He seemed to be a reserved kind of person, the kind who could spend hours without uttering a single word. He was reading a book and I was trying to read his face. As a kid, I really liked train journeys. Those days, we did not have wherewithal to travel in reserved compartments. Rather than sharing a berth with eight other travellers, I preferred to sit on the door and watch trees and clouds running with the train. It was easy to pass time watching the landscape changing every minute. It also helped me avoid my fear of crowds. The fear was not there always; only after I lost my four year old sister in the Kumbh mela of 1981 (sounds clichéd but true). Since then I have always been trying to escape; from my family, from myself and from all eyes who remind me my helplessness.
Travelling is not only a tool of escaping but also a part of my job now. I must say travelling comfortably in AC coaches may be a luxury but I could never develop a liking for it.
I decided to use my standard conversation starter. "Hi. I am Ajay. I think I have seen you somewhere. Have you ever been to Gorakhpur?" I said. It was as if somebody had jolted him from a slumber. He took a moment to get normal and smiled. He said his name was Vishal and he was from Shimla. He had obviously never been to Gorakhpur and as expected could not locate me in his memories. I commented on how weird it was that some faces look so familiar and that it feels as if we had met before. He said he had read a book somewhere which said that people who feel at ease with each other are generally related in an earlier birth. I had heard this before, but to keep conversation on, I acted surprised at this new knowledge.
He worked as a librarian at a public library in Shimla. According to me being a librarian is the second coolest job one can have, first being a book reviewer. I wish to read books throughout the day but unfortunately with my kind of job and a tendency of motion sickness, I am not able to devote too much time to it. He was a great believer in God, faith and destiny; the three things I stopped believing in, a long time ago. Having spent countless nights praying and crying myself to sleep; having visited numerous temples and having rushed to unknown places with even the slightest possibility of finding my sister, I had stopped counting on divine help.
Contrary to my first impression of him, he was talking a lot. He shared with me how he was orphaned when he was seven years old. He survived working at tea stalls and completed his education by working as a runner boy in government offices. With help from some common connection, he met a girl. They got married and have two kids now. I looked at a wrapped gift peeping out of his bag and commented that his kids would be happy seeing him back with gifts. He said he was also carrying a gift for his wife since it was her birthday.
I told him to wish her from my side as well. He casually mentioned that they celebrate her birthday on the day they met. Now I was genuinely surprised. He said the reason was that she did not know her real birthday. She was separated from her family in the Kumbh mela and left at an orphanage by someone. I could not speak for a minute. With great difficulty I cleared my throat and asked, "In which year was she lost?" "1981" he replied.