He looked with disgust at the phone kept on his berth and cursed under his breath as he sat groggily. He was old and had probably become bitter with age and angry at life in general. He was dressed in simple clothes and was travelling in train alone. I sat on the floor of the train noticing him and hoping he wouldn’t shout at me when I tell him that I found the berth vacant and kept the phone on charging.
I was writing an article on my laptop in the train on the way to Guwahati. Having begged for some leaves from the office, I was travelling to Majuli Island which is one of the world’s biggest river island. I gathered courage and told him that I was the culprit to keep my phone on charging without permission. To my surprise, he didn’t shout at me. He asked me to charge it and get moving. We went back to our work but he kept looking at me working on the laptop from the corner of his eye.
“Why are you sitting on the floor? Are you an engineer? IIT?”. He was obviously curious and tried to stir a conversation. “Yes, I am an engineer but not from IIT. I am working very hard on making a career in travel writing and will leave the job soon to travel”, I replied.
“Why are you wasting your time? It is your age to earn money and make a living. Don’t you have any respect for life for making you an engineer?”, he blurted out at me with a mixed emotion of surprise and stifled anger. He paused briefly and looked out of the window towards the horizon. Then he looked back at me and said –“At your age I was married and my father had passed away. I had to earn money and support my family. If I had left my family to travel, they would have died of hunger”.
I kept quiet and listened to him. It seemed like he was talking to himself more than me. He didn’t say anything for a long time and I thought our conversation was over. I looked outside of the window with him towards the barren land of Rajasthan. People moved around us through the isle and some families were talking cheerfully in the other compartment. A newly married couple was getting cozy on one of the upper berths and one small child was constantly crying.
After an unusually long and silent break during which he kept on fidgeting restlessly, he turned back to me and said – “I wish I had the freedom to travel and see this world at your age”. He had a lump in his throat and his eyes were moist. Maybe he didn’t want me to notice it and wiped his eyes with a quick movement of his hands while he continued to look away from me.
“My son is now married and settled and my wife is dead. I loved my wife and son, but family responsibilities made me forget what I really wanted to do”, he shared. “You must travel and see this world. It is not your age to settle down”. I giggled a little because few minutes ago he was asking me to not waste time and spend these years earning money and settling down.
“Where are you travelling to?”, it was my time to speak up for the first time.
“Nowhere”, he replied and kept looking out of the window.
“What do you mean nowhere?”, I asked bewildered.
And then he continued – “I worked all my life for Indian Railways. Still I don’t have money to buy a ticket for AC compartment. I am travelling in train now because I get free tickets after retirement. I always wanted to see Darjeeling but could never make it all my life. Now that my responsibilities are over, I am travelling. Maybe I will go beyond Darjeeling to an unknown place and never come back. Maybe I will keep on travelling for the remaining years of my life”
I was taken aback and blown away by his spirit. I realized how lucky I was to be able to even consider leaving my job to make a career doing what I love. Many people have to wait for their entire lives to be able to live their dream. Some people do not even get that chance after a lifetime of struggle.
He finally offered me a seat and even shared his tea with me. He didn’t look at me in the eyes throughout the conversation. Maybe years of dealing with a tough life had left him with things that he didn’t want people to see. I knew we will never meet again and hoped that he gets to see all the places that he always wanted to travel to. I hoped that he finally gets to live his dream.
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