I was sitting on the railway platform in Benaras. Contrary to my family's advice that I should take a flight from Benaras to Calcutta, via Bangalore, here I was sitting on a platform full of tourists of different shapes and sizes. While some looked tired, others were rejuvenated and talked excitedly. I sat down on my suitcase, took out a book and put on a floppy hat, a picture complete in warding off any gesture at communication perhaps. Being someone incapacitated in the art of making conversation, I perhaps carry an expression that wards off conversation, so I was distinctly at odds to see a middle aged woman, making herself cozy right next to me.
For a single person, she carried numerous bundles and bags and placed them all on the floor, took out a Paan( Betel leaf) from a small case and plonked down herself too, like one of her bags. At a safe distance from her sat two other women. Since she was staring at me, I gave her a hesitant smile and quickly got back to my book. But not to be deterred, she opened conversation with a 'Ki podcho?' ( What are you reading). I was reading Jack Kerouac's 'On the road' and showed her the cover of the book. She took it then from my hand, turned it upside down and said, 'Kono chobi nai?( No pictures), I smiled and shook my head in the negative. And she let out what seemed like a list of expletives in Bangla.
She then made herself more comfortable and took a good luxurious look at me and blurted, 'bari te ke ke ase?' ( who is there at home). I tried dismissing her with a, 'Shobai ache' ( everyone), but she was not content and demanded a frame by frame explanation. My attempts at looking away, or plunging my face into the book had absolutely no affect on her and her random questioning. Thoroughly irritated at her forceful conversation, I attempted to hide in the depths of my mobile phone, going through the pictures that I had clicked during my stay in Benaras.
As if from nowhere, the woman was up in a jiffy and bent over my head with her head smelling of Jabakusum oil...at that moment I realized I would be less scared of a hooligan, than her perhaps! She demanded that she be shown the phone and once she was close enough she declared, 'aamgo barite o eirokom phone ase' ( I have one like this at home too) The next 15 minutes as I waited for my train to come, she regaled me with stories of how her son had promised her a new phone for the Pujas, to how she was traveling with two of her servants, who cooked and cleaned for her, wherever she went and generally scoffed at the whole idea that a woman like me with a kid at home should be traveling alone.
I listened to it all, in silence, punctuated with the occasional nod, only to be startled when she asked me, 'tomar reservation ase toh?, tahole ami tomar sathei boshi. eder reservation ase, amar nai' ( I guess you have a reservation, I shall then sit with you. The servants have a reservation, I don't)
To someone like me, for whom saying 'No' has always been a problem, I heard myself saying a determined, loud and clear 'Na' (No) and walk off to the rhythm of the train pulling into the station while she looked on, for the first time speechless.
( Image from Google)