This happened some time back. Probably 3 to 4 years back. I was a frequent train traveler then, a college student. I studied at a college which was roughly 200kms from home. Going home every weekend was impossible. But somehow I managed it once a month. I preferred trains as it gave me the luxury of making myself comfortably seated and saving my broken back from further damage. A book and the frequent chai-walas was all I needed.
Moreover, you get to see a myriad of people in these travels. Most of them would be patient mothers with wriggling toddlers who keeps asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet” every 15 minutes, daily travelers probably working somewhere. Some other times a gang of babbling college students come in, passing comments on the girl sitting at the corner seat, or the latest movie in town. And occasionally, you get to sit opposite to a handsome guy, steal a glance or two or may be smile charmingly.
And this was just another journey of mine. The train was running 2 hours late. By the time it was noon, I had reached only half way. A hot and sticky day! The compartment was crowded, the kids were bawling and the passengers were all irritated. There was so much of commotion in the compartment for may be an hour or so. Slowly everybody got down leaving the compartment almost empty. Thoroughly exhausted I got myself a bottle and moved to the window seat of an empty 3 seater.
The man sitting opposite to me had dozed off, so were the people in the berth. As all my attempts of falling asleep failed I took out a magazine to read. I was so immersed in the bollywood gossip that I hardly noticed that someone came and sat at the far end of my 3 seater. I don’t know how long the he/she had been there. But I suddenly had the eerie feeling that someone was watching me. All my senses became alert, on guard. At first waking everyone up seemed to be the best idea, “Don’t be a jerk” I mumbled to myself.
Without lifting my head from the magazine I turned my head, so that I can catch a glimpse of the person sitting there. I saw a pair of bare legs. It was a mans legs. His feet had been bruised, dirty as though he had been walking over stones all his life. The fear in me accelerated, I prayed that some chai-wala would cross by and it just turned out to be an unlucky day. I managed to further look up. He wore nothing but rags. Old, soiled worn out clothes. He had placed his hands on his laps.
I was building up an image of a mad man sitting next to me. Running to the next compartment was not good option either, what if he follows me there. I sat there unable to move and chained to my own worst fears.
The man sitting beside me did not move a finger. He sat still, like a statue. I wanted to see his face. Somehow I convinced myself that if he wanted to hurt, he could have done that long time back. I mustered courage to lift my head and look at his face.
I felt everything around me spinning. I saw a face which every child could recognize, every human has seen. It might be sheer coincidence that a man has striking resemblance to a person I have always seen on a ‘Cross’. Yes the divine one. My own eyes were playing tricks with my fatigue mind. I tried to reason out with my mind. But it seemed to have lost itself. He just looked like… .
My conscious mind did not even allow me to name him. He had the kindest of eyes, passionate and wise. A bearded face.His hair was brown, long and unruly.
Time stood still and I sat there immobilized. Slowly he rose from the seat, gave me a nod and simply walked away. Without a word!
I was stumped!! It was hallucinatory! The rational me not want to believe what I saw but I was confounded by the closeness.
Years have passed. Every time I remember this incident I come up with various explanations to satisfy my intellectual half. It was a tiring hot day and I was sleepy and exhausted. It well could have been that I wool-gathered all that up. May be it was some unfortunate person.
But strangely, even today, as I write this, I end up in asking myself. “What if…”