It pays to befriend some of the folks who work on the train. For one, I feel it makes them happy that someone is noticing them, acknowledging their invaluable service. And it comes with its perks, they’d watch over you, ensure there isn’t a policeman or the TTE in sight, while you sneaked a smoke. After all, the Shatabdi from Mysore to Madras takes over 7 hours and for someone like me, that is time enough when the nicotine bells start ringing.
The little kid must have been all of 4 years. As the family boarded the train at Bangalore, the kid kept pestering her father. “Give me the laptop”, she kept insisting. Her father seemed to have more mundane concerns, to ensure that his young wife and the younger kid, a toddler clinging on to the woman, boarded safely and comfortably, that the immediate necessities of a travelling woman and young child are removed from the bags and kept handy, that the luggage is stowed away safely and so on. When he finally did meet his older kid’s demands, the ‘laptop’ in question turned out to be a little device for kids – colourful, making all sorts of noises, one with ‘educational’ games and what we have.
Across the aisle was another couple. There was an elderly woman, with a much younger man, travelling together. From their looks, I did not see any remote connection and so couldn’t be sure if they were related. Yet, they seemed to be engaged in a very animated conversation almost throughout the journey. The lady seemed to be quite happy chattering away, and the young man was patient in humouring her. To me, it was a heartening sight. I have always felt people are too busy to relish the pleasure of meeting others during journeys these days. Some are busy, others seem content doing their own thing – a laptop or a mobile phone is almost invariably whipped out. In other cases, people shut themselves out by plugging those things into their ears and get lost in music.
To me, people are a highlight of a journey, especially one on a train. Every journey invariably ends up in interesting meeting, giving insights into aspects of life that would otherwise be hard for me to fathom in my own small world. And even if a meeting itself doesn’t materialize, there is always the joy of simply observing those around me.
Nilave ennidam, nerungaadey…
I don’t know the context in which this song is sung in the movie – it must have been decades before I was born. Yet, the words are most fascinating; with the protagonist making a fervent appeal of an unusual kind, evidently to the lady. And the lilting notes in the voice of PB Srinivas only make it all the more enchanting.
“It is Ghantsala”, he clarified.
No doubt, the song was in Telugu and so were the rest of the songs that he was enjoying. He was playing it, not all too loudly, thankfully, as many seem to be doing these days, on his mobile phone. He would sing along, every now and then too – mutter along, to be more precise – for it was very besura. I am not sure if there is a word for it in English. We all know that our language and ability to communicate can in many ways play a decisive role in shaping our experiences. It is equally fascinating how languages themselves are shaped by, and evolve from human experience. After all, the context, geography, culture and so on would determine the repertoire of a language. For instance, I believe some of the people living in the poles have half a dozen words for snow, each connoting some kind of a variant, perhaps. In that sense, it is admirable how English as a language has evolved. Doubtless, it would have been for very ‘administrative’ reasons – after all, the Queen was at some point in history, ruling half the world and more. Yet, it is perhaps one of the reasons also why this language seems to have survived and even flourished – it has assimilated so much from other languages and cultures. It may be an interesting exercise to see what portion of English words is borrowed from other languages. And, I believe it is for the same reason that a language so rich, yet so simple as Sanskrit has all but become extinct. A language is all about usage, and it is people who use a language. When a language becomes exclusive, when it is the sole domain of one set of people and others are denied all forms of access for whatever reasons right or wrong, it can only sign its own death warrant.
I deviate. The gentleman in question was small made, perhaps in his mid fifties. He seemed merrily content, singing along, as his device played music from old Telugu movies. I was fascinated when I learnt that he worked as the Department of Posts. I have fond memories of writing letters – there was a time when I would write at least one everyday, sometimes more. In my first semester in college, some of my college mates would be envious as the postman almost always had at least one mail for me.
When he learnt about my work, he lamented about the ‘quality’ of teachers in the govt. schools. I shared my personal thoughts on the subject – that teachers in private schools are not very different from and that it was hard to generalize about one ‘kind’, even though I realized I was myself doing just that! Yet, he wasn’t merely making a general remark, he seemed to be very grave about it and as he spoke, he seemed to be pained about the state of affairs.
“In our generation, actually in generations previous to ours, teachers were a highly committed lot. And they were paid very little then. Yet, they were exemplary. And it showed on the people they educated. When the quality of teachers is poor, it impacts entire generations; the consequences are felt by the society at large”. He did mention that the general lack of integrity and commitment seemed restricted not just to teachers, yet it was about education that I was thinking. To me, it seems that teachers need to be reminded, continually of the larger picture and their role in it. After all, education is not just to make people literate, get good jobs and earn more money – a good education can and must be a life changing experience.
“I have 5 more years to retire”, he said, confirming my gut feeling about his age. I have been hearing from my own parents, also employees of the central govt., as to how they are short staffed and how the govt. constantly keeps increasing the retirement age. The gentleman in question seemed to differ. “The old people are too focussed”, he said. He probably meant rigid, for he spoke slowly and deliberately, with a heavy Telugu accent. He was evidently not all that fluent in English.
“They don’t want to change. The world has changed a lot, and continues to change at a rapid pace. The oldies don’t seem to be bothered. They have their fixed ways of thinking and working, and don’t want to embrace change. Moreover, there are lots of young people who need jobs. We could hire 3 young guns at the same cost of paying one old bandicoot. When we can’t change, the world will rush past us and the old must simply give way for the new”, he said.
He seemed a simple enough man, with old fashioned spectacles and foot wear, sitting by the window and talking occasionally. As I peered at him I looked out of the window and beyond. The sun was setting, painting the sky in glorious red; the scene almost symbolic of the man himself and many of his generation; a generation to which my own parents belong. As I look back, I realize that as a much younger boy I have fought their old ways, little realizing then that it was perhaps futile. And yet, it is a generation I will sorely miss – for they have slowly begun to disappear, and with them will go things that are unique and special in strange ways that make life that bit more beautiful.
PS: It feels good to be back. I do not know why I stopped writing, as much as I do not remember what prompted me to start writing in the first place. A few friends have been very pleasantly persuasive, and to them, I remain grateful. She and he and both tagged me to write about the last year. I hope I will. Soon.