(This story, though a work of fiction, is inspired by my delightful experiences with a new found friend. For most part of it, this narration is fictional, but at the same time it rests on the edifice of the joy that I felt as I passed through successive stages of discovery of startling similarities of my beliefs, character and vision which I shared with this friend of mine. I lament over the lack of my proximity with this person. I wish that someday we would be able to overcome it and explore face to face, the joy of each other's company)
Rajesh was travelling back home in the Rajdhani Express after a ceaseless tenor of assignment handling at his Delhi office. He was seated at berth A1 / 17. This is where he met Rashmi who was settled just in front of him. There was no else in their neighbouring berths. The purchasers of those seats were probably due to board the train in subsequent stoppages.The train had already begun rolling on its tracks when Rashmi greeted Rajesh with a warm "Hi". "Hello !! How are you doing ?" came Rajesh's blase reply. She immediately followed up with "I'm doing good. How about you ?." 'Fine' said Rajesh. They let it remain at that. The 'Rajdhani' had now begun running at considerable speed. Rajesh noticed how difficult it was to keep looking at relatively nearer objects outside the window because they seemed to have found lightning legs. It was however less strenuous to observe things farther away. Rajesh wondered as to how after travelling numerous times in train and having witnessed this phenomenon each of those times, he hasn't yet developed an indifference towards the whole fun of "looking at things running past the train".
'No matter how many times I sit inside a train, I just don't seem to get enough of watching people and things zooming past the train window as it speeds away !, exclaimed Rashmi.
Startled out of his thoughts Rajesh bubbled 'Hey. I was just thinking that exact same thing.'
'I have been doing train trips since I was 15. More than a decade of train travel and I'm yet to get bored of it.' reiterated Rajesh.
'I agree. It is one of the several inimitable joys of travelling by train.' Rashmi added as she ripped a packet of Spanish Tomato flavoured Lays wafer chips and offered Rajesh to pick a few out of it. He ruffled his fingers inside the packet and took out a few. Both simultaneously realized that they had not formally introduced themselves to each other. Rajesh acted first and told her his name and disclosed that he was a lawyer returning home on vacation. Rashmi didn't say anything other than her name. Rajesh curiously queried about her occupation. "Irritating mankind" came her reply. Both broke into fits of laughter laughing more than each actually meant to. They quickly went back to the mutual discovery path. 'No seriously. What do you do for a living ?" asked Rajesh again. " Seriously nothing. I am a student, so I am living on my father's earnings, for the time being." She uttered the last four words with emphasis indicating clearly that she wanted to work and earn for herself one day.
'What do you study?" Rajesh continued.
Quietness returned between them with only the sound of a chugging train providing perpetual music to ears. Pretending to look at something else Rajesh was pondering over Rashmi's easygoing body language. She appeared to be full of chirpiness with an open mind and in all likelihood was due to surprise him with her candour. Rashmi, who was no less an observer of men and their ways herself, dwelled on her own analysis of Rajesh's personality. So far he had struck him as someone thoughtful and gentleman like. But both agreed in their respective minds that it's too early to opine, yet continued with that irresistible human nature of being judgmental.
"You know, I deliberately evade travelling by airplane." Rashmi informed Rajesh. "I simply love moving in trains."
"I have the same opinion. What's a journey if it ended in no time, didn't take its toll on your muscles and bones, and didn't leave lasting memories on the way. A train can be a perfect setting for all of these to happen, may be more."
'Totally. An airplane can be confining in certain ways, in which a train isn't." concurred Rashmi.
"Have you ever taken a road trip ?" Rashmi asked with an unconcealed excitement, hinting at how much she had enjoyed the experience when she had been part of one. Before Rajesh could answer her question, Rashmi confessed her sudden realization of how inconsiderate she had been about Rajesh's privacy and told him that it was in her nature to get carried away with conversations like these. Rajesh smiled and assured her of his genuine interest in their little talk. But Rashmi wouldn't give up until she had earned a promise from him whereunder he will have to ask her to shut up and leave him alone if he ever felt that she was going overboard. With obvious reluctance Rajesh gave her his promise and thus way was made for the return of the topic. 'Go on.' Rashmi reminded Rajesh, now seated in the lotus position with both her legs up on the seat exactly how she used to sit when her dear grandpa used to narrate ghost stories.
"Yes I have been on road trips, several of them and I have in me embedded the memories of each one of them." 'Tell me more' pleaded Rashmi. "Well, a road trip for me is like a journey of discovery. You tend to discover so many facets to your personality in its course that the expedition becomes worthwhile. On every road trip that I took, I ended up exploring a new side of me, each time, which I would have probably never found out otherwise. That's why I shall never get over their memories." When he was finished he realized that Rashmi was lost in thoughts, though it was his face she stared at. 'What about you ?' asked Rajesh. "Yes, I have memories too" she answered in between pauses. 'Tell me something interesting that happened with you over a road trip." she beamed.
'Well, once me and two of my friends started out for a place called Damana which is supposed to be about forty of forty five kilometres away from our hometown. It was more of a a get away trip. But we got lost in the jungles and ended up hundred kilometres away from our place with dwindling fuel and limited purse. It took us our combined street smartness and persuasiveness to win back our way home. Before that I didn't know how I would ever react in a situation like that. But not only I did react, but I did so with conviction and intelligence, of course with a considerable luck playing its role in the whole affair." Taking a cue from him Rashmi began "I can totally visualize your experience, because I have been in a similar one myself. Once when we got lost on our way back from another town, my friends were literally shivering in anxiety. I had to get hold of my wits, handle their fears, and go asking for directions from person to person, whoever I found on the way, fighting my inner fears and those piercing stares of strangers in a strange place. I had to wear a confidence akin to my mother's and search out the right way back. Till today I am secretly proud of that incident." Rashmi confessed gleefully.
'You should be.' exclaimed Rajesh.
'You said you are on the road a lot, doesn't your girlfriend complain ?"
"I don't have one"
"Sorry, that was myself I was speaking for. I have strategically avoided romance because I honestly don't think I'm pre marriage romance material." Their conversation began assuming cozier proportions. "Well have you ever tried to test it ?" Rajesh enquired with a certain calmness which suggested he knew that a 'No' was coming as her answer. She had already struck him as too carefree and independent for nurturing the demanding bonds of a romantic relationship. "Kisko time hai yaar..itna sab test karne ke liye, jab hoga tab dekha jayega" (Where's the time for so many tests, I'll think about it after it happens") came her reply. Rashmi was now in her usual self, devoid of all courteous pretensions she had been tutored to portray, by serious people whom she had been around. It didn't change her affability. She was joy personified. Not holding back, not cautious or conscious. She let words flow like water from a dam opened. Yet everything she spoke made sense. She spoke incessantly yet never lost authority over what she said and meant. At some point during their tireless exchange of thoughts they had discovered their respective ages. Rajesh had been born five years before Rashmi.
Rajesh was nodding in agreement through her speech. He too explained how he has never been in a relationship of that sort and yet never missed being in one. He told her how being alone was important for him to grow as a person but quickly stated that it was his personal opinion and not necessarily the same for everyone. Consenting with what he had said Rashmi supplemented him by saying that people like her are too difficult to be tolerated by any one. Her inclinations for solitude, her unconventional take on matters of life could be easily suffocating for someone not matching up to those expectations. "I could not have agreed more with what you just said" declared Rajesh. He clarified that he was not against romance or relationship per se and even considered them to be potentially blissful events that could occur in one's life, but somehow he did not know the art of balancing them out with other of his interests. Now by all means these were shortcomings that were supposed to be causes of concern, but Rajesh and Rashmi seemed to have forgotten that and were instead focused on how they were alike in that aspect. They found ground to rejoice amidst deficiencies. That's what clicked between them, throughout their chat.
Suddenly Rashmi pulled out her diary and started to scribble something while seeming to hum those words she wrote. "Are we done ?" Rajesh teased at her unannounced exit from their tete -a - tete. "Hang On Buddy. I'm doing this for you."
"Doing what ?"
"Show some patience will you ? " shot back Rashmi.
"All Right All Right" he said raising both his hands and sank back onto his seat's backrest.
In a matter of minutes, Rashmi shoved her diary at him and asked him to read it. "Ah. Poetry !!" he exclaimed at first glance. It was a lovely little sonnet she had penned about their meeting and their subsequent discovery of mutual compatibility and she had finished it in about five minutes. When Rajesh was through with the poem, he asked for her pen and started rhyming his own words on her diary just below where she had written her poem. Rashmi read his poem and exclaimed how beautiful his poetry was. "Don't know about poetic skills but we definitely make one great 'Mutual Appreciation Society'. Rajesh blurted in between giggles. Then they started again. Rajesh got engrossed in Rashmi's deliberations. They talked about life, love, trains, birds, teachers, friends, parents, dreams, quarrels, death, comedy, cinema and what not. To their utter excitement, they found common ground to stand on each topic they discussed. Both had realized that. They were relishing that commonality between them. They had missed the pantry boy asking them for their lunch / dinner orders, couple of passengers boarding the train and perching above their heads on the upper berths, the Train Ticket Examiner slapping penalty on a near seated passenger and all the commotion that followed. They had lost sense of time and missed the coming of dusk. They missed the grins, usually invited by such conversations.
"There's something I want to show you" said Rajesh and started digging through his belongings. He pulled out two books which he had purchased at the railway station. He waved them with a smile and said "I don't regret not being able to read them" indicating how much he enjoyed talking to her. Rashmi smiled back nodding her head as if she meant to say 'I don't believe this' and too pulled out a couple of books from her baggage and flashed them at Rajesh. Both of them had bought books and not read them but neither lamented over it despite both being avid readers. The kept looking at each other, thinking, in all likelihood, the same things. For they were so similar, like reflections of each other. Adolescent thoughts started creeping into Rajesh's head but he prevented them from going any further down. He identified his feelings as natural in the present circumstances. How else does one expect his heart and mind to react when he finds such harmonizing accompaniment, that too in the form of the opposite sex. Of course Rashmi was thinking something else. Her thoughts were confined to the sheer gladness that swept her heart on having met Rajesh, for the kind of person he was. Both thought that they complimented each other so remarkably. Whatever she spoke, Rajesh was effortlessly drawn into her dimensions and vice versa. They were born to be friends.
Just then the T.T.E. came and in a tone of habit asked for their tickets. That broke them out of their contemplation. While unfolding the ticket from his shirt pocket Rajesh spoke softly "I cannot express how delighted I am on having met you. I am failing to pick an analogy which could justify our rapport...." When he looked up again at Rashmi he found an enlightened smile adorning her beautiful face. Clearly she had found those words. He waited for those to come out of her mouth. She said wearing her unforgettable smile "This is what happens when you put two mirrors before each other, there are infinite reflections." . The lights of all the nearby compartments were turned off, in quick succession, by their occupants except for those of A1 / 17 and 19. They continued to illuminate the reflections of their occupiers for the rest of the night.
("Infinite Reflections" is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person (alive or dead), place or incident is only coincidental.)