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  • Writer's picturesrikant-sharma

Adventures of Rahul (3) – Journey Back Home

A long loud hoot followed by a jerk… is what it took for Rahul’s dreaded feeling of returning back home, for another eleven months of agony at school days after lovely summer vacation, to come alive. Last forty days had been nothing but magical, although there was nothing new this year yet doing the same routine year after year was still as exciting as exploring new trekking routes across Himalayan range. Waking up before sunrise, which felt torturous back home, has been the most desired way to start mornings during summer vacation. As that meant more time to spend with friends and more events to etch every little detail in memory.

He was about to slide back into memory lanes when his friends started hollering and waving at him. If there was any hope left, slow acceleration of the train and teary eyes of his friends left none at all. Childhood is perfect form of optimism, when all one sees is the next best happy event irrespective of how far ahead in time they are. One can make a crying child smile just by promising a scoop of ice-cream or a bar of chocolate to be offered a week later and all his present pain and suffering will be almost instantaneously overrun by the expected joy from this future event. Hence unsurprisingly while train started rolling and hadn’t even crossed the platform, all they were discussing was what all they would do a year later during his next summer vacation. Rahul was still undecided on which emotions should he allow to rule himself, while he was leaving for his journey back home, which meant another full year of gruelling academic session, yet his mind had already initiated a count down for next year.

‘Its only eleven months, rather less than that since vacation itself last for around forty-five days’ he said to his friends, who were now holding on to the window grills of the train, in an attempt to try and match accelerating speed of the train. However, as the train gained further momentum, hope gave away and all of them stood still waving to Rahul, who by now was trying to press his face on the same window grill in a last attempt to soak the departing visuals and emotions.

With railway station now no longer visible, Rahul finally turned his attention to the cabin in which he was travelling, one of nine in that long wagon. Each cabin was uniform in every possible way, slightly rectangular in shape divided in two segments, which were separated by a walking bay, with six berths on longer side of the cabin and two on the shorter one. Sleeping berths on the longer side were three on each side, with lower and upper segment being a permanent structure and middle berth was a moving structure with only one side of longer edge fixed to cabin walls, allowing them to swing up and down the hinge. This flexibility allowed it to be used as back cushion during day and a foldable sleeping bed during night, for which one had to swing it up and connect its longer edge to two equally spaced iron chains hanging from the upper berth. What was important that each of these sides had only one premium seat, the one right next to window and were like a prized possession. And on this journey, he was the privileged one as in this journey they were lucky to have entire row of three berths for themselves, as he was also accompanied by his parents. Smile on his face was a typical reminiscent of childhood, which knows to quickly leave aside worries of future or pain of past and instead cherish the present joy. Something which even people with years of wisdom fail to practice. All his worries of surviving through next academic year or that of inability to meet his summer friends for next several months vanished into thin air the moment he realized he could sit by the window and enjoy the view for entire journey.

While train picked up its pace, so did his parents as they had to arrange their luggage within limited space available beneath the sole lower sleeping berth. To any uninitiated person, looking at their luggage would have felt as if they weren’t returning back from a summer vacation rather shifting their base location for once and all. Despite the hesitancy, it turned out placing those two large iron trunks and a large bag full of artifacts unique to local village experience weren’t that big a challenge, as each of the three luggage had been procured specifically for such long journey. Within few minutes, each of them had been placed at vacant space beneath lower sleeping berth. Now it was time to think of the remaining items still lying on the floor, including Rahul’s dearest earthen water pot. Rahul loved the pot for two reasons, one it was their only saviour in this scorching heat and second was its unique design. Unlike normal earthen pots, this one had two openings, a wider one at the top to fill in the water in large quantity and a smaller one at the end of a slender protruded neck. End of the smaller opening was designed to represent face of roaring lion so every time he turned the vessel on its side, water came flowing out of Lion’s mouth, satisfying both his thirst and excitement. With all the heavy lifting over, his mother started directing with precise instruction for placement of each one of them. Looking at his mother, Rahul had an inspired look on his face observing how precise she was with her instructions and how quickly she was able to arrive at most suitable location for respective items. Any objection or alternate suggestion from his father was met by well construed and logical explanation on why the placement has to be exactly as directed.

Half an hour into the journey and experiences so far were not only justifying his expectations for the journey but also building up further excitement too. View out of that square window was far better than anything he had watched on the idiot box during his entire vacation. It was not his own journey, which he was looking at, rather journey of all the immovable objects, houses and tress which were fascinating him. Journey of one storied house, which started as a tiny spot at far end of his peripheral vision, growing in size with every passing moment and maxing out right in front of him and then fading away at equal speed at the other end of his peripheral vision, kept him engaged throughout. It felt as if he was binge watching series of unrelated short stories, each one lasting just over a few seconds and leaving him with enough thoughts to ponder over rest of this journey. Only problem being right after one story ends another one starts, leaving no time to dive deep and come to conclusion. He watched, a lady carrying a large bundle of twigs over her head, making him think whether she is going to the farm or to her home? what will she do with the bundle - use them as source of cooking fuel or trade them in market? And before he could think any further, he saw a group of kids playing cricket in a small ground. This story too came to an abrupt end even before the running bowler could execute even one delivery. This started another train of thoughts… what would have the bowler bowled… a bouncer or a yorker? And before he could envision emotions of the players, the curtains came down and next he saw a car running on a road parallel to rail-tracks. He could see there were two men in the car, and while the co-passenger was not clearly visible, he could make out that they both were not conversing with each other. Thanks to driving skills of the car driver, who was exceptionally negotiating turns and traffic to match speed of the train, the story lasted longer than most. His train of thoughts were running all along, imagining their destination… music that they would possibly be playing in the car… focus of the driver and his thoughts while racing against the train… had the road on which car was travelling not turn away, Rahul would have hooked on to it all along.

He was still enjoying the view outside, when he heard his mother calling him

“Rahul… Rahul…. Do you want to have water?” disturbed by this interference he replied back with a dull No at first and then turned back to look towards her. And the moment his eyes fell on his beloved earthen pot, he smirked and said

“I mean yes… but only from that vessel” broadening his smirk

Looking at his face, his mother knew that she doesn’t have any option but to abide by his request. She carefully held the vessel with its neck and slightly tilted it, making water to flow into glass which she made him hold. Rahul watched the entire process without blinking even once, and while drinking water, he whispered back to himself… ‘next time I will do it myself’.

With this he turned his attention back to scenes visible from his side of the window, just to realise the train slowing down to halt, at upcoming station, for next batch of travellers to onboard. To him, crowd at the station looked nothing less than gathering at a carnival, people of all ages and from different cultures standing in groups eagerly waiting to onboard, for their joyous journeys to begin. For first few moments, speed of the train was relatively too fast for him to notice reactions of those waiting outside, however as train slowed down, he could see and notice what was happening out there. Event was same for everyone … ‘arrival of train’, yet no two reactions were same. While some were happy for the arrival, already holding their heavy luggage with a big smile, others were not really ready to leave and were trying to hold on to warm embrace they were in. Young kids leaving their parents, husbands their wives, friends their group… it was all present there. Emotions were flowing all around in all forms… warm hugs, congratulatory pat on back, arms stretched out for blessing their loved ones, strong handshakes and formal goodbyes… there was nothing amiss and even those who came alone had gleam and affection in their eyes, probably a hangover of good-byes they would have said right before leaving for the station.

Train had slowed down considerably and to his surprise before anyone could board the train few individuals from train started to deboard. What surprised him was not the enthusiasm to deboard a moving train but the fact that none of them were carrying their luggage and were just holding on to their water flasks. Each of the flask were different in shape and size, some long and sleek while others short and wide…some with their cap cover tied to bottle necks and dangling around and others with no cap cover at all. Despite shape and size of bottles or age and sex of their carriers, everyone was in equal hurry with one common goal to reach the drinking water tap before anyone else could. And within a matter of seconds, drinking water taps were covered from all corners. It was like a swarm of bees hovering around an open bottle of nectar. For others it may have looked like complete chaos, individuals pushing others with one arm and trying to put their bottles under the tap with another. Yet Rahul found all of this to be happening in perfect sync, may be like an orchestra playing tune at direction of conductor. Here unifying source was water taps… Despite the hooliganism and rush shown by the group, each one exactly knew when will his turn come. Exactly when one bottle fills to the brim other one takes its place, without shutting the tap even for a second.

Rahul was so engrossed in watching this symphony, that he completely ignored all other events happening around. Group of hawkers selling various eatables, shouting on top of their voices… some offering hot tea with fried snacks, while others holding colourful ice-cream bars to choose from. Disabled individuals were constantly walking from one window to another, holding broken metallic bowl expecting generous alms from travelling passengers. And yet somehow Rahul was able to see through all this and just stay focused on activities around water taps.

Excited with his experience, he glanced towards his busy mother and silently moved towards his earthen pot to try and grab an opportunity to pour himself a glass of cold water. Bending down on his feet, he touched the pot and was pleased to sense its cold and moist surface. While water was still in the pot, yet anticipation was at its peak and he could already imagine gush of cold water running down his throat to quench his thirst. Carefully holding the pot in his left hand, he brought an empty glass under the extended neck of the pot. He already knew that lifting pot won’t be feasible and hence attempted to tilt it with his left hand. Still on his feet, knees in air slightly above dirty train floor, he tried to tilt the pot further and at that very moment came the unfortunate jerk and train started moving again. Knees up in air…empty glass in one hand… tilted pot in another… jerk was the only element missing to execute the perfect catastrophe. Within seconds he was down on floor along with pot gushing out water from all ends… and before he could knock some sense in himself and straighten the pot, pot was half empty and his mother’s hard gaze was right on him.

This was not the first time when he had received this gaze followed by some scolding. Yet this time it was different as the verbal bashing session was being conducted out in train, in presence of strangers.

“You always create mess and put others around you in trouble…should have left you alone at home itself”

That’s how she concluded and that was all what he could register from that long angry scolding. With tears right at the rim of his eyes, he tried best to hold them in but failed miserably and slid himself back to the window with legs hunched up against his chest and wrapped up in his arms. Looking at his parents cleaning the mess, he was feeling guilty but wasn’t sure if feeling was purely on account of the trouble, he put them in or it was amplified by the fact that he was banned from touching his revered pot.

Journey so far, howsoever short, was filled with fun and excitement. Watching individuals busy performing their chores, giving affectionate send-offs to families and friends. Noise from this hustle somehow felt like a perfect musical symphony interrupted by just one single unfortunate event. For which, after couple of hours of introspection, he only had timing of the train to blame.

‘Pot is still intact…. So am saved on that front…so only thing which we have lost is some water’ he said to himself, ‘I just need to somehow fill it with drinking water’

With his mother sitting next to him, still unpleased with his actions, he decided not to ponder anymore and concluded on his next steps to get down and fill that pot once again. He waited patiently for train’s next halt, as for last two hours he hadn’t moved an inch nor changed his stance, as he wasn’t sure which of his movement would further displease his mother. While he lay still in that stance his little brain was working as fast it could. He knew that he won’t be able to just get up and go down to fill in the pot, after all his mother was sitting right next to him and also he had witnessed rush around water tap. Human imagination at times is inexplicable, same act of people rushing towards tap which felt like a symphony couple of hours back was now portraying a scarry picture, he never wanted to be part of.

Yet he had no option and decided to act ahead of time, to clear the first hurdle… ever vigilant eyes of his mother. Enacting to stretch his legs for the first time in last couple of hours, he gently rubbed his knees while moaning in soft voice, ensuring she notices it all. He got down on the floor and stood straight, pulling his hand in air and stretched back to ease his stiff back n legs. Every little step was well calculated and next steps were completely based on his mother’s reaction to the previous one. With no reaction from his mother, he looked towards his father and once the eye contact was established, he slowly moved towards him and sat right next to him.

Finally, he had made it from one end of the cabin to the other, although just 6ft in length it was a great victory. With one act done, next was to get hold of the water bottle which he would have to take to refill. This was simplest of all as all he had to do was to gently nudge his father and point him towards the bottle. Unlike his mother, his father seemed to have forgotten all about the incident, as he casually moved and handed over the bottle to Rahul to hold on to.

‘well that was easy…’ he smiled, ‘I am really good at executing plans, now just have to get down and refill this.’

All this while he was keeping a close eye on train’s speed too, as he can now notice train slowing down. It was the first sign for adventure to begin and his raised heart beats acknowledged the facts too. With slowing train, he could also notice rush of activities in the train compartment as some of his co-passengers had already started moving to queue up near the door, some with luggage to deboard and others with their own empty water bottles. He took a deep breath, looked towards his mother, who was now sitting next to window and staring out into the world away from the train. He could totally relate the experience she would be going through and hence felt it was the right time to act, as he was sure she won’t come back to this real world any time soon. Raising slowly from his seat, he took the bottle in his hand casually, avoiding any suspicion and started walking towards the exit door.

He had a gem of a plan in his mind… On how he will wait for train to stop next, and he will carry the lighter water bottle to the exit gate. Jump off the slowing train and rush to taps and fill it, few others too would be there in competition, yet with his smaller size and faster speed he was sure that he would the be first…not second … the first one to reach and in no time will be back to see his mother all pleased with this feat.

Disappointed, by looking at the crowded exit door, he stood behind queue wondering what to do next. In his mind he had only two options, either to stick to his plan or wait for next stop and till then go back to sit next to his mother’s bothering silence and sit as if he is one of the ancient Egyptian mummies. Choice felt relatively simple at that time as he didn’t want to waste any single minute of his journey. He started moving ahead, trying to jump past others already standing ahead of him. Twisting… turning… squeezing… he passed through luggage and passengers and thanks to his small size and innocent face, in next few minutes he was there right next to exit door, just behind one other co-passenger.

However, excitement of breaching fort of queue was short lived as now he was able to see railway track from the open door. And looking down he wondered whether train is actually slowing, or it was just his assumption while he was sitting by the window. Speed of the train felt considerably slower as he was looking out at scenery from window and change in angle of view had also changed the perception too. Looking from the moving train, gravels on nearby tracks felt like a river stream flowing down the mountain, playing a repetitive synchronised music all along. The track next to the door was reflecting sun rays right into his eyes and it felt as if even the almighty Sun had to put in efforts to keep up with the speed, as reflection on the tracks kept moving along the track, albeit making the view furthermore terrifying.

A shiver ran down his spine as that was the first time he realised his young age is not apt for such heroics. Yet his mother’s enraged face and her statements were still ringing loud in his subconscious. Thus, despite all his fear… he stood there. All he wanted to please his mother so that she can once again be proud of her little boy. Weak on his knees, he tried to stand tall … still undecided… he was hoping that one of the co-passengers standing next to him will stop him from going down or even better, will offer him assistance in filling up his water bottle.

Praying for a divine intervention, he looked through the door as the train had slowed down considerably and platform was right next to the train now. He knew that time for him to act is now eminent and this made him tighten his grip on the water bottle. Wrapping the belt around his wrist he waited with anxious eagerness, he kept waiting for the train to halt. View outside was like a movie being played at fast-forward speed… what felt like a symphony earlier was now a perfect chaos… and this made him pray to almighty that train somehow picks speed and moves on without halting.

Unfortunately, action started even before the train could halt, as his co-passengers started de boarding the moving train. He tried to stay calm and allowed few of the passengers to move ahead of him, while he gathered courage to jump out. He could feel the queue shortening and was aware that once everyone deboards, another rush will start from those who have been eagerly waiting for their turn to board the train.

‘Now or never…’... he spoke exhaling deep breath…and right when he was about to get back in the queue to jump out, someone held his arm and for a moment he thought finally his guardian angel in form of a co-passenger is here to save him from being part of the chaos down there. He turned back with a controlled smile and to his utter surprise he saw it was his mother who was holding him back. Unaware of what to do next, he stood frozen staring at his mother.

She quickly pulled him back, making space for others to deboard the train, and took him back to their cabin. Gently taking back the water bottle from his hand, she patted his head. Looking deep in his watery eyes, she said, “no amount of water or value of pot is dearer to me than you my son” and gave him a warm hug.

Hearing this even Rahul couldn’t hold back tears in his eyes, not any longer.

“I am sorry mother… don’t be mad at me… I don’t want to be the one who messes up always” sniffing hysterically he replied back and reciprocated warmly to his mother’s warm hug, slowly whispering to himself…

“No wonder I felt my guardian angle was looking after me…”

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