The Last Note

Mukesh Kumar
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Read Time:12 Minute, 25 Second

The station was bustling with people. Passengers and their relatives moved around busily
on every platform, some lying down on sheets of newspapers, waiting for the arrival of their
trains, while a few others stood patiently near the edge of the platform, peering and craning
their necks, hoping to catch a glimpse of the arriving lights of the engine. The porters were
running about in full swing, shouting and bargaining with the passengers.
Luckily I found an empty chair on platform no. 2 as I waited for the Howrah–Delhi
Rajdhani Express. I was travelling to Delhi to my son’s place. ‘Mom, both you and Dad
have to come,’ my son Rahul had said. It was the occasion of my grandson’s first birthday.
However, Kunal, my husband, couldn’t accompany me as he had to go for an urgent business
meeting in California.
My train arrived right on time, and I boarded the assigned coach, S-5. I moved towards
berth no. 9, which was booked in my name. I didn’t have any heavy luggage, just a small bag
and a purse. You don’t need much stuff when you are travelling alone to visit your son.
I managed to get the lower berth and thus had full right to sit beside the window. Through
the glass window, I witnessed the hullabaloo of the busy station in a muted ambience,
reminding me of those age-old movies without sound.
The train roared to life at the designated time, and the fruit sellers and bookstores and
porters and platforms all raced away in the opposite direction. The compartment was
relatively empty. A newlywed Bengali couple was sitting opposite me. Probably on their
honeymoon, I thought.
‘Excuse me, ma’am.’
I looked up and saw a pot-bellied man, probably in his early forties, addressing me, ‘But
this seat, berth no. 9, belongs to me.’
Why are people so weird? They should properly check their tickets before boarding the
train. ‘I guess you are mistaken. Coach S-5, Berth 9 has been allotted in my name,’ I replied
confidently.
‘Perhaps you won’t vacate my seat like this. Let me call the TTE.’ He walked to the other
side of the compartment. Soon after, he returned with the TTE.
‘May I have a look at your ticket, ma’am?’ the black-coat-wearing TTE requested.
‘Sure,’ I handed over my ticket with aplomb.
The TTE looked through his glasses, like a scientist examining a biological specimen,
and after careful examination, finally spoke, ‘Ma’am, you have to leave this berth. It indeed
belongs to this gentleman standing over here.’
I was shocked. How could that be? ‘The ticket clearly mentions my name and the berth
number,’ I fought back.
‘I agree, ma’am,’ the TTE was as cordial as ever, ‘but probably you have made a
mistake. The ticket is for Sealdah–Delhi Rajdhani Express, not Howrah–Delhi Rajdhani
Express.’
Sealdah and Howrah were the two big railway stations of Kolkata. It then struck me what
a stupid thing I had done. I had accidentally booked the ticket for the wrong train. Why
hadn’t I cared to verify the ticket after booking it online? So stupid of me, and I deserved the
embarrassment. Was there a way out? I looked at the TTE with pleading eyes.
‘What should I do now?’ I asked nervously.
‘In normal cases,’ the TTE replied, ‘travelling without the correct ticket is regarded as a
punishable offence. However, I trust you did this by accident, and without booking you for
the offence, I request you to kindly get down at the next station.’
I got up from the seat and the fat man soon came and occupied the place near the window.
‘Can’t I get another berth?’ I asked, my eyes now moist with the thought of being stranded on
an unknown station all by myself. There was no way I could get a reservation for another
train before the next morning.
I needed a saviour now, to get me out of this mess.
‘Probably she can travel with me,’ I suddenly heard a strong, booming and familiar voice
behind me. It felt as if I had heard this baritone before, but wasn’t able to recollect where.
‘We are acquaintances. I guess she made a mistake, but probably you can let her travel. I
will pay the fine,’ the voice spoke again.
I turned around and my eyes popped out in disbelief. This was definitely something I was
not prepared for, nor had ever expected. But for a moment, my mind was filled with relief, a
unique sense of joy and satisfaction of finding company in this forlorn circumstance.
He went ahead with the TTE and signed a few documents. Soon, he was back.
‘Hi,’ he smiled, his eyes beaming with joy.
‘I never thought we would meet like this,’ I replied, my heart fluttering in excitement.
He didn’t stop smiling. ‘Come over to my seat. It’s towards the left.’ We moved as he
guided me to berth no. 33, which again was a lower berth.
‘You can take the window seat here too, it’s all yours now,’ he offered.
We sat. There was an old man chatting with his young grandson on the seat opposite us,
and another corporate type busy-looking guy fiddling with his laptop on the upper berth.
Where to start? There was so much we didn’t know about each other. I was seeing him
after over thirty years. He looked fit as always, the greyish hair and those wrinkles beneath
his eyes now adding a tinge of maturity to that innocent face. He was wearing a brown
jacket over a white shirt, which complemented his faded jeans perfectly.
Framing the first question was difficult. I kept quiet, and started playing with the straps of
my purse.
‘You are still so shy,’ he chuckled.
‘Is that so, Mr Akash?’ I laughed and looked up at him. ‘Well then, tell me, how are you?’
‘What a vague question that is. You very well know how I am—decent, good, hardworking, trustworthy, smart, dashing, intelligent …’ he answered.
‘Stop, stop. At this rate you will use up all the adjectives that are there in the English
dictionary,’ I joked.
‘Not all the adjectives, mademoiselle—only the good ones,’ he smirked.
‘You are still the same,’ I said.
‘Same with you, Sapna,’ he took off his jacket and hung it on a hook, ‘How long has it
been? Thirty-two years?’
‘I guess so,’ I calculated.
‘Strange how time flies, and yet you still look twenty-two,’ he smiled.
It felt odd receiving such a compliment from him. I nervously turned my gaze away and
looked out of the window.
‘You won’t be able to see anything. It’s dark outside,’ he grinned.
I turned towards him, ‘Oh God. You are still so talkative.’
‘On the contrary, people tell me I have grown quiet. Maybe that’s because I couldn’t find
anyone with whom I can talk,’ he shrugged.
His words suddenly left me with a question, ‘Don’t you talk with your wife, or your
kids?’
‘I have a life without a wife, and thus there is no chance of fathering kids. Of course, kids
could have come by alternate ways, but wouldn’t that have risked my reputation?’ he
laughed.
That sounded strange. ‘Why didn’t you marry?’ I inquired.
My question had probably left him in a state of discomfort, and he reached for his bottle
of water. I waited for him to answer.
‘Sir, here is your dinner,’ a railway staff came up with a plate of food, interrupting our
conversation.
‘Thanks. Can we order an extra meal too?’ he asked, probably for me.
‘No, sir, that’s not allowed by the rules. However, I will talk to my manager and let you
know,’ he said, and took his leave.
Akash laid the plate carefully on the seat, and asked, ‘You haven’t become a vegetarian
yet, I hope?’
‘No.’
‘Good. Have it then.’
The contents in the plate looked fresh and delicious: rice, roti, daal, chicken and curd, a
complete dinner. However, there was no way I could accept it. Akash had already offered
me his seat; I couldn’t take away his dinner too.
‘I am not hungry now,’ I tried to counter his favour.
‘Cool. Neither am I, but let’s share. We have to eat anyhow,’ he suggested.
We quietly picked up bits and pieces, our fingers brushing occasionally against each
other. It felt strange sharing a meal with him after several decades. I couldn’t even refuse.
There was something magical in his smile—there always had been—which never let me
decline any of his proposals.
And perhaps that’s how I had said ‘Yes’ on that rainy evening when he suddenly bent
down on his knees and proposed:
‘Rain being the witness,
As it pours down upon us,
I confess my love to thee,
Will you accept my love, and me?’
‘The only thing lacking today is a Coke,’ his voice disrupted my chain of thoughts.
We always had a glass of some soft drink or another with our meals whenever we went
out on dates. Yes, that’s true—a single glass of Coke, with a straw, as we took turns sipping.
Coke was just an excuse, though. Actually, it was a way to display our sense of belonging,
the desire to love each other, the dream of becoming one, that made us enjoy drinking from
the same straw.
‘Why didn’t you marry, Akash?’ I repeated my question.
We finished our dinner. Wiping his fingers with a tissue paper, he explained, ‘I had had
my share of love already, Sapna. I couldn’t love again. In fact, I wasn’t interested in loving
someone else, and maybe that’s why I never had the urge to get married. I started writing
and kept on writing, and in the process interacted with the love that was buried deep within
me. I miss being in love, but I wish to be in that same love always. That’s why I never
thought of finding someone else.’
I couldn’t reply. The break-up had been harsh on both of us at that time, but perhaps it
was he who felt its impact more. Was I guilty in some way? Could we have sorted out our
problems and restarted our love life in a fresh and organized manner? But then, love can
never be organized; it’s the madness encircling it that really makes it what it is. It’s only
when you try to play with your mind that love starts becoming a burden—because love
resides in your heart; it’s not to be tampered with the silly thoughts that run in your brain.
Perhaps we were too young then and our unnecessary egos really came in the way of our
love.
A note he had written to me then flashed once again before my eyes:
‘Me the fire, you the rain,
How does it matter whether we lose or gain?
So stupid of me to imagine us together,
Your downpour turned me to ash forever.’
‘What are you thinking?’ Akash asked. ‘Come on, life shouldn’t be lived with regrets.
Every experience teaches us a lot. To be honest, I have become a changed and better man
now, and that’s only because of what I faced. The same happened with you too. Don’t dwell
in the sad past. Tell me about your family.’
I told him about my son and my husband, and how they had prospered in their respective
fields. I myself had stopped working around five years ago.
‘That’s a wise decision,’ he smiled. ‘There are so many other things in life than working
in the corporate sector. You never get enough time for your family or for fulfilling your own
wishes. Also, the crazy competition really drains your mind, and you keep toiling without
any rest. Ah, that reminds me—it’s time for you to sleep. You can lie down on this berth.’
‘What about you? Where will you sleep?’ I was filled with a sudden feeling of concern
for him.
‘My friend is travelling in the other compartment, I will share with him. You don’t worry.
Have a good night,’ he replied.
I remembered how we used to stay awake late, talking in hushed whispers on the phone.
Those days were lost long ago, and so were those nights.
I slept in a whirlpool of myriad dreams—some comforting, while a few others disturbing.
There was this snake that suddenly crept out of nowhere, ready to bite, when an eagle
pounced upon it and flew skywards. I was soaring high up in the sky, above the clouds, with
the snake held tightly between my claws, and was surprised to realize that I was the eagle. I
crashed against the sun and landed on the moon. My dream broke as the moon hid itself
behind the other majestic planets.
Daylight was peering through the window. I checked my wrist, the watch showed 8 a.m. I
sat up. The old man was reading a newspaper, while his grandson was busy turning the
pages of a Hindi comic. ‘How long will it take to reach Delhi?’ I asked the old man.
‘Around thirty minutes, I guess,’ he replied back.
I looked around me. There was no sign of Akash. I walked up and down the compartment,
and he was nowhere to be seen. So foolish of me, I should have asked for his mobile
number.
I came back to my seat and opened my purse. As I lifted it on to my lap, I saw a folded
piece of paper that was hidden underneath the purse. I unwrapped it and read the words:
Oft have I heard the preachers say,
‘Time and tide wait for none.’
This is false, quite untrue,
‘Cause time and tide do wait for some.
Memories flash, moments of joy,
A glint of a smile, a fateful cry;
Your heart very well knows the truth,
Love is one hell of a sinful fruit.
And yet this fruit I silently tasted,
Fought with the devils, then I rested.
An eventful journey life has been,
Dreams so pretty I’ve always seen.
A jolly fate I do possess,
Meeting you again was beyond my guess;
Thanks for the company through this mile,
Just never give up on that sweet smile.
Time to say goodbye, a warm farewell,
Enjoy your life, truly, without any fail;
Someday, somewhere, we will cross again,
Perhaps on a sunny day, or a night when it will rain.
The teacher still preaches,
‘Time and tide wait for none.’
Yet I couldn’t agree to it anymore,
‘Cause time and tide has indeed waited for one.
I wiped the tears from the corner of my eyes and placed the note carefully in my purse.
The Delhi station was fast approaching. I took my bag and walked towards the compartment
door. I saw my son waving at me from a distance.
‘How was the journey, Mom?’ my son asked as I got off the train.
‘Good,’ I said, and then added, ‘probably the best train journey ever.’

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