A few days back (actually last Thursday), I had this interesting conversation with a fellow commuter. The other fellow, like me, too is a regular fixture of my morning local train. That means we both knew each other but had never actually talked. Last Thursday, changed circumstances and the resultant sitting dynamics (most of the regulars will have their fixed seats which rarely change) found him on the seat next to mine.
Now my regular routine is a bit like this. I board the train, take my seat, nod to the two-three people I know, pull out a book from my bag, stow the bag on the overhead rack, open the book, and start reading. After about fifteen minutes or so, and after the train has crossed a few stations, I am ready for a quick snooze. I usually wake up about 10 minutes before I reach my station (yeah, I have cracked the code for train commuting in Mumbai) -- time enough to grab my bag, put the book back into it, and then struggle through the crowd in time to alight from the train. Notice how talking or conversation hardly figures in that scheme of things.
Anyway, where was I? Ya, Thursday, and this gent in the seat next to mine. I had already opened my book and had forgotten the world around me when I heard this persistent throat clearing sound next to me. The guy on my right had already closed his eyes and attained Nirvana, so it had to be the fellow who today had found a seat on my left. I glanced at him and now that he had my attention, he smiled. Very difficult to know what to do in such circumstances. I mean, here I was going to enquire (solicitously) of this guy if he needed a lozenge or something so that he can stop imitating a stuttering car only to find out that the car smiling at you. So as I bit back the words on the tip of my tongue, this gent pressed his advantage. He started a conversation.
Gent: I notice that you take this train regularly.
Me: Ya (and shrugged my shoulders).
Gent: I also noticed. You get down at the same station as me.
Me: (warily) Really?
Gent: (with a smile) Ya. We board the same train at the same station and then get down at the same station.
Me: oh! (And that was quite a long drawn out one. I was simultaneously considering if this gent next intended to say that he was my long lost brother.)
I turned to my book. I thought that would be the end of the conversation. But I had underestimated the persistence of this fellow.
Gent: After you get down, where do you go?
Me: Uh!!? (It took me a second to collect my thoughts together) . . . To office.
Gent: Ya. But where do you go?
Gent: That is a long travel.
Gent: I am an engineer. You are in IT? Programmer?
Me: No. I am into e-learning. (I knew what his next question would be . . . and it followed even before I had taken my next breath)
Gent: What is e-learning?
Me: Hmm. . . we create learning programs, training programs for various audiences.
Gent: Oh! That's excellent! You make websites. (Had he even heard me?)
Me: Ya, sometimes if that is what the client needs or if the training demands a web-based solution. Usually we make CD-based training programs.
Gent: CDs? What kind of CDs?
Me: Have you ever been inside a bookshop? Like Crossword? (He nodded.) You will find in those shops CDs of maths, phonics, vocabulary (then noticing his expression) . . . you know CDs that teach words, language, sounds? We make those CDs too.
Gent: Ah! (clearly some insight had happened) You simplify words. Like a dictionary.
There was nothing to say to that. I turned back to my book. But the guy clearly hadn't finished yet. From his demeanor it was evident that all the earlier conversation was merely foundation and that he still hadn't touched upon the main item on the agenda.
Still his next question when he asked it . . . it was . . . well a googly.
Gent: What is your date of birth?
Gent: (Patiently) What is your date of birth?
Me: Umm . . . October. . .
Gent: You are a Scorpio?
Me: (That was one question I could answer confidently) No. I am Libran.
Gent: That is surprising.
Gent: I notice everyday you read books. Only Scorpios and girls read.
Me: Oh! Really? (WTF?!!) Well, I am neither.
Gent: Ya. Surprising. Very surprising. I once read that only Scorpios and girls read books. Linda Goodman said that in her sun-signs book.
Me: Oh, ok. But I read.
Gent: Ya. You are the first one I have come across who is different. (He was now looking at me with some perplexity. I had disrupted his neat and tidy Linda Goodman ordained universe.)
Me: Maybe I am an exception to the rule. You know every rule has some exceptions. . .
Gent: (Brightening. That was one mystery less for him in this world.) Ya. Ya. You are right. Every rule has some exceptions. Otherwise how can a Libran read?
Me: Right. You should check that book again. There must be a section for exceptions.
Gent: Yes, yes. . .
At that point I closed my eyes and pretended to be instantly asleep. He made a few more throat clearing noises but this time I was wiser. I kept my eyes firmly shut and wondered if it was time to change my train compartment.