Especially Indian railways, there is so much happening in that 30 mins span of the train arriving and people gushing in to find their seats. People are pushing, pieces of luggage are being tucked below the seats, station hawkers are yelling at the top of their voices to sell water, chips and other snacks. A couple was saying goodbye to their family as they were heading for their mini vacation, a mother had come to drop off her son with tears filled in her eyes as she lets him go away from her for the first time, a bunch college kids were hooting and dancing as they boarded their train and I stood there with a book in one hand and my bags in the other.
39 it was, the seat that I had wished for as it is right in the middle of the berth and usually better for solo female travelers in India! So, I finally arrived to my seat. Was extremely tired but couldn’t stop reading. I was reading “Redrawing India: The Teach For India Story” by Shaheen Mistri, the person who is responsible for changing my life. Reading through the book brought back memories of my childhood in the slums.
My phone rang, mum called to check if I had boarded the train for Mumbai. She sounded a bit concerned. She told me, “If you don’t see any families around you then please request the ticket commissioner to change your seat to where there are more females.” That is my mother, whenever I’m travelling alone. Otherwise she is just the most carefree woman I’ve ever met. She treats her children like her friends.
As I was talking to her, a family walked in with two enthusiastic children. Their seats were right next to mine. I assured my mother that her concern has been resolved and now she should go to sleep, that I’ll see at home the next day. I made space for the two kids to sit as their grandmother fed them some yummy stuffed Indian flatbread with curd. She offered me some and the kids insisted that I eat with them.
Param (4 years old then) and Diyaansha (7 years old then) had come to India for the first time as they were born and raised in Hong Kong. Except their English, nothing seemed foreign about them. They were so comfortable on the train and didn’t crib about anything. On the opposite seat sat a Muslim family with their 7 months old tiny tot, Malik. Malik was trying to come to my seat so the mother gave him to me. While I sang my favorite lullaby, Malik slept like a little bear on the chest. Param and Diyaansha found Malik extremely cute and both kissed him goodnight. This was extremely touching considering the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus in the past in Gujarat (where we had boarded our train from).
I fell in love with these two. This reinforced the belief in me that children don’t discriminate; the society feeds them this as they grow up.
As everyone was preparing to sleep, Diyaansha and Param came to seat with a lot curiosity in their eyes. Diyaansha gave me a tight hug and said, “You are so good with kids, I want to be like you.” This was so overwhelming! I gave a peck on her round chubby cheeks. Seeing this, little shy Param asked if I could teach him how to draw a cat. I asked him if he liked cats and he said no. I was a bit surprised so I asked him if he didn’t like cats then why did he want me to teach him how to draw one. With all his cuteness he said, “Because I want to take back this moment as a memory and my friend says that cats can remember everything.” This melted my heart. These two had so much love to pour on someone they just met.
As we continued talking, they shared about their school, friends, the Indian parties they attend there and all the things kids can talk about. It was 11.36 pm but our conversations were still on. Their mother came and insisted both of them sleep but these two didn’t want to stop talking. They asked me everything – what do I do, what do I like, where do I live, will I come to Hong Kong to see them and everything that not a lot of people were interested to know about me.
But it was too late in the night now, I convinced them to sleep. Diyaansha slept and I was about to sleep when I heard some noises. I looked down to check and it was Param whispering to me from the seat below. He asked me if you could come and sleep with me and before I could say anything, he snuggled beside me. He kept talking throughout the night and I fell asleep listening to him. He woke up before me and gave a morning kiss on the cheeks. It was the most wonderful way; anybody had ever woken me up. His mother was in awe seeing this. She later told me that Param doesn’t like sleeping next to anyone and she was amazed to see him like this with me.
Diyaansha woke up with the widest smile and asked if we had reached Mumbai. Her mother said that it would take another 2 hours to reach. Both of them shouted in glee, the mother told them to be quite as people were still sleeping. Diyaansha came to my seat and said, “That means we have another 2 hours with you, I’m so happy.” She took her mother’s phone and took my number, we clicked selfies so they could show their friends and Param finally finished drawing his cat.
We reached Mumbai; it was time for the goodbyes. Param’s face was all sad and he clinged onto my jacket begging me not to go. He told his mother that he wanted me to come and stay with them. Diyaansha cried and said that she would text me every day. I walked away with a heavy heart.
As Diyaansha promised, they messaged me every single day. We skyped, called, shared photos and kisses. We met again after a year in Mumbai and nothing had changed between us. The laughter was the same, the love and affection was constant and goodbyes were still difficult.
Today, they are a part of my life and my Instagram. Love can be found anywhere, from anyone and at anytime. We need to learn to embrace it.