnt well after three complaints (shouting’s) of aunties to whom my bag zip got scratched.

A few days later, another lesson that I learnt was that you do not ask for a fourth seat unless you want the most irritated stare of your life from the aunty sitting on the window seat. Slowly those twenty minutes started becoming a nightmare for me. The continuous blabbers of women, cries of children for a window seat, hawkers selling earrings and fruits, etc started irritating me. Securing even a third seat started to feel like a victory in itself.

But slowly things started changing for me. I still remember the exact moment when irritating train travel became happy train travel for me. It was rainy season, not exactly a good season to travel in trains. I was as usual standing in the aisle, a safe distance from the door, when my gaze fell to a small and brown hut near the railway tracks. Two small naked kids were playing in the rain by jumping up and down in the muddy water. But what caught my attention, were their electrifying smiles. A smile so full of warmth that not even rains or thunderstorms could tamper it. Life can be simple and happy only if you want it to be.

From the next day onwards I started boarding trains with a new outlook. I gave up my hard earned window seat to a cranky kid, smiled warmly at the fruit selling aunty while buying some oranges and tried to make a small talk with her. She told me how hard life is for her with three kids to support and finally as her destination arrived; she stealthily slipped an extra orange in my bag and got off the train. The skinny girl with a croaky voice who sells earrings now comes to me and shows me all the new fashionable earrings while calling me Didi (elder sister). Their heart-warming smiles make my day.

There are often fights over seats in the train, mostly amusing. And I learnt a great deal about the complexity of human behaviour during such incidents. I now look forward to those twenty minutes of my train travel eagerly every day. I finally understood all this hype about travelling in local trains. The white and purple striped twelve coach rake makes you feel a part of them.

 

 

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