It was one of my wife’s nephews who persuaded us, me, my wife and our two children aged 12 and 10, to make the journey from our home town, Balasore to my work place, Bhubaneswar by train. The distance between the two places was about two hundred kilometers and for decades we had been using buses to make the journey. During my student days I used to make the journeys by trains on concessional  rates for students during vacations. But after I had begun to earn I had almost abandoned the trains. On one occasion during my post-graduate college days I along with a small group of my hostel mates was returning home on vacation by train. We were chatting among ourselves while occasionally looking outside to see the trees, paddy fields, hills, villages, rivers and small stations passing by. Then night fell. Nothing was visible outside. So we continued chatting among ourselves. Suddenly a friend gave a shrill cry from five or six feet away from us. Even after thirty five years that blood curdling cry has been ringing in my ears. As we immediately reached by his side, we found him rolling on the floor, from one side of the train to the other. At first I thought the worst had happened; he had probably been stabbed. But suddenly he started crying loudly ”Shankara,(the friend who was sitting with me and his roommate) I have lost everything. Someone snatched my bag that contained all my certificates and jumped out of the train. I am ruined now. Tell me what should I do? What should I do? What should I do?” He was growing hysterical. We lifted him up, told him to calm down, assured him that duplicate certificates could be had for a fee and made him sit with us till he got down at his home town. But that incident left a very bad taste in my mouth. I had quit journeying by trains since that day.

 

So when returning to Bhubaneswar from my wife’s parents’, as one of her nephews persuaded us to make the journey by train I expressed my extreme reluctance and the cause of it. As that failed to cut much ice with him I expressed my helplessness. I said that decades of disuse had made me completely ignorant about the time tables of the trains, which were the ones running that day in that route, whether tickets would be available or not at such short notice etc. But he won’t take a no for answer. He said he would take care of all that. He would make us sit in the right train with proper tickets. We should just be prepared for a relaxed journey leaving all arrangements to him. Now I had no reason to demur. Little did I know that I was being inexorably and relentlessly drawn to meet my fate, may be to settle some karmic past account just as a ship getting sucked into a vortex.

 

So the next day early morning found us with our entire luggage at the ticket counter of the railway station at Balasore. The unmarried nephew had kept his words and taken charge of the situation. Within a couple of minutes we got tickets for the four of us and as we consulted the time table we found our train was to arrive at the station after an hour. So leisurely we walked to the platform carrying the luggage with us. I was at the front carrying two bags, followed by my two children, then my wife with two more bags and then the nephew bringing up the rear with the rest of the luggage.  As I reached the platform I was surprised to find that the Falaknama Express which should have departed the station almost forty five minutes before was still in the station. I got excited at the prospect of not having to wait for another hour at the platform. So I shouted to the nephew at the rear to hurry pointing him at the train and searched for a door to enter the train. We were at the rear end of the half a kilometer long train. Strangely as far as I could hurriedly scan I couldn’t find anyone in that train. It had a deserted look. All windows were closed. I reached a door, looked inside and finding no one inside I became confused and suspicious. Was that a train stranded there for repair of some mechanical defects?  What was the use of entering into a stranded or abandoned train? What was the matter? What should I do? I was getting nervous and restless. All these must have passed through my mind within a minute. In my confusion I ran ahead  to the door of the next compartment to see if anyone was inside who could tell if the train was o.k. or not. Just as I was getting near the door I heard the conductor’s whistle which signaled that the train was to leave in a moment. My mind went blank. I forgot for a moment that I was not alone; my entire family was in the platform following me. I forgot that for the last decade and a half I had not used the trains. Just in that moment I heard the creaking of the wheels as the train was straining to move. I jumped on to the door steps and entered the compartment. As I turned my back I saw the train move and simultaneously saw both the children at the steps. Hurriedly I put my bags down and reached for their hands and took both of them in. As far as I could see inside I found all the compartments were interlinked and so had a common corridor. A thought came as a consolation that the nephew must have known it and must have made my wife enter the train with the luggage from the nearest compartment at the rear. What a foolish man was I that I frantically ran ahead instead of entering the train from the nearest door! The train was on the move. Suddenly my wife appeared at the door running on the platform with two bags in hands pointed at my direction. My consolation thought evaporated into thin air. As usual she was wearing a sari which was not at all suitable for the kind of athletic job she was performing at that moment. I became jittery. I took the bags from her hand and called her in. She said nothing and disappeared from my view. I began to curse myself. How selfish of me to jump into the train first! I should have been the last.  What a disgraceful and irresponsible behavior that was; I have not behaved like a family man. Now, it served me right to cut a miserable, sorry figure.

 

The Phalaknama Express, one of the superfast trains of India lived to its name. It was catching speed by the seconds. I had wanted to shout to my wife not to run and unnecessarily risk her life; she had better wait there for the next train that we had originally intended to catch. But I couldn’t say anything. I stood there, a couple of feet inside, at the door of the compartment transfixed; not even daring to come to the door to see what frantic action was going on in the platform behind me. The train was gaining even more momentum by the seconds.  To put an end to my thought, again she appeared with two other bags. Immediately like a drowning man catching even a reed to stay afloat, I took those bags in. Next moment for the first time since the beginning of this crisis I saw the nephew running with two other bags. So all the while during this time he was running carrying with him the entire luggage of which my wife was relieving him two by twos! I felt pity for the boy and shame and guilt for me. I took those bags in too. All the bags and luggage were inside the train now.

 The time came for her to jump in but the train had gathered much speed by that time. I could see her running with all her might to catch the handle of the door. My mind was also running with her in great speed; one moment I was thinking of shouting at her to abandon the dangerous risk of getting into a running train, the second moment I was weighing the option of pulling the chain to stop the train and getting ready to pay a hefty fine for that, the next moment I was thinking of extending my hand to her and lifting her up into the train as a superman but I couldn’t do anything. I had been petrified with horror. A thought was crystallizing in me that If I interfered in any way, either by words or actions, then her plan of actions would be seriously disturbed and an accident would definitely happen.  So by remaining passive as a witness only I could let things take their own course and thus might enable them to make it possible to give birth to that one in ten chances of landing her safely inside the train and ending everything well. I had become literally a deaf and dumb spectator at his wit’s end at the turn of the event. All the while she was running with her small legs, with her small frame of 4’10”. As she got parallel to the door she reached for the handle and with a tremendous effort and by a surprising last moment show of feat she heaved herself in and landed smack on the floor of the compartment. Till that time I had not moved an inch from the place I stood lest by my slightest movement the fine balance of the universe got disturbed.

 

During the moments she was running on the platform beside the train to get a hold of the door handle the time had stopped for me. My mind after a hectic run among thoughts and at last finding the futility, the uselessness of them all had gone into a swoon as it were and I was emptied of that constant static noise of thoughts that ran always at the back of the mind. Suddenly all grumblings, complaining, fault findings, adversely comparing her with others that characterized the relationship between us from the beginning; all the disharmonious noises coming out of  an ill-matched chain and sprocket  like relationship evaporated into thin air at the prospect of great danger and imminent death or dismemberment. Once I had seen the dead and dismembered body of a woman lying on the railway track beside the platform at Bhubaneswar.

 

And then as if to put a full stop to my helplessness  she made the huge jump that could put many athletes to shame and all the moves she made somehow turned right and she reached safe and whole inside the compartment with a huge smile at me as if to announce, “Look, we have come through”. It was such a huge relief! It seemed to me the radiance of that smile spread to all corners of the universe and as I was at its nearest it filled me with such peace as I had experienced never before. It was like a drought of fresh air. It was like bathing in cool water after a very sweaty, grimy, hot day. It removed all my worries and anxieties, self accusations and self incrimination and remorse in a second and made me fresh and virgin. As all life was one and hence the cough of a polar bear affected the grains of sands of the Sahara desert, so also I thought that radiant smile of my wife must have affected the polar bears and some might have confusedly giggled for not knowing the reason of their inexplicable mirth. I smiled at her too and felt the lightness of our being. Thus that exchange of smile became a mile stone of my life flanked on both sides by long stretches of barren periods in which that kind of smile, uncontaminated by any other considerations than for the purpose for which a smile was genuinely meant, an expression of joy, wonder, a thankfulness for being alive together through the thick and thins of life, remained conspicuous by their absence. At that moment she seemed beyond comparisons and quite lovable too. I now understood the truth of the Buddhist statement, “All distinctions are falsely imagined.”

 

Again the time would come, in fact it has already come so many times, when the realization of the truth that all living beings are one would be lost, the vision of beauty and love in the other would be gone, that perception into the heart of things that united one to the other would vanish and again the two of us would feel lost under the illusion of separation and again we would burn in the fire of hatred, lust and greed. But that feeling of having emerged out of a potentially threatening, grim, death like situation remained for days. Since then many years have gone past. On many nights the scenes of my wife running on the platform beside the train have visited me in nightmarish dreams. Since then we both have fought hundreds of times on many issues and non issues which has convinced both of us that we were not made for each other. But on any day any time if I want to experience oneness with her, to be rid of the illusion of separation, our separate selves, our separate and incompatible identities then I have to just visualize in my mind the scene of her running beside the train, trying to catch hold of the door handle and make a huge effort to heave herself in and finally landing safely inside the compartment to greet me with a triumphant smile uncontaminated by any other considerations not becoming of a soul mate.Since then I have considered her as a gift to me from the Existence notwithstanding her follies and foibles, her demerits and deficits.I have my own vices too to match hers. Her being spared whole and unscathed from that deadly situation where slender was the thread between life and death was enough of a gift to me. She could have lost her grip and anything could have happened to her and I would been left to curse myself for my serious lapses on that day. But as the things stand she has not even once pointed at them till this day, she who never loses any opportunity to blame, criticize or accuse me. The fact is that one of the greatest errors of my life has escaped her ever vigilant critical notice and thereby doubling my gratitude to the Existence. After such knowledge how can acceptance, compassion and love be far behind?

So in a way the heading of this story is a misnomer. Everything actually went wrong till the last scene when by a sleight of hand which only the Existence is capable of It turned an almost tragic ending into a happy one. For that I can’t be grateful enough. Kindly take note of it that I am most hesitant to use words such as “happy”, “joy” and “love” to describe my state of mind ever, but that day For once I had no hesitation whatsoever to apply all such terms liberally in my context.

May all my readers experience such happiness, joy, love, peace and bliss in their lives always or at least some times.

If anyone wishes to share such experiences he/she is cordially invited to do so here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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