The train was already in the Huballi platform.
It was almost an hour more before the train left for Ahmedabad, they would reach Ahmedabad early next morning at 7am not a bad deal, the afternoon would go in a much needed nap, and then of course the book, by the time the train reached Panel it would be dinner.
Jay and she had the side berths, which were comfortable, and in the compartment beside them was a very shabby looking couple. With bags and things put in place, Neeru felt very much in control.
Her husband her come to see her off, he ensured that the usual requirement of water, some soft drink and munchables were there, the train chugged out, there was always something very alive about that moment when the train moves out of the station. – A kind of anticipation, a promise of adventure. Neeru liked the rhythm of the train, she liked the freedom of being suspended between two places all anxieties of purpose taken care of for the moment she knew where she was going. Her husband reduced to a tiny speck on the platform walking towards the ramp.
“Mama, I will go up to sleep” Jay declared. Neeru nodded absently setting her bunk arranging the pillow given by the railway, meticulously covering it with a bed sheet of her own. She settled down for her nap.
She gave cursory look at the couple in the next compartment, very traditional looking couple probably in their late fifties, typical Rajasthani married before the hormones could kick in, and kids the minute they did. Neeru had an impatient disdain to the crowd. With them was a younger couple, who got off the train as the train moved.
“Roti hai aap loge,” the woman asked, politely Neeru refused.
The train reached Gadag, when another young couple entered, touched the feet of this couple, gave them some bags that obviously had food, left a 5yr. Old with this couple, the boy had a back pack with toys in it.
“Daadi aur Naani ko thang mat karna” the mother instructed.
“Amma, school se kuch likhne ko diya hai likhwadena.” The girl was telling the older lady about work that the school had given, Neeru found it amusing, and what would this uneducated woman teach the kid. She hid her smirk… “tu chinta na kar, mein karwadoongi” the older lady was reassuring the younger one and advising her that with the kid gone she and husband should find time for each other,”Bahu, picture-victure le ja” she was instructing the man, Neeru figured that it was the son and daughter-in- law. The train moved out.
The woman, whom Neeru had mentally labelled “guggu” the Kannada word for a muff, was trying to make conversation. Neeru side stepped it neatly by taking a nap.
Later when the tea vendor came in, the couple bought tea, they hosted one for Neeru too.
The man then went up for his nap.
“Hindi?” the woman asked Neeru checking if she could follow Hindi.
“Naa Ahmedabad… aap” Neeru replied having no way out,
“Bikaner.” The women seem to relax for while and Neeru dived right into her book. The Tea vendor turned up again, the lady looked at him and declared
”aap bakwaas chai banate ho,” the vendor took her criticising the tea he sold in his stride and gave her a cheeky smile.
Neeru picked up two disposable glasses, cut up a premix sachet of tea added hot water and gave one cup to the Lady, the lady was very impressed. She immediately wanted to know where it was available and that it was a good idea to carry these sachets. All you had to do was add hot water.
She pulled out a small bag with strings that looked like the battered purse that Marcinabhai the vegetable vendor would carry and pulled out a mobile, Neeru wondered who this woman would call.
“Woh packet zara dikhayenge” she asked wanting to look at the sachet, she then clicked a picture, explaining to Neeru that it would be easy to go the shopkeeper and show him what she wanted.
After a while the Guggu tried again,
“Aap dakshin ke ho?”
Neeru accepted that she was from the south, the lady then unfolded her saga.
That she had got married at the age of thirteen because it was their tradition, and she knew no better. By twenty she had four children. When it came to her older daughter, the girl got married as per the tradition at thirteen, but was sent to her in-laws place when she was fifteen after she had matured physiologically.
The daughter’s in-law ‘s were in Gangavati to Neeru was backwaters, but to Guggu it was opening of new vista’s she was amazed that girls of her daughter’s age went to school studied and were not married. She saw the tremendous respect that economic independence gave the girls.
She said she had to manipulate things so that her older son went to Gangavati, she then created a pretext that he was finding it difficult so she had to shift to Gangavati to keep house for him. The next thing was the younger kids would find it difficult to fend for them so she got them down to Gangavati too… while her husband travelled between
“Naanu ree, maaglu school bheji.” She declared with a sense of achievement, she had got her daughter to school. Of course the community was quite displeased that she was not getting her kids married at the right time, her in-laws were worried that if the kids were educated it would be difficult to find spouses for them. But Guggu stuck to her guns.
When the older son was to get married she told her future daughter-in-law you study whatever you want to study, I will tend the house for you. She told her younger daughter-in-law the same.
She told her daughter-in-law and daughter that have one account for yourself and put aside some of your earnings. She says the older daughter had felt very bad that she was not educated.
“naanure,masternige keli, avaru heli, tappal school madidlu noodi.’ That was an interesting way of summing, tappal is the kannada dialect for post, so what this lady did was she asked the local teacher who suggested correspondence course, the daughter would visit the mother each afternoon study for two hours, then pick her kid up and return to her in-laws. The girl completed a diploma in nursery teaching and teaches a nearby school. Older daughter-in-law is physiotherapy technician, the older son works for the govt, after completing diploma in electrical engineering, the younger daughter is certified nurse, so is the younger daughter-in-law while the younger son has a diploma in civil engineering and he works for the government too.
The family also helps in the furniture outlet that Guggu’s husband had set up.
Now she was travelling to Bikaner to their family house. The lady had spoken to someone who would come in everyday for an hour and ensure that the grandson’s school work was done.
Walking in Guggu’s shoes humbled Neeru, so much we take for granted people have to struggle for,