“I wish I could take the train to every destination I travel to. There would be so much more to see, and many more stories to tell.”– Ruskin Bond, The Great Train Journey
I often wonder, how many stories this little heart of mine bears within. Some of them I try to write, some I try to tell, and a lots of them remain untold. Train journey has always given me a chance to interact people with vibrant colours. In childhood, I was fascinated by the giant squirrel who makes a mysterious sound when it comes and leaves the station. I kept staring at the gigantic machine having big wheels, and almost looks like an abode on wheels. The compartment looks like a momentary home for the passengers. They sit, they sleep, they laugh, they eat, they stare, they talk, they walk, they read, they sing. And in between this all, they weave a story. A train is like a running book of stories around the globe. Every passenger has a colour of his own, a destination to travel, and a story to tell.
Thus, a girl like me collects her bag of stories from the train journey.
I have travelled in train since my childhood. My father is a retired railway employee. So, he receives a special pass to travel around India via train. That’s why, whenever we have to travel, the first transportation medium that comes in our mind is the word ‘Train’.
Among all the journey I have travelled in train, some are etched in my heart forever. Because they are something like the stories we leave midway while reading, as the next chapters go missing. We never find the chapters to continue the story any more. So, these stories leave with the questions that remain unanswered forever. I am going to tell you such a story from my bag of tales.
Once, I met a stranger on a train journey, and came to know his untold story. It seemed like, I met a part of me there. Sometimes, a stranger tells you a story that you feel you were seeking for so long.
(Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction based on a true story I had read some years ago. I strongly believe, there are lots of things happen in this world and they’re something beyond to be defined with any logic and reason. They’re something, beyond everything. This story portrays such a revelation. All the opinions are mine.)
The Morning, the Mist, and the Monk
Presently, I live in Durgapur, a far away city from the metro city of Kolkata. Sometimes, I have to travel to Kolkata for examination purpose or interview purpose. I have a habit that I do the final revision while travelling in train. It was a winter morning. The station was full of mists and we were unable to see the one standing one meter away even. In that December morning, I felt like what is the need of travelling to Kolkata for a job examination? Oh, I missed my winter nap so badly. Anyway, the train came and we boarded. We took a seat on a blank compartment. Along with us, there was only one passenger seating at the edge of the seat. He was a monk wearing a saffron robe, with a bag (that is called jhola) kept beside him. My dad and I took the seat beside the windows. I felt reluctant to bring out the book to finish my final revision. I told myself that let it be inside the bag. Instead, I kept staring beyond the window. Gradually, the mist was becoming clear. Though it was blur, but the greenery of the fields looked splendid. The morning was so serene and there was something surreal feeling in the air. It was full of an ethereal beauty.
“Are you studying mathematics?”
Suddenly, a voice broke my nostalgia. And I found that the question came from the man who was seating at the edge of the seat. I turned to him. I was a little surprised, and honestly, I was not in a mood of talking to someone at that moment. I nodded my head and said yes. I was in doubt that how did he know what was the book that I was carrying inside my bag? Well, I left the thought of digging more into the question.
I turned towards the window and kept watching the scenic beauty of green vast fields outside the window. Out of a smoky town and grey concretes, that lavish green seemed so soothing to my eyes. I was lost in thoughts.
Meanwhile, I heard the voice, once again.
“Are you an engineer?”
I turned towards him and was awestruck. This time, I couldn’t resist myself asking him that how did he know about all that things.
“Yes, I am. But now I am doing preparation for the bank exams. I want to be a banker.”
He smiled, and replied, “That’s great. Best of luck to you.” I smiled and said thanks. But the question was humming in my mind. And finally, I asked to him, “But, could you please tell me, how did you know about the book inside my bag and what I have done as graduation? I never spoke about it here, after I boarded on the train. So, how did you know this all? “
He smiled, again. And told me that he just guessed it.
It was something that I could hardly believe. I had heard before in my life that these monks have exceptional powers. So, I didn’t repeat the question, and turned towards the window. Soon, I was lost again in the charm of that misty morning.
“Do you get every answer of the questions that arise in your mind? “
There was certainly something in his voice. I shivered. That cold winter morning seemed chilling for the first time on that day. I turned to him, and tried to reply, “No.” But my voice was somehow choked and I could only murmur the answer.
He smiled, again.
That time, his smile felt so mysterious. My dad fell asleep and I thought I should wake him up to get a company in the journey ahead. But, somehow, I felt stiff. I left it and tried to turn towards the window, once again. But, I couldn’t.
I brought the book from my bag and started turning pages. Meaninglessly. Because I was not remembering the formulas, rather, his voice was humming in my mind like an echo.
“So, you want to be a banker, right?”
I turned my eyes to him and replied in a firm voice, “Yes.”
He continued, “I have also studied engineering. What’s your stream?”
“Electronics“, I replied.
-“Oh, that’s great. I have done Mechanical Engineering. Don’t you think, an engineer becomes more like a machine when the course ends?”
-“No, I don’t think so. How could be one? After all, it’s all about theories on the books and practical at the workshops. Only that time engineers get in touch with machines. So, what’s the logic to think this way?”
-“There are lots of things that take place beyond our logical interpretation.” He smiled, and continued, “If I say, this train will be delayed for two hours, and you will miss the examination held today. Will you believe me on that? “
I was scared to hear him. What was he saying? I was going to miss my exam? How could it be true?
I asked him to stop. I replied, “Why are you saying so? I have worked very hard for this examination. Please, let me give my best in this. You don’t know what this exam means to me. This is the question of my life, my career. “
-“Ahh, how innocent you are. Dear girl, I haven’t said that the train will be definitely delayed. I said, what if? What if the train is delayed and arrive few hours later the scheduled time? What will you do then? “
-“Can you please stop talking like this? I don’t want to think about it even.”
-“Okay, okay. You’re getting angry with me. It’s obvious. But, do you know, it was a delayed train journey that changed my life forever.“
I became calm this time. Oh, so it’s not about me then. It’s about his own experience. I was assured about that I was not going to miss the exam. And all was well with me.
But, out of curiosity, I wanted to ask him something. “So, what was different in that train journey? Would you like to share that with me?” I asked him.
– “Yes, yes, sure. I will definitely share the story so that you can write it one day. You love to write, and sometimes, you sing, too. Am I right?”
I was awestruck! Ohh, my head was spinning. How could he know everything about me?
I couldn’t speak anything. I just nodded my head and said yes.
He smiled. And continued, “It was a cold winter night of December. I was travelling to Delhi to attend a seminar. I boarded on the train and grabbed my seat. It was very cold so after everything was placed properly, I had my dinner soon. And went to sleep. Mine was an upper berth seat so I went to there and soon I fell asleep. The rain was running through the darkness. Everything was fine. Suddenly, I heard a sound and woke up from sleep. And I saw, the train was filled with a mysterious blue light all over! I saw people were sleeping peacefully. That sight made me think about something. I felt like someone was telling me that this is the thing we always search. We seek the peace. We seek the happiness. And this is the truth.“
He paused, and turned towards the window of his side. He looked outside, and said,
“At that moment, I felt a strong wish to renounce the worldly life and to start a life dedicating the quest for inner peace and true happiness.“
“I dived deep into thoughts and it seemed like someone told me from inside that this is not the destination I was destined to be”, he continued. “I felt like, I had to be somewhere else at that moment. The rest of the night I spent sleepless, watching the ceiling of the train and hearing the sounds of wheels. It felt like they were telling me what I was doing and where I was going, none of them were supposed to be for me. I felt, I have another purpose of life.
When the dawn came, I felt an amazing kind of pleasure inside. I thought, this worldly life is not meant for me. I decided not to attend the seminar. The train delayed to reach Delhi due to dense fog. I saw the mist outside the window, and it seemed like the mist was hiding something behind. As if, it was there to ask me some questions. I saw that blue aura into the mist, once again. It just appeared for a second, and then, vanished to somewhere.
When I arrived at the platform, I decided to go to Banaras. So I took another train journey from Delhi to Banaras. I reached Banaras and spent one week there, roaming here and there in alleys and ghats. I was wandering in the streets like a Vagabond. After one week spending this way, I returned home. I wrote a letter to my parents, gave away all my belongings to the poor and left home. I went to Banaras, once again. There, I came to the ghat and threw my dress, rubbed ash on my body and started wandering here and there, just like a Vagabond. It’s been eleven years I am wandering this way. I have some questions in my heart, that I am finding answers. But you know what, in this life, you will find some questions that will remain unanswered forever. Maybe, that make you restless from inside, and that push you to step out of home.“
Telling me his story, he paused, and smiled. That time, his smile looked so pure, so divine. He seemed like a mystic disguised as a Vagabond.
I was speechless after hearing his story. I felt thirsty but I could feel that I was frozen. After a moment, I turned to the window and saw, the mist was back there. Although the day was becoming clearer, I could not understand from where the fog came again. The sky also became cloudy. And the fog was becoming denser.
I turned to the sadhu and asked him, “How have you been through all these years? “
He smiled again and replied, “Look! I have no other possession except this jhola. I keep some dry fruits with me, and sometimes I carry a water bottle. That’s all I have now. I have less, that’s why, I worry less. I have renounced my home, my family, in search of the eternal peace and the true happiness. Now I have no home, no destination. This journey is an endless one. A quest for the life’s unsolved puzzled. And this journey has been blissful.
He smiled, once again. Unable to understand his words to the deep, I felt a longing inside heart. And I turned to the window, again. I kept gazing at the mist and contemplating his words in my mind.
After sometime, the train was about to arrive at the Howrah station. I felt an urge to call my Dad to wake him up. I called him and turned towards the edge of my seat to have another look at that monk. But to my utmost surprise, I found nobody there! “Where has he gone? He was here only!” Out of curiosity, I tried to have a quick look at the whole compartment. Surprisingly, he was nowhere! Neither his jhola! My Dad asked me, “Are you searching for someone?” I just nodded my head and replied no. I came back to my seat and prepared to go to the door. My Dad looked outside through the window and told me, “The weather is bad. There was enough cold already and see, now the sky is looking cloudy, too. The platforms are totally invisible and filled with dense fog.”
I shivered with the word. I tried to look outside the window. There was dense fog all over. I remembered the monk’s words. And I felt the curiosity once again that where he had gone? Suddenly, I saw outside the window, there appeared a blue aura into the mist. The aura stayed there for some moments, and then vanished. I kept gazing at the mist, as if I was finding a glimpse of someone there.
Five years passed. But I still try to find the answers of some questions. How did he know that I was carrying mathematics book inside my bag? How did he know that I was an engineer? How did he know that one day after two years, in such a cold winter morning, I would aboard a train that would delay and I would miss the exam that was scheduled on that day?
I often wonder thinking about that where he had disappeared suddenly and what was that mist trying to tell me. I wonder, what was that blue aura into the mist? How did he know that one day, I will be writing that story? Whenever I ask these questions to myself, I feel I can’t find the answers.
Today when I am writing this story, I ask them once again. And it seems like, the monk’s words still echo in my mind,
“Sometimes, a journey leaves you wondering with some questions, and you will never find the answers. The questions remain unanswered, forever.”