Not everyone has an opportunity to be an adventurer travelling all around the world or even all around India for the matter. But it is interesting to meet people who have done it during your journeys. Listening to them can be as fascinating an experience as doing it yourself. Lot of my friends had met such people in India and abroad. I had heard of Europeans, Australians and Americans taking a year off just to travel. But I have always felt I never meet such interesting characters. I always travel with ordinary boring middle class people who just go to office and do their jobs. The only time they travel is to take their families to nearby hill station for the kids’ summer vacations. Maybe that’s how India is.

These were my thoughts till one train journey from Nagpur to Chennai changed it partially. It took another journey from Bangkok to Bangalore to fully change my opinion and start believing in wander lust as an inherent human trait irrespective of age, nationality or financial status.

Those days I was still at college and I had not traveled much. I was returning to my college in Chennai after spending my summer vacations with my parents in Nagpur. Opposite to me sat an elderly gentleman. In Tamil, there is a saying ‘ Aall paadi, Aadai paadi’ which would roughly translate as half of you is defined by your personality, half by your clothes. Going by the gentleman’s clothes, he looked like yet another boring middle class grandpa. As the train started moving, he started attempting to make conversation with me. I was not at all interested and kept giving half hearted replies to his inquiries about me. Then just to be polite, I also decided to ask him about himself. That was the turning point of the conversation.

Some of the most travelled folks are people from the army. This gentleman however was no army colonel. But a defense person nonetheless! He worked at the ordinance factory. He had been working at the Chandrapur factory the past 3 years and had now been transferred to the one in Awadi in Chennai. I geared myself, expecting to hear the same old sob story about how difficult it is to pack and move every time. But I was in for a surprise. Apparently he considered transfers the best part of his job.

I do not need to work for a living. We have a lot of farm lands in Varanasi and the farm income is more than enough for me to get by. But I love to travel and see different places. That’s what I love about my job. In a span of 38 years, I have lived in 15 different cities all over India. Chennai is going to be my last assignment. I am already beginning to dread the day of my retirement. But my wife and children will be happy to have me back home.”

This was a total googly. Who would have thought a farmer from Varanasi would have so much passion for seeing places that it would drive his career decisions! I had a delightful time the next 5-6 hours listening to him regaling his experiences in the different cities he had lived in. Listening to him, I realized one thing. Visiting a city for few days on vacation is like making a casual acquaintance. But only when you stay and work in a city, you really connect with the soul of the city. 15 cities had bared their soul to this farmer turned weapons maker.

Years passed since this experience and I had settled down in a software job. This afforded me opportunity to see a bit of Europe and I began to view myself as a seasoned traveler. But still my travels were limited to Western Europe and I looked forward to meeting globe trotters and listening to their adventures. A smelly middle aged man with a French beard speaking a bad mixture of Hindi and English was hardly my idea of an adventurer. I wrinkled my nose as such a person came and occupied the seat next to mine.

The rest of it turned out to be a déjà u kind of experience starting with him trying to initiate conversation with me and I trying to dodge him. Only this time I was talking to an international traveler. This man apparently worked as a cook on merchant ships. He had been working for almost 20 years and he had seen almost every part of the world. He had a few amazing stories to tell about the places he had seen and life abroad a ship. I had only read about captains and first mates and sailors in sea stories such as Robinson Crusoe, Sea Wolf and Mutiny aboard the HMS bounty. And here was a man sitting right next to me who had been there, done that and seen it all with his own two eyes.

His naval career had been cut short when one day suddenly his arm had frozen. He was unloaded at the next port and had to return home by flight. He had consulted various doctors. But none could find a cure. Merchant ships it seemed were excellent pay masters and he had already saved enough to see his kids through and have a comfortable retirement. But what he missed most was the travel. Then someone had suggested a pastor who did some faith healing. He had been skeptical but had taken his chances and that had proved to be his salvation. His career had been reinstated and he was back on a ship. That had strengthened his faith in God and he had become a devout Christian from that day.

These are but a few of the many interesting people I have met on journeys. Everyone says one learns a lot by travelling. The learning does not come by sitting quietly and saying “Mom says not to talk to strangers.” It is by meeting and talking to different interesting people that one truly expands ones horizons. And these two experiences have thought me never to judge people prematurely. All one needs to do is to keep an open mind and keep travelling. You never know what kind of interesting person you will meet each time.

The girl on the train

The movie ‘Before sunrise’ added a new romanticism to train journeys. After that I am sure many a lady or gentleman have fantasized about an exciting romantic rendezvous on a train. Well, I am not exactly of the romantic disposition. But I had watched the movie in question. And I was not entirely resistant to these natural human desires. So such thoughts did cross my mind on my first train journey to Vienna. After all, the hero in the movie also was travelling to Vienna. He too was alone. The law of attraction says if you strongly desire something, the entire universe conspires to make your wish come true. What I had assumed to have been just a passing thought did seem to have been a very powerful desire. For indeed the occupant of the seat opposite to mine turned out to be a comely lass just leaving her teens and entering her twenties. I was not sure if she was Spanish or French. But definitely she was not German. Her hair was wrapped in a bandanna. I no longer recollect any other aspects of her attire.

General wisdom says 'more the merrier'. But not so in the case of pretty girls! Here one would have to slightly alter the saying. The merrier should become messier. That was the situation on the train for there was not one girl but two. So they kept whispering and giggling to each other paying least heed to me sitting on the opposite seat staring at them. So much for ‘Before sunrise’! But still all was not lost. It was up to me to seize initiative. I tried hard to make conversation with them. But somehow the words failed to travel from my mind to my tongue and everything I had to say remained unsaid. Finally one of the girls condescended to notice my presence and grace me with a few words, “Do you want to sleep?

I wonder if the girl’s question has sent the mind of the reader racing. A little bit of explanation regarding the seats on European trains will help the reader interpret her intentions. The opposite seats on a train can be extended and joined to form a bed for three. There were no other passengers in the compartment. So we could have a comfortable sleep by joining the seats. Words still continued to fail me. I mutely nodded by head and got up to help them join the seats. And soon I was sleeping with two pretty European girls! And by the time I woke up, there was no sign of either of the girls. As I got up, my hand reached to my back pocket and I discovered that there was no sign of my wallet either. Immediately my suspicions fell on the two girls. Had I been 'honey trapped ' as they call it in the newspapers?

However the girls were the last thing on my mind at that moment. For there were more serious concerns. I would soon be in an unknown city with not a penny in my pocket. I was wishing I had hidden some money inside my socks, in the secret pocket of my pant and inside my bag as I always used to. I of course still had my room bookings. But what would I do for food and my journey back to Cologne? I did not even have money to call up my friends. Only hope was to turn myself in at the local police station and hope they would safely deport me back to India. Only silver lining on the cloud would be that I could save on the return air fare if the Austrian police sent me back at their cost.

The thought of a saving money calmed me down a bit and I decided to check around the compartment to see if the law of attraction could magically attract my wallet back to me and save me all the trouble with the police. I looked under the seat. And guess what! Right under the seat was the wallet. My joy knew no bounds. I immediately pounced on the wallet and opened it to examine the contents. Everything was intact. Phew! What a relief! It must have slipped out of my pocket and fallen off the gap at the end of the seat while I was rolling in my sleep. With the air of suspicion cleared, the two angels were back on the pedestal. I regretted having misjudged them so hastily. But they were now gone and I could not even apologize to them.

Though I had missed the opportunity that time, another opportunity presented itself in less than a year’s time. This time back home in India on the famed Indian Railways. Only hitch was the girl in question still had a decade and a half to catch up with the other two girls. Anyways I did not want to concern myself with these temporal technicalities. She would definitely be pretty young lass for whose attention all young men would vie for in another 15-18 years time. There is nothing like being too early, is there? This little Indian Angel was much more talkative than the two European angels. She spoke up to me, “I like to eat groundnuts, green peas and cashew nuts. What do you like to eat?

I don’t know if I had mentioned that I have what they call a ‘sense of humor’. So I decided to try it with this girl. “I love to eat babies. Small, chubby, rosy ones like you", I said pointing my finger at her close to her face

The girl did not wait to hear more. I felt a sudden tinge of pain surge through my finger. She seemed to have decided to undertake a preemptive strike before the cannibal in front of her made his move on her. She had bitten my finger hard. Luckily, milk teeth are not too strong and sharp or I might have ended up losing a finger. Such was the force behind the bite! But I had learnt my lesson that humor and kids do not go together.

Once shy, once bitten” is how I would summarize my overall experience with girls on trains. Subsequently I never met any more girls on trains. In fact I never met girls anywhere, except the ones my parents arranged during the bride hunt. But that’s altogether a different story. As I said earlier, I am not exactly of the romantic disposition. Come to think of it, I really did not like the movie ‘Before Sunrise’ all that much either. Did someone mention sour grapes?

Picture credit - guardian.co.uk

Slaying the monster

After years of hunting, I was face to face with the monster. Its innocuous looks could not deceive me. Its deadly green eyes gave it away. I slashed at it in all my righteous fury. Die, you vermin! A drop of blood touched the floor as a shard from the shattering mirror hit my face.

I could not find the owner of this picture. The site I found it on was using it without credits. Will give credit if I can find real owner.

A Vintage Village Vacation

The night was dark. But my spirits were light. Why would they not be? I was done with one more grueling year at school and had 2 months of summer vacations to look forward to. In the distance the lights from the rock fort temple could be seen.  The huge rock had been feeding on the sun’s rays the entire day. Now the rock was generously sharing its solar energy reserves with the entire city. The tides of March never brought good tidings for anyone. Why should the town of Trichy be an exception? If March was like this, how was May going to be! But thankfully I was not going to find out.  Bangalore awaited me. Pleasant, green Bangalore, India’s garden city!

The much awaited hour was upon us and still the vehicle of our salvation from the Trichy heat was still not in sight.
Why has the train still not come, ma?” I asked irritably.

Obviously my mother was not privy to any special information on train schedules. So she was as clueless as me as to the reason behind the train’s delay. And even if the reason were known, there was no conceivable use this information could have been put to by a 12 year old school kid. But still kids have the habit of asking some questions just for the sake of asking, some of whom carry this irritable habit even to adulthood. On a normal day, my mother would have given an equally irritable retort. And any further exploration of the topic may have even landed me a slap if she was in one of her bad moods. But the holiday season and the thought of visiting her parents and siblings seem to have put her into an excellent mood.

Well, my dear! Don’t get restless. Moments in life are too precious to be spent waiting for it to pass. Treasure these moments of idleness and just relax. I still have fond memories of waiting much longer at this very station every year when I was a child.

I could see a twinkle in her eyes at the mention of her childhood days. She continued, “We used to be seven of us, us five kids and two adults. It was usually a 4-5 hour day train from Trichy to Thiruvarur. Our mothers would pack delicious idlis rubbed with molagapodi (mixture of powdered red chilies, lentils and spices mixed with oil) for the journey. Those days not many people used to travel by train and the bogies used to be literally empty. So we usually had almost the entire coach to ourselves.  As the train started chugging, we would start of with a game of cards. And before we knew it, the train would be at the Thiruvarur station.

By now her gaze had become a stare into the nothingness far beyond. She was no longer in this world. She had been transported back in time to her childhood days and I was being whisked along too.
Govindaraj would be waiting to receive us at the station. Seeing his slight frame one would not imagine he could singlehandedly carry our entire luggage all the way to the bullock cart waiting outside without even showing even a sign of fatigue. It took an hour and a half by bullock cart from Thiruvarur to Amaiyappan. A bullock cart does not offer the luxury of a card table. But only a mad man would want to want to play cards instead of enjoying all the lovely scenery on the route. It was one of the most scenic routes, lined with rice fields, banana and coconut groves and mango orchards.  Motor vehicles were virtually nonexistent in Amaiyappan. The fresh village air would breathe life anew.

You people had all the fun in life, ma! Why have you have never taken me to stay at a village ever?” I complained.

Mother laughed, “Well, dear!  It is all fine and dandy to read about country life in your Enid Blyton books. Real life poses real challenges that you don’t read about in your books. You get so restless if there is a current cut for 1 hour in the night. At Amaiyappan, there was no electricity at all. Do you understand what that means? No fan, no television and no reading after 6.00 in the evening.

And how much fuss you kick if I wake you up at 8.00 in the morning during vacation! In our grandpa’s house we had to be up by 5.00 every morning. He had served in the army during World War 2 and imbibed the military discipline. And he used to enforce it at home. Breakfast was served sharp at 6.30. If you missed breakfast there would be nothing to eat till lunch time at 1.00 pm. We could play and have fun only till 5.30 in the evening. Once grandpa was home we were supposed to maintain pin drop silence and we were not allowed outdoors either after sundown.  Dinner consisting of curd rice with tender mango was served sharp at 6.30 and we were expected to be in bed by 8.30 pm.

This was no longer sounding like a vacation at all. So that was the fine print about the wonderful village life everyone talks about, eh? I would be having much more fun at my own grandparents’ place at Bangalore.  I would sleep till 10.00 in the morning and then grandma would wake me up with bed coffee.  Wealth, women and wine are the 3 W s that most men chase after. While I was too young for 3 W s, I had my 3 C  that I was mad after – comics, cartoons and computer games. I did not have a computer as such those days. But I had a lot of hand video games and I would keep pestering my uncle to get me newer ones. Grandmother would cook the choicest dishes I would demand and whatever she could not make, Grandfather would be dispatched to procure form the local baker. However it was still too early for me to pronounce the verdict whose vacations were better – mine or my mother’s. For she still had a few cards up her sleeve!

Vacations in the village were definitely hard. But life does not dole out any free lunches. Real happiness has to be earned. Challenges are what make life exciting. What’s the fun if everything is handed out on a platter? Two hours of waiting with a rumbling stomach made the lunches at Amaiyappan heavenly. I have not even enjoyed the food at the best restaurants so much. Few hours of morning sleep were a small price for the wonderful sights a village dawn has to offer.

 Not having any of the usual means of entertainment forced us to use our creativity. We would invent our own games. We were able to connect closely with nature and with each other. You can see even now how close your uncle, aunt and I are to our cousins. It is all the result of the bonds formed during those days in Amaiyappam.

Mom should have been a lawyer. Possibly she had inherited the skills from her great grandfather who had been a successful criminal lawyer. The case was open and shut. No more arguments. However whenever my mother spoke about her childhood, it had an entrancing quality to it and I wanted more of it. So I asked, “What kind of games did you play, Ma?

Well, we used to spend most of the day time on the river side. We used to combine all our architectural skills to build houses, castles, temples and whatever structure came to our mind using the fine sand of the river bank. We used to build a whole town and fortify it with a moat around it. Did you know that if you dig a bit on a river bank, water would come out? We would be really excited seeing the water emerge where we dug.

We had cows in our grandparents’ home and there always used to be at least one calf at home. And such playful creature, calves are! You never know how time flies when you start playing with a calf.

Suddenly we were interrupted by a sudden surge of commotion in the platform. The train had finally arrived! I had been so absorbed in my mother’s narration that I had not even heard the sound of the train. I wished the train had taken some more time in arriving.  Some of the most priceless moments in life just come and go before you notice. I was glad I had not missed this one. 

Picture Credits
All the pictures on this post are licensed under creative commons with attribution. Below are the credits for the pictures in the order of appearance on this post
1. Railway Station from Wikipedia
2. Bullock Cart from lankapura
3. Calf from Photos for you

Black and White

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 24; the Twenty-Fourth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for this month is BLACK AND WHITE.
The eyes of a warrior see a million colors. His heart sees just two – black and white. His sword sees just one – red. The eyes of this warrior could see just one color – black. But his heart could see a third color, a color more valuable than the million colors his eyes could not – grey.

Writer's note: My third attempt at 55 fiction - a story in 55 words. Attempting one after a long time. This is inspired by a fictional character Zatoichi the blind swordsman. 
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces