Regular readers of this blog (if there are any in that category still left out there) will know that my commute to and from the office offers some of the weirdest experiences. I have had my share of some incredible “WTF?!” experiences earlier — you either overhear something that is totally ripe or you are an unwilling participant in one. For a very long time there was nothing of note (it could also be that since I wasn't blogging, I had stopped being on the lookout) before something happened a few days back that was right up there in the “WTFness?! quotient.”
I have outlined my regular morning train routine in an earlier post: I board the train, take my seat, nod to a few of the regular commuters, pull out a book from my bag, stow the bag on the overhead rack, open the book, and start reading. Some minutes of this and I am ready to snooze till it is time for me to make my preparations (grab my bag, stuff the book back into it, and then struggle through the crowd) and alight from the train. Conversation, as you must have noticed, doesn't figure in the routine.
I am not a great one for conversation even normally. But early mornings I am at my surliest — preferring to be left alone with my book. I am not much in a mood to engage anybody in a conversation (even my family, usually my sis-in-law, just sees me out of the door (gladly) in the morning without uttering a word) till I have had a couple of cups of extra strong coffee in the office pantry. Some people have caught on to this — my sis-in-law for one, my office friends, and some of my fellow commuters — and let me be till I am ready to be counted amongst the living. Some unfortunately haven't.
There is this guy who boards my morning train at one of the intermediate stations. Over the last some months he has become a regular. Unfortunately (for me) he is one of those cheery and hearty souls who shouts out his “Good mornings!” and wants to talk to everybody he knows even remotely. He is also a bit (now, how do I put it politely?), “simple” and doesn't always get a hint. We have a sort of a nodding acquaintance (he talks, if I am awake, I nod). He knows my name; I haven't bothered to find out his. For some reason, he has taken a liking to me and tries to engage me in a conversation whenever he can. After he boards the train, and he has said his hellos to the others, he shouts his hello for me through all that crowd. I vaguely register that in my drowsy state. And often hear fellow commuters, who know I keep late hours in my efforts to keep this nation shining, chiding him to shut up and let me snooze. He takes a little notice though and tries his best to strike a conversation. Such opportunities for him, in normal circumstances, are however limited. By the time he boards the train at his station, it is packed and the only time we encounter each other face to face is when I am on my way out. He then uses those few precious seconds to talk, tell me his entire life story, and that of his office and kids. He is also extremely nosy so questions like “How much do you earn?”, “What is your age?”, “Do you get paid overtime for the late hours?” are often asked. In response, I smile politely, nod or shake my head, pretend to have not heard him in the noise, (sometimes when I am at peace with the world and with myself, I venture a word or two) before making my escape out of the train.
On that particular, day however, the circumstances were different. By some unexplained quirk of fate, that day, the train was extremely empty. It also turned out to be a day when I had woken up (more than usually) grumpy, low, and in a real lousy moody. It could have been a result of some long nights at work and little sleep (less than four hours) on the preceding days. Anyways, this day, after I had read a couple of pages and realized that I would have to read them all over again to understand them, I put away the book and closed my eyes and dozed off promptly. As I mentioned earlier, the train was unusually empty that day and so this fellow as soon as he had boarded the train found himself standing next to where I was snoozing. And he grasped me by my shoulder and shook me awake.
Him: (all cheery, bright, and grinning) Do you have a girlfriend?
Me: Uh!!? (then decide to forget him and close my eyes again)
He however had decided that he wasn't letting go of this opportunity to know me better.
Him: (grasping my shoulder, shaking me awake again): Arre tell! Do you have a girlfriend?
Me: (seriously pissed off — the kind where you can make out that I am seriously pissed off) Why do u want to know?
Him: No, no . . . sometimes you look like you have a girlfriend, sometimes you look like you don't have one . . .
Me: (WTF! I manage to get my temper in check) Oooooookaaay! (breath out slowly and I close my eyes again)
Him: (shakes me by the shoulder again and when I force my eyes open) So, do you have a girlfriend?
Me: (deciding the time to be polite is past) It is none of your business.
I could see his brain working that out. A few seconds later, he had a light bulb moment.
Him: (stares at me for a few more moments, then makes a decision) Are you angry?
I shrugged my shoulders (I thought eloquently), closed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep.
Him: (shakes me by the shoulder again) I only asked if you have a girlfriend.
Me: And I have already told you that it is none of your business.
Silence reigned for a few minutes. I took the opportunity to go back to sleep. Suddenly, when my temper is under control and I have dozed off, he wakes me up again.
Him: Why are u growing your beard?
Now let me clarify, I shave rarely — about once a week is the norm. When this happened, I hadn't shaved for a couple of weeks.
Me: (seriously) My boss is bearded (which is true). All of us think highly of him (which is also true) and have formed a fan club (which is not entirely untrue — I have heard reports of two chapters of the club in two cities in India). The male members of the fan club have decided to grow beards (which is entirely untrue).
He considered me gravely for some time. I could make the processes and sub-routines working their way slowly but surely, till finally —
Him: Are you pulling my leg?
Me: No, no. . . really our boss has a beard so we all are growing beards.
That shut him up for some time.
In a few minutes, I made my preparations and moved to get into a position to escape from the train. I noticed that he was still contemplating me gravely.
About five minutes from my station, everything clicked into place and he finally mustered all his thoughts and courage and shouted across —
Him: You were pulling my leg about the beard?
Me: Oh well, yeah. Actually, I am just trying to save shaving cream and water.
For some reason he found that reasonable and shut up. I then averted my eyes and concentrated on getting myself in a position that would ensure that I would alight without too much of a hassle.
The train then pulled into the station where I got off. As I started towards the door, I heard him call out—
Him: Hey! You haven't told me if you have a girlfriend!
I made my escape.
Since then I have run into him quite a few times and while inquires have been made again of my salary, my late working hours (even my weight), he hasn't brought up the topic of my girlfriend again.
Sometimes I feel like bringing up the topic myself purely out of curiosity to understand the crieteria he uses to conclude on which days I look like I have a girlfriend, and why on others I look like I don't have one.
The risk of encouraging him, however, outweighs my thirst to further my knowledge.
Some earlier commuting experiences: