Strangers on a train

I stare out of the window, waiting for the Rajdhani to take me away from the city I have grown to loathe so much. A young executive with his face partially covered by a newspaper sits next to me. An elderly man walks in with his wife and his luggage in tow, and a retinue of servants and porters follow them into the coupé. I close my eyes at the distraction, waiting for it to pass, before I board my train of thoughts again. The persistent cries of hawkers selling their wares rent the air at regular intervals, accompanied with the excited shouts of children enjoying the last few days of summer holidays. A throng of porters swarms the platform outside my window, as the train signals the commencement of its journey.

I start a conversation with Wahid – the executive, and with each fleeting hour and over the many barely edible meals served on the Rajdhani, we cover the entire spectrum of themes from love and religion to education and careers. With the experience of years on his side, he regales me with anecdotes from cities I have only seen on maps; he expresses his views over the economy; he reiterates the importance of humility as an indispensable value; he shares his family photographs with me. And as a dinner tray of paneer with puri and rice with pickle is left to go cold in the corner, an avuncular stranger bares his heart out to another.

The extraordinary part about traveling in trains with different faces, each from a different faith and each with a story, is the obvious diversity and the obscure connection of a common destination. We part the next day at the station as strangers, without the promise of any contact, and yet we are kith and kin to each other when we say goodbye.

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