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Stories for the Long Silk Road

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Anuradha Bhattacharyya: Night Bus

I was on my way to Jaipur by bus from Delhi after the Diwali break. I was very tired after the train journey from Shiliguri. My home town is Gangtok. My grandparents had moved in there for business purposes and we have lived there ever since. Otherwise I am from Jabbalpur, Bihar. Some of my relatives live there. I have often visited them but lately, after I took admission in the Regional College of Engineering at Jaipur, all my pleasure trips have been curtailed for this long, tiring journey twice in a year from Gangtok to Jaipur, cutting right across the entire country longitudinally. Someday I hope I will see Kashmir and go straight down to Kanyakumari as well just to check it out. I hope that trip would be pleasurable.

I want to tell you about one lovely but mind boggling conversation I had on this bus from Delhi to Jaipur. It was half past eleven at night when I boarded it and I knew that the bus would reach its destination about six hours later. I wanted a nap and prayed for a peaceful ride. But I had this unexpected little companion befooling me and spoiling my rest. As I boarded the bus and looked for my seat I saw a young girl wearing blue jeans and a yellow T-shirt and a golden jacket was casually slipped in. She had no companion in the seat next to her. I said to her,

Err, is this seat vacant?
What’s your number?
Twelve.
This is it.
Voila, at last!
How far will you go?
To Jaipur. I am coming from Gangtok. Straight.
pause
And you?
Hm?
You’ll go to Jaipur?
Ya.
When do we reach the midway restaurant?
At one-thirty, Behror.
Two hours. I’m so tired. Traveling by train. Awful. This is my second trip. I’ve yet to get used to it.
What do you do in Jaipur?
I’m studying in MREC. You know?
Yes, Engineering College. So you’ve come from Gangtok?
Yes. All the way. It’s so tiring.
Could you please keep your leg away from me?
Oh sorry, I’m tall.
How much?
Five, nine.
I see. So this is the end of your vacation? How many days did you have? Fifteen. From now trapped again for six months. Where do you study in Jaipur?
You stay in the hostel?
Yes.
Do you like it?
Yes, it’s fun.
How’s the food?
Hmm, go-od, sometimes we cook by ourselves at night. That’s fun.
The man behind you…
What?
The one sitting behind you…
Hm?
With large round eyes. Is he drunk?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.
He got in after you. He’s leaning on my seat.
Yours? O is he disturbing you?
Aye, that’s why I can’t lean back. When I turned round he was watching me with bulging eyes.

pause

Are you sleepy?
No.
You were tired.
No I slept in the train.
I know somebody in MREC.
In which department?
He has joined recently.
A student?
No, a lecturer. Which is your department?
Civil.
Then you won’t know him.
Why, we know almost every teacher. What is he in?
But he is very new. In Metallurgy.
So you’re going to him?
No, no. Ya, well, I might see him too.
Where do you stay in Jaipur?
In the hostel.
O you too? Where is your home?
Dehradun.
From Dehradun to Jaipur? Why?
Just like that. What do you cook in the hostel?
Noodles, porridge, soybeans… On Sundays they give us meat at lunch; then we have to get our own dinner.
I see.
Do you have special meals a week? We have Sunday special and dinner off.
We get four meals everyday.
So you don’t have to cook for yourself. What’s the name of your hostel?
I won’t tell you.
Why? What’s your name?
Pinky.
Surname?
I won’t tell you.
That’s strange. I …
Sometimes the girls cook tomato curry. Eggs. Do you like cooking?
Not much. Why, don’t you?
I don’t think I do.
No? But you’ll have to, one day.
I’ll never cook. The girls do it. They give me a share, that’s all.
But you’ll have to cook when you’re married.
O, I’ll marry someone who’ll do the cooking.
laughs What’s your mother tongue?
Why? Don’t I speak Hindi well?
No, yes. Okay, do you have caste barriers?
No, not much.
We have a bit.
What’s your name?
Prasad. But I am the youngest son and all my brothers are married. I have four brothers. We are a joint family. One of them is in Delhi… Maybe in my case it won’t be a problem.
Are you in love?
pause
Ha? … You are!
Ya… smiles
And she is in your college?
No, in Gangtok.
What is she doing?
I think she’ll finish her school this year.
You THINK !?
She is a neighbour. I have not talked to her.
How old is she?
Twenty, I think.
TWENTY ! Then she must be in college!
No, … actually she’s not… good…
pause
Maybe she has … somebody else …
What!
She … sometimes goes out with friends.
Have you seen her with a guy?
No one in particular. She looks at me. We smile.
Then go and talk to her!
Every time I think of telling her I have doubts about her reaction.
Why, be bold!
pause
Have you told anyone?
No.
Has she any close friends you can talk to?
No.
Then?
She comes to my house sometimes. But I don’t get a chance to talk to her. She talks to my sister-in-law.
Can’t you tell your sister-in-law? How old is she?
Yes, I’m very close to my youngest sister-in-law. But I don’t know how to say it.
But if you love her, you must do something. Otherwise it’ll be useless.
Maybe next time I’ll try.
My boyfriend told me quite frankly.
pause
The man behind is snoring. I’m feeling cold. Are you sleepy? How much time is left to reach Behror?
I can’t see the watch.
I’ll try to see my watch by the street lights.
Well, where is he now?
Who? My boyfriend? He’s in Delhi. Like you, doing M.E. in Electronics Engineering. You are in M.E., aren’t you?
Yes and you?
I’m doing my graduation in Economics. We haven’t met for a year now. In the summer vacations I saw him from a distance, we smiled; that was all. I hoped to see him this time. But no.
But you are sure?
O sure. Very sure. I know he loves me. Distance doesn’t matter. Now we are studying.
Doesn’t he come to meet you?
Where?
To Jaipur, or Delhi when you change buses there.
I don’t change buses and we pass Delhi at midnight. It was eleven thirty when you took it.
So you keep contact only on the phone?
No. We meet on vacations, I told you!
What’s the name of your hostel?
Have you been sightseeing round Jaipur, Rajasthan?
Not Rajasthan, but we went round places within Jaipur like Amber Fort, Kanak Ghati… and you?
I’ve seen Amber Fort, Hawa Mahal out of curiosity. There’s something romantic about them but too many tourists make them appear to be market places.
Did you feel bad?
Not bad, but something to prevent me from going there again.
But you’ll be here for a long time. This is your first year?
No second.
And which college?
No point asking me.
You won’t tell me?
No.
I feel since we are both in Jaipur for some time we could become friends.
No point.
Girls don’t like to tell about their whereabouts to strangers. Why so?
No, nothing like that.
There now we have reached Behror. I think I’ll go down to smoke and have coffee. Coming?
And come back and sit with me!?
Why? You don’t like it?
It’s not a question of liking it. I can’t bear smoke!
pause
You can have your coffee.
I think I will.
And I’ll sleep.

When I returned after not smoking, she was sleeping. If I am allowed to make a hunch, she was probably not sleeping. She was merely pretending to be sleeping so that I don’t talk to her any more. I raised my knees and jammed them against the seat in front of me and closed my eyes. I must have fallen heavily asleep since when I heard her speak I had no notion of how much time had passed. Not only that, it was dawn and the landscape outside the window was amazingly beautiful, although we were inside the city. She said,

Here’s Jaipur bus stand. Look at that man!
Who?
Gone. Funny looking.
Did you sleep well?
Fine and you?
So, so. Didn’t have any trouble from behind, I hope?
He’s half dead in sleep. It was good we talked.
I think I’ll find out your address.
I don’t think I will recognize you if I see you again.
Why?
You know what, I haven’t seen your face as yet. It’s been dark all the way and we have been sitting side by side, haven’t we?
See now, I’ve seen yours.
Even you won’t recognize me in a different surrounding.
I bet I will.
If you please.
But you won’t?
No.

After this I dared not ask for her phone number.


4 comments:

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo


bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east


I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

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