The Return Journey

During the numerous train and flight journeys I have had till date, I usually prefer to stay quiet and spend my time either thinking, reading, or writing and even entertaining myself by passively observing people. 

But it is indeed very rare when one ends up talking to a stranger who encourages you, who impresses you with their experience or charm, thereby leaving a lasting memory in your mind. Interestingly enough isn’t it true that the bestest of friends and confidantes were once strangers to us?

So here I am sharing an incident, wherein my gut feeling signalled that I can talk to my co-passenger during a train journey from Chandigarh to Delhi. Meet Mr. Singh, an octogenarian Retired Brigadier of the Indian Army, a veteran who experienced the Indo-China war in 1962 , a tech savvy person for his age and a writer with several books to his accolades.

The conversation wouldn’t have started if my instinct of helping people was not on operational mode,  when I observed him struggling to open a food packet. Over the span of four and half hours train journey, I observed his etiquettes exemplified in the simplest of things and mannerisms like while eating food, cleanliness, etc. In everything I found his army training being reflected and some finesse in comparison to how we commoners behave. 

Something that stood out in the entire conversation was his exemplary courage of leading 40 soldiers to safety after a painful ten-day trek through rugged mountains in biting cold skirting Chinese patrols to safely reach the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. This battle in Arunachal Pradesh was the Indian army’s worst defeat in the border conflict when over 12,000 Chinese soldiers unexpectedly attacked the Indian post wherein 500 soldiers died and 60 were captured alive. Saving 40 soldiers was one officer’s small victory in the backdrop of his army’s defeat.

What follows below are the words of Brigadier Singh who posted the following on his Facebook account about our journey together and this indeed is special for me, hence sharing our conversation from his perspective as well. _____________________________________________________________________________________

The Return Journey (Chandigarh-Delhi)

As soon as the train started, and picked-up speed, began the ritual of the catering staff feeding the passengers.

With the water bottles already provided, the small tables pulled out to hold the trays, overflowing with assorted eats: sandwich, cupcake, samosa, sauce, packets of snacks, possibly to carry home for the kids, cutlery and not forgetting the packet with the tea things.

The train maintaining a slow speed on the single track up to Ambala, prompted my co-passenger, who was somewhere between a young girl and a lady to help me with opening a packet which I was unable to open.

‘The train is moving slowly, I want to get back home quickly’, she said.

‘Possibly because it is a single track till Ambala and another one is being laid,’ I ventured.

Even before the heavy tea had time settle, commenced the hectic activity to serve the dinner. As I was eating my soup, she queried, ‘How is the Soup?’

‘Not too bad,’ I responded. ‘I don’t like soup but I will have it, if it can help me lose some weight.

In between the, incoming and out-going calls on our respective cells we managed to exchange our respective Resumes. 

It transpired that she was returning home after quite a number of days from her work. The conversation about my experience during Indo China War resulted in her remarking, to my acute embarrassment, ‘You are an amazing person’. Maybe she said that because my experience was more than double her age.

For me it was interesting to get a peep in the mind of the present generation of young professionals, to understand their aspirations, inhibitions, and concerns.

The journey provided both of us to share our personal issues, concerns, job, family, rituals and the unwelcome pressure on her to get married from everywhere and of course she had to suffer some unsolicited advice from me as well.

As the train approached Delhi, with everyone impatiently standing up, started the frenzied activity of collecting the baggage and in the process blocking the aisle, she was all calm sitting, letting others go by first.

My parting advice, or non-advice, to follow own head and heart was well received. Respecting her privacy, I did not venture to enquire of her reluctance to marriage. Was it the nagging fear, of losing her personal freedom so assiduously acquired. I wonder.

At this stage in life, it is difficult to make new friends. I welcome, my young Shatabdi co- passenger, to be a Facebook friend.

Brigadier Singh

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The friendship continued after this train journey with his friendly, wise and encouraging comments on my facebook posts , Brigadier Singh also couriered one of his books to my home wherein I read in detail about his life experiences, but the incident of October 20, 1962 which he narrated to me during our Train Journey makes him an unforgettable hero in my eyes. Some strangers leave an ever-lasting impression and are remembered for being suddenly unexpected but pleasantly appreciated guides and teachers.

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