The Difference between 25 and 52.


In the misty midnight hour I entered the train unceremoniously and alone. Everyone inside stared at me as if a lone traveler were unwelcome to everyone. Everyone had at least one seer off at the railway station, though I had none. Hence the queer treatment. Everyone seemed to have a notion that a lone traveler is a forlorn one who had no dear ones to love….that he was a drunkard or a thief. Nay, dear ones! I have a family at home who was discouraged by me to prolong or drag the seeing-off to the railway station…instead I preferred one at the doorsteps of my dear home where there was warmth, love and the pain of separation. The boredom of awaiting the delayed train would have made everyone uneasy and the warmth would have evaporated and restlessness would have overpowered. So dear friends I never liked to prolong the seeing-off beyond the door steps of my dear home. I advise you to follow suit.
My unwelcome coming into the coach cast a solemn silence all over. But the silence of that moment was overtaken by yet another perplexing spectacle. One fair lady had come in alone and there was none to see her off. The focus of attention shifted to that woman. I was relieved and curious at once. I too began to think like others thought about me a little while ago…” why is she alone? Is she married? If so where is her husband?…”My thoughts had no limits. Straightaway she began preparations to sleep. She lay on the lower birth just close to mine. My heart began to beep louder..I feared someone, especially the fair one, would hear my heartbeats. She took the opposite position facing my legs, but a few minutes later she changed position to occupy a face-to-face posture with mine. Now I had a clear view of her visage. It was strange, though not as fair as the body shape had suggested. A smile was lingering on her lips…I caught it before it fell waste. We found each other the image of one in the other. I lay there in that position for a very long time. Neither she nor she slept.
There was silence which spoke volumes. I knew what was going through her mind… and of course I thought she too had the same thoughts flashing through her mind. Still could not verify her marital status. Whether she was a student or a professional? I had no clue.. Her appearance and looks predicted none. Thinking, sweating, sighing, we both had had a sleepless night. A few of the passengers were curiously kept awake by us to know about the outcome of our body language. Like us they too had no result in the end, except the weariness of insomnia.
In the small hours of the morning I noticed a smile, an inviting one on her lips through the dim light. I mustered courage to reciprocate but it ended up in a tragic grimace. I was desperate to waste a whole night in sheer sleeplessness. Yet another hour passed uneventfully and there was sun in the east. It was time for me to alight. Mustering courage I put a question regarding her place. She replied, ‘Oh, I am from Kochin’… I asked where she was going to. ‘To New Delhi to join my daughter who was recently married’. I was surprised to hear that she was a mother-in-law as she had visage of a pretty young woman. I went on asking her personal questions about her family. I could know from her that her hubby was an acquaintance of me. On knowing all this all my initiative and warmth were solidified. I had a prick of conscience in entertaining amorous musing… I thought it better not to have asked for her whereabouts. Of course I did not reveal the matter of my acquaintance with her man. Hence she was as free and expressive as she was before. Still I took a U-turn.
The above episode took place in my mid-twenties, before my marriage, when I was on a trip to New Deihi to attend an interview. The sour memory of that episode revisited me during my recent train journey. This time I was in the uncertain age of 52 and I was cautious not to lose my sleep and not to shoot up my blood pressure over a woman who took my adjacent birth. See the difference between 25 and 52….Have I turned wiser or have I turned a coward over the years ?

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