Train travel always throws up incidents of interest. More often than not, you come across intriguing people, amusing arguments and healthy camaraderie when on a train journey. It was during one such journey that I met two people who shall remain etched in my memory forever.
I made my way into C 2 of the Shatabdi Express after my routine check of the reservation chart. By check I don’t mean to say that I check for my name. I actually check the names against my near immediate seat numbers for, well, various reasons. I was unlucky this time as well as I saw that Meenakshi – F 56 and Srikanth – M 24 were to be my travel mates. I got into the coach fantasizing about a possible mix up in their ages. No; they were seated there alright, their ages concurring with the chart and bringing my fantasies to an abrupt thud. I sat next to the lady as she smiled at me gently. I smiled back. The train started to pull out slowly. That’s when I heard the excited voice of Srikanth who was, apparently, her son. “Look Amma! The train is moving!” he exclaimed with excitement. She nodded and smiled. I expected her to turn to me and give an apologetic sort of look but no; her eyes were set on her 24 year old son and the happiness exuded by her smile seemed genuine rather than made up. He was smiling in a childish sort of way and the enthusiasm in his voice matched that of an eight year old kid travelling in a train for the first time. His face was literally glued to the glassed window next to his seat and his eyes widened with joy every time something new passed by the window.
The next two hours were filled with Srikanth’s continuous exclamations and incessant questions to his mother. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable around them. I knew I should have been ashamed of myself to be squirming in my seat just because I was next to a 24 year old fellow behaving in a ‘not-so-normal’ manner. After all, people in such conditions must be empathized with rather than being shunned. But I have never been the empathizing type and though I have no intention of shunning such people I do face serious inhibitions to move with them in a casual manner. So I turned my head away from the mother-son duo. I noticed most of my co-passengers in other seats also staring at them; some with sadness and others with curiosity.
Suddenly Srikanth let out a whoop. “Wow! Amma! Look! It’s raining!” he cried. He was awestruck as little drops of rainwater hit the glass pane and rolled down gently, leaving silvery trails behind. He traced the trails with his hands and got all the more excitable as the rain transformed from a drizzle to a pelting. Suddenly, he got up from his seat. “Amma! I want to look at the rain from outside”, so saying he crossed us and hurried towards the compartment door. His mother excused herself and followed him outside. Fifty pairs of eyes, including mine, followed their movement as we craned our necks to catch a glimpse of the goings-on outside the compartment. She held him back and opened the door of the coach. He moved forward towards the door and I, being seated in the other extreme, lost sight of what he did after that. I waited for some more time for the two of them to come back to their seats. Finally, Srikanth moved away from the door and came into my sight. He made his way into one of the toilets as his mother came back to her seat.
I decided to be supportive and smiled at her in an understanding way. She returned it. I looked out to see if her son had come out of the toilet. He had not. So I decided to have a quick conversation with her.
“Why don’t you take him to a good doctor? I can recommend a very good friend of mine who is a psychologist”, I offered.
She gave a knowing smile.
“Actually we are just going back after consulting a doctor in Chennai”, she told.
“You see, Srikanth, just yesterday, underwent an operation in Sankara Nethralaya. After twenty four
years of darkness, he can finally see and experience colour in his life..."