The train came to a halt. The hills around speckled with green shrubs and tall trees, peaks dipped in white foamy clouds, breeze swirling around in sprightly dance, the beauty was breath-taking. Seema peeped out of the window and was surprised to see that the train had stopped midway. No station, no platform. Then she saw many heads popping out through the windows and the compartment doors to check the reason for the sudden halt. Some too curious beings jumped on to the grass by the tracks and waved to the guard and TC as though enquiring.
Seema sat back feeling relaxed. There was no point in fretting and fuming about the train having stopped and getting delayed to reach the destination. ‘When something is inevitable….and enjoy ‘she remembered the weird quote. Seeing the expressions on the co-travellers’ faces, from annoyance to don’t -care- whatever, she tried to analyse their thoughts and match the frequencies with one another and relate it with hers. Funny! She thought. Does a small incident as a train stopping suddenly enroute can evoke various emotions and get connected at one point of time? So essentially all human beings are connected through emotions, thoughts and ideas. The variations may cause certain mismatch but the basic foundation is the same.
A co-passenger’s face showed deep appreciation for the beauty, while another’s displayed irritation and third looked as though he was bored with the world. If we try to connect these three fundamentally different feelings the connecting point would be a bored feeling evoked by a stagnant life, gradually transforming into irritation at the suspended life and eventually translating into a sense of happiness evoked by the surroundings. Equally true could be the reverse of the situation. From a no feeling (boredom) to a great feeling (happiness) is an inward journey either to blissful destination or a to bleak one. But the journey is the one that creates a bond. We can’t deny this beautiful relationship human beings share with one another.
Seema’s musings a little tilted towards philosophy and a little on psychology gave her insights into the connection between incidents and feelings. The same incident but different responses, emotional and psychological. What fascinating creation this human world is!
“Oye TC ji what happened?” A curious passenger shouted from the compartment.
“A tree has fallen on the tracks; we are trying to remove. Can’t expect any help from the next station, pretty far. Can’t travel in the dark. Unsafe.”
A detailed explanation from the ticket collector brought in several expressions, someone sighed, another one let out a ‘uff ‘, the co-passengers in her compartment heaved a heavy sigh.
“What happens if we can’t get the tree out from the tracks?”
“At least a message to the station master to let him know our where abouts…”
“I should have gone by road. Though I will enjoy the scenery from the train. Serves me right for high expectations from life.” Someone cursed himself.
Another one comforted, “Don’t worry too much, everything happens for a reason.”
“Yeah! My dear madam. The reason this time is -freeze to death.” a middle-aged man with a heavy voice cribbed.
“That too is a reason, isn’t it? For all or some to die!” the owner of the previous comment continued philosophically (or was it sarcastically?).
Seema a silent observer was quickly analysing each dialogue, every response and reaction.
This was a great experience for her. So much to think about, to learn and to unlearn as well.
She was mentally prepared for the worst on this journey. Now that the passengers were visibly getting vexed and did not mind showing it, she wanted to record it and use it for her analysis of human nature, given the same situation. how each individual reacted to it. She has always been fascinated by human responses – sometimes proactive and most of the times reactive. What caused these responses?
She had seen response to stimuli and response through association. If some of them were reacting to the situation in a negative way, throwing tantrums, cursing someone, blaming fate, stars for the delay in the journey, it could be because of a similar, previous experience, and through association emoting in a similar manner. Some may have experienced an emotion triggered by senses such as sense of smell or touch or sight, as in case of someone who touched and felt the hard surface of the compartment, or the smell of some eatables that triggered hunger.
Law of association worked in human relationships also as she watched the feelings of the co passengers, she remembered how often she would recollect childhood incidents and relate them to the present situations. It was so wonderful to stay connected with the past and relate it to the present, even if there are some bitter memories. So, these laws are timeless and universal.
Seema’s thoughts were interrupted by voices coming from the engine side.
“What happened?” She asked the one sitting beside her.
“They are trying to pull the tree and clear the track.”
“They? Has the relief team come?”
“No, didi, many passengers have got down to help the driver. Actually, the driver is a little aged, in his 50s, so these boys thought it inappropriate for him to do it. You can see him, sitting there on that boulder. His smile is so encouraging. These boys are not used to physical labour and so letting out the pressure by shouting.”
She got down and went to cheer up the hardworking youngsters. It was so good to see collective work. This too was a response to stimulus and they acted upon it on the spur of the moment. Knowing the tree was blocking the track, realizing that the delay in their journey was solely because of the tree, their instinct has prompted them to help the aged driver. Seema felt life moving in the right direction.
It would take some time to clear the track; she took a deep breath and inhaled the fragrance of the surroundings, though it was getting dark, she could sense the hill tops clad in white. Nature presented itself in such varied forms! It was so good to be alive and feel the wonders of life! Ah! So charming, so calm, so serene.
She couldn’t ask for more! A refreshing and exhilarating evening in nature’s lap.
But would that journey, interrupted half way through, become an experience of a life time?
Hurray! Hurray! The sky rented with the joyous shouts of the passengers as the tree was successfully removed from the tracks. The hills echoed the jubilation of the travellers. The elderly passengers heaved a sigh of relief, and the middle-aged talked about their achievements in their younger days, as though they did not want to be written off as weaklings, and the children applauded the spirit of the youth, hoping they too would, someday, prove their worth to the world.
Seema got into the train. Everyone was congratulating the young boys and expressing their gratitude.
“Shouldn’t we all thank our boys for this amazing spirit of cooperation and unity? The strange fact is that despite not being acquainted with one another, in the hour of crisis all of us came together and like a pillar stood up bearing the burden of the situation. Isn’t this what humanity and unity all about? Obstacles teach us to be together, not leave someone alone in distress.” Words of wisdom. The old woman sitting opposite to Seema, touched by the youngsters’ gesture, shared her life learnings.
The train whistled and started its onward journey.
Seema feeling blessed to be a part of the journey which had given her insights into the human nature and relationships, pondered over what the old woman had said.
‘Critical situations bind us, make us realise that above all relations is the human relationship. The one supreme reality that nothing can break the bond that brings us together, the underlying spirit of humanity.’
Where does this spirit vanish the moment, everything is normal? Why do we revert to our old self once the crisis is resolved? Strange that we start harbouring ill- feelings, jealousies, grudges, prejudices the moment the difficulties disappear from our lives. Stranger is the fact that if joys bring us together grief too keeps the strings together. It is as if nature holds the strings and tugs them to bridge the distance between people.’
The train trudged on the hilly track laboriously. The curves and bends were fascinating yet scary. Maybe each one was keeping fingers crossed that no bend should be ‘the end.’
Seema controlled her laughter at her thoughts lest others should find it odd. She wondered at the craftsmanship with which the hills have been cut to lay the railway tracks. The civil and environmental engineers face challenges pertaining to ecology, environment and human habitat. They cannot go about their work indiscriminately cutting down chunks of trees or mowing down shelters to modify, renovate or create new avenues of transportation. So much wise planning ha to be done in order to maintain the landscape, keep the environment healthy and wealthy; it must be such an arduous work to plan construction of railway tracks, so as not to impact the surrounding areas adversely!
Seema wrote in her diary, “We rarely give due credit to all those creators of facilities who had spent hundreds of waking hours thinking, analysing, planning infrastructure development. Height of ingratitude. And it doesn’t take a second for us to criticize and question their integrity, work ethics if a bridge collapses, a road caves in or a track break. High time we started respecting their knowledge, effort and dedication.”
Yes, she too was learning. Not that she hadn’t travelled earlier, but this journey was a special one. Had the train not stopped she wouldn’t have travelled deep into human nature, delved deep into relationships nor felt gratitude for all those who support and upgrade life.
Relationships need not be with only family, kith and kin, friends or acquaintances, it could be with an unknown entity that supported life remotely, a theory that that shaped up our perspective, a theorem that created a support system. Morals, values are much talked about but least practiced in our daily life, yet we connect to these immediately when someone deviates or violates these precepts. Wasn’t this web of relationships fascinating and worthy of amassing?
The train of thought spiralled and sped along with the train on the hill. The locomotive had a destination to reach, but not her thoughts, they were flitting across the universe like a butterfly moving from one flower to another in search of nectar.
The toy train was bound to Joginder Nagar, located in Himachal Pradesh, known for one of its earliest hydro-electric projects in the country. Though distance wise it wasn’t very far, owing to the high altitude it took several hours to reach the destination from Pathankot via Kangra valley.
Seema’s journey was more like a spiritual journey- viewing life from a different perspective and reviewing her chaotic choices that went against a smooth sailing life; living the precious moments of memorable relationships and reliving the harrowing experiences of mismatched relationships.
The past did not pass by, it got embedded in her soul sometimes carrying her into the recesses of hidden emotions and other times keeping her thoughts subdued and passive. The dual role that her past played with her snatched the original Seema, the energetic, vibrant, with a ‘could care less’ attitude, to chisel her into a broken, detached non- entity, living to meet her destiny.
It was at this desolate juncture that her heart yearned to find peace in nature, ‘far from the madding crowd ’and her heart was set on the Himalayas. A place (or a hide-out) that would house her turbulent thoughts, shelter her emotions, be a refuge for her emotional turmoil.
Call it escape or running away, that was what she needed the most, where she wouldn’t be questioned, her soul wouldn’t be ransacked, her heart wouldn’t bleed.
And she found this place on the map, high altitude- a blessing, above human folly, intervention and deceit. It was the serenity and seclusion that drew her to Kangra valley. It was like ‘up above the world so high’ feeling that lifted her spirits. If the very thought of the place was so invigorating, how pleasant and refreshing life would be in that heaven on earth!
As the train slogged, her thoughts too toiled along. The winding hills unwinded her memories, the altitude intensified the urge to shrug off the burden of those moments of acute pain and heartbreak.
When the journey began her sole aim was get away from the troubling issues, but as the train inched towards the much-awaited destination, her heart ache surfaced.
She had to purge her thoughts, cleanse her mind, purify her emotions.
And then she would emerge a victor, a conqueror.
She would wave from the top of the hill and celebrate her entry into life once again leaving behind the clauses (claws?) ‘I wish I could’, ‘If only I had’. There wouldn’t be any scope for regret, she would forget and forgive and also hoped it would be reciprocated. The relationships that had turned bitter would become better. It was sure to happen.
Seema, the dainty looking village belle, grew up amidst penury; poverty struck the village a decade back when draught had hit the village. It was as though the someone had cast a bad spell on the village. Scanty rainfall, sweltering heat, scorching sun, it must be the curse of an unknown enemy or a noble soul who had been wronged. Otherwise, such abject poverty? The woes were only growing, along with the children. The lush green fields had turned yellow and then gradually dried. The trees, which sheltered the melodious singing birds withered away, leaving the bare branches to be used for firewood. And gradually the need for firewood also died, there was nothing to cook.
Then the exodus started. One after the other families started leaving the village. The sound of the carts, the bellowing of the buffaloes, the mooing of the cows and the bleating of the sheep disappeared. They either fell a prey to the scorching heat or to lack of fodder. The wells dried, the pond disappeared and the clouds had forgotten the route to this village.
Farmers looked at the sky as though beseeching the unseen Supreme Power to show mercy on them. If only they could wet their lands with tears but nay, tears too had betrayed them.
The only families that stayed on were the ones whose faith in God had not yet melted away. They believed that their good deeds would bear fruit sooner or later. Their strong belief in Karma did not let them lose their trust in the creator. The one who had created would also protect. Life would flourish again.
The two varied, distinct thoughts and beliefs were the basis for life or the absence of it. The one’s who stretched out their hands for alms withered away and the ones who folded their hands in absolute surrender and rooted in faith saw seeds of life germinating, sprouting, growing. Life propagated itself, the belief sustained.
The tiny blades of grass smeared life with a new hope; the tiny drops of rain filled the pits generously and the cycle of life restarted with a vigour that was not known to the survivors of the severe draught.
Belief, faith, trust, life is rooted in these precepts.
Seema born in such times saw the hardships of her village and several perplexing questions shook her faith in that Power which her family worshipped. If the one who made life possible could be so heartless as to make his creation suffer, what was the meaning of this devotion and prayers? Could one be so meek and docile despite the suffering to seek HIS blessings in adversity?
Her father, the temple priest, followed the tenets of religion to the word. His unflinching faith in God even in the wake of adversity was answered, her mother’s sustained belief that ‘if winter comes, can spring be far behind’ came true.
Life unfolded itself offering another chance to grow, to flourish, to prosper and to continue to believe in good deeds. Seema had already seen the worst in life by age ten. Her faith in her parents’ belief grew stronger. The one who did not waver, buckle down was a true devotee, she realized. Her unspoken questions were answered. She understood good deeds would always be rewarded, only one needed to wait patiently. ‘They also serve who stand and wait.’
Her little knowledge of religion, spirituality, values sprang from and were firmly rooted in her parents’ faith and devotion. Seeing them wonder at the immensity of God’s creation, its vastness, its depth, she related to these emotions and felt the power of the unseen.
Her belief in the innate goodness of human beings lay foundation to her sense of belonging to the human world and relate to her surroundings. This connection established a relationship which was above the ordinary and ascertained her strong sense of unity with the diverse thought processes. It was unification of thought, deed and action. Undeniably she was a Meera, a Radha who saw relationship as a unit of the cosmos. She would always stay connected with the world and strengthen the bond.
This was Seema at the age of twenty.
Her education enriched her knowledge and her faith in relationships brought people into her life who became an integral part of her life. They would remain indispensable. (God willing!)
The ups and downs in life had not deterred her father from being devout, on the contrary, they propelled him more towards the supreme power saying that HE was testing him and he, as his devotee would never fail the one who had given him strength to bear and withstand the onslaughts of life. He was a role model to his daughter.
Seema, having completed her post-graduation in Computers, wanted to find a job and settle down in the city. Her parents agreed to it but weren’t willing to leave the village which was more than just a home for them. It would be betrayal to the relationships that were like succour to his soul. His life was an aggregation of love and affection of his fellow beings and he couldn’t break away from his roots. The respect he had earned was enormous and that would sustain him through thick and thin.
“Papa, you have done more than what a parent can do, now is the time to relax and have time for yourself. You can continue your spiritual journey even in the city. You can give discourses in Mathas and temples. I am not asking you to cut yourself off from your religious and devotional activities, I would need your support throughout my life.”
Her mother too was unwilling to leave the native land. “We are more at peace here amidst our people. This village has given us our identity, they hold us in high esteem. We can’t sever ourselves from our roots. You have your future to think of. Get going child, we know we are there for each other. Always remember human relationships are the most precious gift of God to us. Let not bonds be broken. Relationships just don’t grow out of nothing; they grow when we care for and respect them. Whether workplace or personal relationships they are delicate and sensitive in nature, like glassware you have to hold them firmly but cautiously. Slightest of pressure and they will snap and break.”
Seema set out on a new journey which was no less than an adventure. An adventure that made her explore her inner self.
The many pitfalls that she encountered, shattered her, broke her and made her seek the ultimate reality of relationships.
Her interview for in one of the premium companies was her first shocking experience in relationship building. It was a rude shock to know that ‘appearances are deceptive.’ The very first person she met during the interview was snobbish, arrogant and pompous, boasted about her achievements and how the company hiring her would be benefitted…. And she went on till …. No end to it.
Seema was taken aback. Was that the work culture or was she weird?
She waited for her turn with baited breath.
She remembered her mother’s words, “You have to work on relationships. They don’t grow on their own, you have to water them and tend them with care. Work place relationships are based on your work ethics and work culture, so far no further. But personal relationships have to be established at a different level. Your perspective has to be different; your understanding has to be deeper and you have to explore the inner sanctum sanctorum of those who are close to your heart. This is how you build and sustain relationships.”
The interviewer was young, handsome and friendly. Having no experience with the ways of the world she immediately took a liking to the person. She wasn’t even sure of being recruited and was already drawn towards him! Later she laughed aloud at her immature feelings.
She chided herself for behaving like a teenager.
The first few rounds of her interview went on well but the subsequent ones were quite trying and needed professional and technical knowledge. Her focused approach and presence of mind fetched her the job.
She was on cloud nine.
She was yet to know the ways of the world.
“Seema, I admire you. Your charm is beyond the physical. The spark in your eyes ignites feelings that I did not know exist. Your professionalism and your personality blend well with each other. Your brought up and grooming reflect in your personality.”
Rishi Verma, her interviewer and now colleague opened up about his feelings. She was awestruck remembering she had taken a liking to him at the time of interview. She pondered over his words. Wasn’t it too early to decide their feelings?
She thought of talking to her mother. But hesitated lest she should misunderstand. She failed to understand how crucial it was to communicate to her parents who trusted her wisdom, her sense of propriety.
As days passed, his advances started disturbing her. Was she drawn to him the same way he was attracted to her? Was all his talk about her beautiful soul true? Could she trust him? How would her parents respond to this relationship? Her mind wasn’t prepared for a relationship yet her heart tugged at the strings. She had seen relationships grow and strengthen; her village was one family. The anguish and pain, the misery and suffering she had seen as a child had taught her to stay connected to people, it was these relationships that stood by one in the hour of crisis.
But this was a relationship, if it were to happen, would change her equation with life. Were all the learnings of life coming to a naught because of this one temptation? Should she resist and rise above temptation? Was she drawn to him for a physical intimacy where the heart thumped for him or was she attracted to him where the heart resonated with his emotions and thoughts? Was she ready to accept him as he was or did, she imagine him to be what she preferred him to be?
It was a moral dilemma.
The mind was questioning, probing and the heart went headlong into it. Happiness is where heart is. And she went by it.
The relationship she had walked into was magical, it satisfied the yearning to be loved, to be desired and to be owned.
Does ‘magic’ sustain itself for long? It needs stronger, deeper emotions to keep the love glowing. A spark ignites but a fire sustains the glow.
She learnt this eternal truth soon. But the ‘soon’ wasn’t early enough.
The initial attraction was more physical than emotional but as time passed, she expected that to grow into a mature (Platonic?) love which wouldn’t be bound by the physicality. The physical presence or absence wouldn’t limit their feelings. It ought to have penetrated deeper into the heart with time.
‘Ought to have’ said it all. The actuality was harsh and unpalatable. ‘Relationships don’t grow, one has to nurture and nourish them.’
Neither did it.
Her mother’s pearls of wisdom hadn’t come handy.
The sense of guilt that haunted her was inexplicable.
The absence of completeness in the relationship troubled her endlessly.
The seeds of discontentment got embedded in the once chaste(?) relationship. It was more and more a carnal desire that he exhibited and that wounded her soul and ripped her heart.
She was reduced to a sheer object of desire!
It was a relationship with no future.
Her guilt deepened. She had violated her parents’ trust in her, she had sinned against them.
The toxic, hollow relationship, if continued, would wreck her emotionally. Could she escape from it?
Her dilemma continued. Had she not given enough time for the relationship to blossom? Was she doing things in haste? The start and the end seemed hasty decisions from both sides. He did not seem to have any grouse, any issue with what existed or did not exist between them, she found it stifling and draining.
Should she talk to him? Would he ever understand what was lacking in this hollow relationship?
Maybe marriage would bring that change she was hoping for. The live-in did not define the relation.
“What? Marriage? But did we get into this with a tag? ‘No strings attached’ is how I live my life.”
“I value my emotions and….”
“And I, my space.” Firm, unrelenting, insubmissive.
She knew it coming, only she was afraid to admit.
She walked out of it with pain and he without any regret.
She did not dare to breath a word to her parents. They would be crestfallen. She had to cope with it and overcome the guilt feeling, conquer herself, regain the balance and once again be able to walk with her head held high.
She did tread on a wrong path, her understanding of relationships was a misinformed blunder, her struggle to smoothen it was unsuccessful, yet there still was that spirit not to succumb to negativity. Yes, she did want to escape, alienate herself, find peace and come to terms with the situation.
Her initial impulse was to hide from the probing eyes, taunting words, mocking looks. The sense of guilt was so deep that any conversation at office among her colleagues, made her feel it was directed towards her. The blemish was unbearable. How to redeem herself from the haunting flaw?
Rishi was unaffected; befriended freshers, openly flirted with them. His licentiousness was revolting. She cursed herself for falling for a profligate.
It was at this juncture that her mind wanted to liberate herself from all that subdued her free will, her original self that she respected.
Time to move on, find herself, rediscover and realign.
The jerky movement of the train jolted her into the present.
The serenity of nature seeped into her soul imbuing her with an inner radiance that irradiated her being.
Ah! Sublime bliss! She had purged herself; the flow of emotions had cleansed her mind and soul. The joy shared with the co passengers, her long monologue with her inner self seemed to have purified the besotted emotions. How akin to the ancient mariner’s predicament and the ultimate redemption from the sin when he blessed the tiny, slimy creatures in the sea.
“The self-same moment I could pray; And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off and sank, like lead into the sea.”
Her mind had grasped so much in this short journey. Her thoughts so oppressive, her emotions so regressive and her personality so disintegrated, were going through a transformation and slowly gaining the prelapsarian status. Returning to the pure, unadulterated, uncorrupted state of mind, where life was sheer beauty and the truth that it revealed – absolute surrender and acceptance.
Her self-discovery was the only truth, her past experience was not to be negated, it had to be merged with the self, for that too was her truth.
She had travelled into her deeper self to unveil the unknown, to herself. And it astonished her – the true self.
She realized the two ‘selves’ existed in everyone. Rishi, the one who he was and the one that others understood. Come to think of it he never pretended to be virtuous, it was just that he was irresistibly charming.
What we project to the society and what we are in actuality are two diverse beings. One may clash with the other and each vies for supremacy. Who wins over the other is purely a matter of conscience and moral strength.
The train pulled at the station and her thoughts too halted.
As she picked up her things, she felt a flash of Rishi right in front of her.
She shuddered. He couldn’t have chased her to this valley!
“Madam, shall I help you with your baggage?” A co-passenger was asking her
“No, thank you. I will manage.”
Surely, she wasn’t thinking of him.
It was only that a Rishi and a Seema existed everywhere. She could come across a Rishi and he could find a Seema.
We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
I would like to acknowledge the following authors, poets for using the titles of their books/ poems and quotes from their works:
Thomas Hardy- Far from the madding crowd
S.T. Coleridge – The Rime of the ancient mariner
P.B. Shelley -Ode to west wind
John Milton – On his blindness
Nursery rhyme – Twinkle twinkle little star
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