Everybody loves a good train story and almost everyone has one. It is of course not difficult to explain why. What makes a good yarn after all? A bit of adventure, a sniff of mystery, a trace of the unexpected, a bunch of strangers and a lot of time with practically nothing to do. There! now you know why train travel makes storytellers out of normal, simple and god fearing folks.
The year was 2008. Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated; Modi had won the elections in Gujarat, the French President was dating an Italian supermodel, India had just won the test match at Perth and I was about to graduate in four months.
I was traveling from Jaipur to
So, sure enough I ate my home packed dinner at around eight o clock, flipped a few pages of Outlook, doodled a bit in my writing pad and then dozed off. In all probability I would have slept like a log till the morning but for the wannabe IAS aspirant occupying the berth above me who had to get down at Ratlam at ten thirty. In the process he banged the door thrice, called the mother of the coolie a ‘professional worker’ of a different kind and managed to crush my almost non existent nose with the bottom of his fake Nike bag, thereby rendering me quite wide awake.
Then of course, she entered. There was a backpack dangling from her shoulder and apart from that she did not seem to be carrying any luggage. Obviously a short distance commuter, I thought. She threw the backpack on the berth above with a brutal casualness.
“I hope you are not going to sleep right now”, she asked bending down; her face inches away from mine.
Her face! Dear reader if you haven’t noticed, this was the first time that I saw her face. Now, I could fill many a pages describing the lines and contours of her face or rhyming metaphors to pay tribute to her but I would get nowhere close to describing her angelic beauty or the effect that it had on me.
“eh…no, I’m not”, I managed to elicit a reply out after what seemed like an awful lot of time for a pretty simple question.
“Good! Because I am in no mood to sleep and I want someone to talk to” she exclaimed rather jubilantly much to the annoyance of the retired CA struggling to sleep on berth number twenty six.
Then we talked for a long time or rather she talked and I intervened from time to time. We were of course talking about all random things and I think it was I who brought up the killing of Benazir Bhutto and what would drive suicide bombers to kill themselves.
“I don’t know what it takes to kill yourself but I can assure you that it feels horrible to have someone’s blood on your hands.” Suddenly she became grim and her pink cheeks turned crimson.
“Well, one would think it should but then I am sure there are a lot of murderers around who feel no sense of guilt at all.” It sounded pretty reasonable as I said it.
“I am sure even the most cold blooded killers can’t forget the faces of the people they kill. You don’t know how it feels to kill someone. I do. Trust me on this.” She appeared lost as she said this.
Wait a minute. What was this girl on to? Was she serious?
“Hey, what do you mean by that?” I had to ask.
“Nothing forget it.”, she shook her head.
Now we all know that when someone says, ‘forget it’, they are just waiting to be persuaded further. So I prodded in my most eloquent fashion,
“I mean……come on………like………..actually have you…………what………killed?”
“Yes…I ran over a guy. I mean… I’d got admission in NIFT so I went out to celebrate with friends, while coming back alone………………..was a little drunk……….and this guy came out of nowhere……..when I hit him, it felt like a road bump. I did not stop. I couldn’t stop. I knew he was dead…………I knew from the look on his face a split second before the car hit him. Two days later when I saw his photograph in the newspaper, I couldn’t stop vomiting.”
OK. I’m admittedly not one of those chirpy talkative types but even assuming I was what could I say in a situation like this. So there was an uncomfortable period of silence, after which I managed to say,
“ehh…..I am sorry, its all right” or something like that.
“You know this is the first time that I’ve told anyone about this incident…………..because it never happened!
I can’t believe you fell for it!!!
Look at your face you poor child! ”
She started laughing hysterically.
My dear reader if you think that I was feeling miserable at this point of time, you couldn’t be more wrong. I was in the heaven of delight. That laughter! Clear as fresh spring water was sufficient to cure all mortal medleys. To this day that laughter rings clear in my ears.
“So what do you do apart from telling charming lies?” I asked as her laughs were finally reduced to giggles.
“What would be your guess?”
“Well, I think you could be a successful model.”
“Wow, I wonder how you could guess that?” I think for a second I detected sarcasm in her tone.
“But yes, you are correct. I am into modeling……mostly on the ramp but am starting to do some commercials.”
“Well, it must be a great life as a model” I said rather than asking her.
“Yeah….its pretty good….All this traveling………..glamour…………the money’s pretty good as well….”
“Cool……”, I was satisfied.
“but yes………it stinks also……… especially if you are young and gullible……..you can get really fucked in this line”, she said.
“Yes, I think its important to be well grounded or you can go astray with all that money and glamour”. I said earnestly.
“Not just that. Its so important in our profession to be well connected, know the right people and maintain relations with them” she said almost insisting.
“Well, I guess its true for most professions.” I still couldn’t see how this was a problem only with the fashion industry.
“But this can go horribly wrong as well. I have a friend who stayed with this almost famous photographer for two years. He kept promising her work but finally she realized that he was merely using her. That was the first time she tried committing suicide by slashing her wrist. Since then she has tried at least twice again to kill herself. Though, for good or for the bad she’s still alive.” She voice gradually faded to a stop.
There are not many occasions on which you are relieved to see the ticket checker but on this occasion I was as it ended the uncomfortable silence that was building up. I produced my ticket for his perusal. She got up to retrieve her ticket from her bag on the upper berth. As she stretched to open the bag, the sleeve of her shirt slipped back a little. I saw there: three wide and deep slash marks on her wrist just below the slim gold watch!
To be honest I was not shell shocked. I felt like perhaps something beautiful being destroyed but more like a sense of losing something you never had in the first place.
As the TC left, she sat again in front of me and moved her hair back to tie them in a knot. I committed the folly of looking straight into her eyes even as I tried to come up with something to say. She instantly realized what had happened as I tried to avert her gaze.
“I know you saw the marks. Yeah, its obvious I am that friend of mine! But don’t worry I am not planning to jump off the train or something.” She said quite matter of factly.
I nodded and hoped that I could get the ‘its fine, I understand’ look on my face.
“Oh ! I am such a terrible person!! Please I am sorry.” Her words were generously interspersed with giggles.
“I am sorry…..none of this is true. I just made up the entire story. These marks I got as a kid when I fell on a barbed fence.”
This was followed by a brief spell of hysterical laughter after which she finally spoke,
“But you know. It was worth it. The look on your face. I am sure you would have offered to marry me to prevent me from jumping off the train.”
My dear reader, you would be justified in thinking that I must have got irritated and fed up with her. But as I told you earlier I was spellbound. Though I felt bad as she was having fun at my expense but secretly I enjoyed it.
“And I am not a model. I am a journalist. I had gone to Ratlam to cover a story. So what do you do?” She asked.
I told her that I was a law student and to impress her I also added that I struggle to write. Well, sure enough it did get her attention. She perked up, leaned forward and put her chin on her knees, “So what kind of stuff do you write?”
“Short stories, reviews, generally all kinds of random stuff.”
“Oh…and I guess your stories come out of your experience. That’s what everyone says.”
“Yes to a certain extent but it is true that every time you write something, you expose a bit of your self to the readers. I think I read that in Atonment. “
“So am I gonna figure in one of your stories?”
Strangely I was expecting this question. “Perhaps. But I need to know your name first.”
“If its for one of your stories, call me Jasmine. I kinda like that name.”
“So Jasmine, are you single?” I tried to change the topic of conversation drastically.
“Yeah… I just broke up with my boyfriend for four years just two months back.”
“What happened?” as soon as I asked this I realized that it was too snoopy question.
Thankfully she did not think so and replied, “Oh…he was cheating on me.”
“Fine”, I said.
“But that’s not why I broke up with him.”
“Its not? Then what happened?”
“Its actually an interesting story.” She did not ask me whether I was interested in hearing it. “I was going out with this guy for almost two years before I moved in with him. He works for the same newspaper as me. But after a year or so we grew weary of each other. I think he was the first one to start seeing others but I am not sure as I also was not being exactly faithful.”
“We were still staying together and we never confronted each other even if we knew that the other was cheating. For the record we were still in a mutually exclusive relationship. This would have continued for some more time at least if I had not met that charming banker when I was doing a story on the market crash. I was smitten at our first encounter itself. Anyways, jumping ahead, the fateful day was a Friday. I was supposed to go to
“By the time he dropped me back, it was midnight. I was still a bit tipsy as I opened the flat using my key, switched on the lights and……..whoa………..what did I see?”
“Your boyfriend with someone else.” I offered.
“Yes. They were at it in our bed but wait here comes the shocking part……………..the chick in bed………….she looked exactly like……………..this guy………the banker……who had dropped me back………..except of course for the long hair and you know….well……..the boobs”
“Admittedly, I was still a bit drunk but as I told you I had switched the lights on so I got a pretty clear look of her face. It completely freaked me out. I mean really really freaked me out!”
“Seriously what the hell?”, I found it a bit difficult to swallow.
“Anyways I later found out that she was indeed the twin of my investment banker but again think what are the odds of such a thing happening?”
“The next day itself I moved out. Though still I feel a little bad about my ex boyfriend as he thinks that I was indeed not cheating on him and was shattered on catching him in bed with someone else. I obviously did not tell him the real reason of my shock.”
“What about the investment banker?” I asked.
“Oh…I never saw him again. He did call a couple of times but I never answered.”
“That’s a pretty amusing story but is it true?” I had to ask her.
“Well…………”, then came that now famous giggle again, “no…….but you do agree that its an interesting one, right?”
“Yeah, it is”, I smiled.
Then we chatted for some more time and finally went off to sleep.
‘Jaipur sai Mumbai Central jaane waali…….” The announcement at Bandra Terminus woke me up in the morning as the train slowed down.
“Hey….am getting down here. Bye.”
I turned to find her standing in front of the open door, the wind blowing her hair all over her face.
“Hey…see ya…” I said sleepily, trying to get up but realizing that it was too late as the train had come to a complete stop and she stepped forward to get down.
But then she hesitated for a second, leaned back in, turned her head towards me throwing her hair back and said, “By the way, one of the stories that I told you last night was actually true.”
“You are such a……….bitch…….” I said with a chuckle.
“Yeah…I know that’s what everyone says.” She smiled her infinitely beautiful smile and then…..she was gone.