It was 9 pm. The train was full. Gautam had been checking passenger tickets for nearly two hours. He is in charge of 4 non-AC-3 tier-sleeper compartments and now was at the fag end of the fourth one. No wonder he was tired. His face showed it, even through his beard.
“Ticket, ticket, excuse me, show your tickets please. Where are you going? Ok, here. What about you two? Fine here you go.”
He entered the last section of the compartment. Everyone gave their tickets but a young couple was sound asleep on the same berth. Woman’s one leg was on top of man’s stomach. “Excuse me”, he said rather softly. She had ‘mehdi’ on her hands. Newly married, he mumbled. He could not arrest a little smile escaping his face. Turning away, he switched the night lamp on. He took off his white uniform cap and shook up his mop of hair with his fingers. He felt relaxed. The waiter asked him if he will have dinner now. He nodded yes. He went into the toilet to relieve himself and wash his hands and face.
Drying his face he looked at himself in the mirror. He wanted to be critical of what he saw, but couldn’t. He organized his hair, beard, shirt, tie… The sound of train changes so dramatically in the toilets. It becomes much sharper or what they say, ‘shrill’. The rhythm remains the same, obviously. It is a part of the same train and compartment. He always enjoyed noticing such changes. He felt it was like a research topic on ‘sound of train in its various parts’; toilets have the potty tube that is open to the railway track or ground. That creates a lot of difference to the sound here. He wondered how it will sound to the person, placed in a hammock tied under the compartment; close to the wheels… he felt it was going to be too noisy. His face showed discomfort due to this sadist thought. It was like a torturous Nazi idea… Someone was knocking at the door. Enough research. He came out. Waiter had kept his vegetarian food tray on his seat.
He sat down, opened the foil and looked at the food. So unappetizing! Same dry rotis, dal and same color gravy in the vegetable. He hesitated. Waiter was waiting.
“No, not with the food… But my stomach is not feeling too good.” It was the turn of waiter’s research faculty to wake up, ‘now I know what he was doing in the toilet for so long.’
“I will take it back.”
“Sorry, I think I will have a vegetable sandwich at Jalgaon with tea.” Waiter took the tray back and Gautam lay down with his overnight bag as the pillow. His hair was flying due to strong wind from the open window. Tuk, tuk… tuktuk, Tuk, tuk… tuktuk, Tuk, tuk… tuktuk…
He wondered if the swings for little babies also were as relaxing. Why does he like this sound and this sideways movement so much? Was he born in the train or brought up in trains? Could be. His father was a motor man… His father always wanted him to be a motor man too, follow his steps… Gautam wanted to be a painter. His father couldn’t understand him. He thought of him as weird! Finally with mother as a mediator, they settled for the job of the ticket checker. At least I don’t get black all over; and my lungs must be in much better shape than ‘baba’.
Train stopped at Jalgaon.
Waiter was talking to the sandwich man on the platform.
After 5 min, train started. Waiter jumped in.
Gautam had turned to his side, untangling the numerous knots of his life.