Everyone seems to be here with a purpose; apparently least bothered about the other person in front of him yet subtly watching his surroundings. The eyes of the magnitude of people betray the anxiety and apprehensions, yet gleaming with hope. Hope of making it to their destinations, taking that trip and getting near to the people or place they long for or may be simply accomplishing something they planned for.
The old man was sitting silently looking thorough the compartment window at the busy platform teeming with people. A young man of twenty-something was sitting opposite him bursting with childish excitement. He was also looking through the window, his eyes jumping over each of the faces on the platform as if to find out someone he knows. He was hardly looking at me. Even when he glanced at me there was a faint smile on his face but the look was vague. He looked right through me as if I do not exist.
He seems to be breathing in everything through his eyes – be it the tea vendor on the extreme corner of the platform or the wheeler stall owner near the window selling magazines and newspapers. He was not reading anything, nor did he appear to be interested in buying anything. But anyone watching him can feel that he was curious and immensely excited.
As the train rolled out of the station, the young man settled down to look at the scene outside rolling behind. Against all safety precautions, he was now stretching his hands out of the window trying to grab the air brushing against his palm. Suddenly he burst out in excitement and shouted, "Papa, see all trees are going behind". The old man said nothing but was smiling - the kind of smile you find on the face of an indulgent father.
Once we were outside the periphery of the station and the train has picked up enough speed to reduce the passing scenery in to a huge cinema screen, the old man turned towards me and gave a weary smile. I nodded in acknowledgment and tried to strike up a conversation.
He was going home with his son after staying in the city for more than one month. Our initial conversation was interrupted by the young man. “Papa look at the thing there, is that a cow?” I was surprised. It was also the first hint for me that not everything was alright. The young man was behaving too young for his age.
It was also very awkward for me. The young man was constantly shooting questions at his father, oblivious of my presence or the others in the compartment. And the questions were too fundamental to be asked by a grown up young man. While I felt an immense urge to ask the father whether his son was alright or not, I was totally at loss to formulate my question. I have already started to sympathize with the old man. The young man was behaving like a child. The mental growth of the son has clearly not been commensurate with his age. Was it in-borne or the result of some accident later?
The old man was, however, perfectly at ease. He was constantly smiling and answering questions with such fondness as if it was his six-year-old son asking him why the moon can not be plucked. How much psychological burden a grown up son with the mind of a child could be for a man nearing retirement? And what about the mother? Does the old man have any other child? Are they normal?
“Papa, I can see the clouds, they are black.” I was jolted out of my brood by sudden exclamation of the young man. As if on a cue, it started raining. He was looking at the raindrops lashing his hand with the eyes of someone who has seen raindrops for the first time. “Papa, will I be able to see the moon tonight?” the lovely young man asked his father. The father did not reply, he simply nodded in affirmative. The boy did not wait for his father to say anything either. He was too engrossed with the sight outside.
Curiosity got better of me finally and I took the chance to ask the question long being formulated by me to the old man in a hushed up tone so that the boy do not hear anything. “It is sad, I mean, to see your son. Such a lovely boy he is. Did you consult any doctor?” I asked the man.
The man turned towards me with the same content smile on his face and then replied, “Yes, we did. That’s why he is seeing the world through his own eyes for the first time.”
(This is a story developed from a brief e-mail sent by my friend Ajay Solanki from Mumbai; origin not known)