Wednesday, 30 November 2011

THE UNCOUTH

A clean shaven chin, brylcreamed hair, handsome look with a pair of designer goggles. These words would suffice to describe the 'gentleman youth' in his late twenties, who came in and took the seat adjacent to mine in the compartment of the express train to New Delhi, about to depart in 15 minutes.
 
Before I could see him make himself comfortable, my mobile phone rang and I walked towards the door of the compartment and became engaged in answering the call from my boss, who was enquiring about my journey and the possible date of my return..... so that he could dump lots more of the monotonous chores on me.

Engrossed in my talk, I failed to realise that my bag and my laptop, kept beneath my seat, were thrown out and were lying astray near the compartment door. Only when the laptop bag brushed my feet, while it was being thrown away, I realised that something was wrong.

In such situations, I have the tendency to indulge in self-interrogation and ask myself the FAQ... Did I do anything wrong? Did I board the wrong train...wrong compartment...Did I occupy the wrong seat????

With the sole aim of avoiding such embarrassing situations/self-interrogations, I always reach the airport or railway station well in advance. For a similar reason, I reach the classroom at least 5 minutes in advance, much to the dislike of my students.

I had done the same thing today as well. So, i asked myself again...what exactly went wrong? As I asked myself these questions, I moved towards my seat and looked at the gentleman, whom I described as handsome, earlier. For obvious reasons, to me, he no longer looked handsome. He had red, wide open eyes and the world's anger in his face.

I could see anger in his head and  fire in his tongue, as he shouted....."why  did you occupy my seat? It is people like you who are a disgrace to India. You are the ones who make travel less comfortable. Are you an illiterate? Can't you read numbers? Haven't you travelled in a reserved compartment earlier?"

While I appreciated his collection/volley of questions, I did not make any effort to answer any of those; but I tried to pacify him with a request to explain what went wrong.

Reacting to my request, he repeated the questions shot at me earlier by him. Just after the first question, I responded by asking, "may I know your seat number?". He stopped the volley of questions and thrust his train ticket towards me and yelled "see it for yourself; that is, if you know how to read."

I took the ticket from him, looked at it and then told him politely, "gentleman, your seat number is 56, while mine is 58 ". He showed a rodent-like frown and instantly looked at the seat number written above the seats in the compartment; looked at me and yelled again, "read the ticket properly, you may be wrong".

I showed him his ticket and asked him to read it by himself. After a while, he said"Oh yes, mine is 56......and he continued to sit there while I was wondering what should I do next. An elderly couple who were a witness to all that happened, said in unison, "at least now, could you not move a bit and give him his seat?" The "handsome" stared at the couple grudgingly and moved a bit with great reluctance.

While I sat down and placed my bag and laptop under my legitimate seat (no. 58), he was scanning his mobile phone, seemingly oblivious of what had happened and what the people around him were thinking about him. He didn't seem to feel sorry for what he had done.

A while later, the ticket examiner came and we flashed our tickets and  our ID cards. The "handsome" didn't seem to have his ID card.

The TTE, handed over to me, my ticket and the ID, with a polite and pleasant "Thank you Professor". Not able to hear him properly, I blinked, and he responded by speaking a bit louder "Yes, it is printed on your ID sir. Aren't you a Professor?" I reciprocated with a "Yes. Thank you sir".

The "handsome", who by now did not seem to be a handsome to the co-passengers, looked at me and the TTE. I thought that he looked at me with guilt (for having called me an illiterate etc. etc..earlier, but now realised that I was a professor). However, not a trace of guilt or repentance was seen on his face.

Thereafter, the 28 hours of journey was not very eventful. The elderly couple were busy with reminiscing such journeys they undertook during their youth....and how.....many of their relatives turned-up at the station for a grand send-off. The "handsome - youth" was busy with long and loud conversations over his mobile.

I had a bit of reading to do, which I was doing. While I was reading, my mind was performing 'parallel processing' in the background. I was expecting a "sorry" from the  'youth' or at least a "guilty look" in him. But it never happened. Maybe, it was his way of life; or perhaps this kind of uncouth behaviour was the way of most of the youth of India. No, it cannot be so. Because I have seen very well behaved, civilized and mature youth in my class. May be this was an exception.
 
The otherwise uneventful journey came to an end, and when we alighted from the train, there were no exchanges of pleasantries or good-byes, though I looked at the youth with some unknown expectation. Perhaps my inner self was expecting a last 'guilty look', if not an utterance of 'sorry' from him.
 
While I walked down the platform towards the waiting taxi, my self-interrogation started and again with the question ..."Did I fail to to recognize the "forgive me" look on his face ??"
 
The call from the taxi driver interrupted my self-interrogation and I walked towards the taxi.
 
Despite the happenings, I thanked the 'handsome' / 'youth' for two things: First, for making me realise that "first impression need not be the best impression"... or simply said ''looks can be deceptive".  The second......., for being my inspiration to scribble this Blog.

S. SANJEEVI