I was travelling from Delhi's Hazrat Nizamuddin station to Ujjain in train 2416. The train started on 22 Jan, and was supposed to reach Mathura at 12:00 AM (Jan 23rd), however thanks to the dense fog, the train trailed for some 9 hrs in the vast swathes of "NOWHERE" and brought us to Mathura at 9 AM the morning. I had some how seen this coming and had bought a thick novel to keep my company. The book was my plan B, for most part I tried to sleep all the time and pretended I was not interested in all the chit chat going around me.
Strangely, people are not so talkative in trains on short distance journeys, usually, until they learn that they would be stuck with the strangers sitting next to them for the next 10-12 hours in daytime. With people from so many different backgrounds, religions, linguistic communities and castes (I was about to learn one more difference) all sorts of talks begin flying around.
There was this red mehendi dyed hair old punjabi lady who was amazed at MP culture and all the excitement among passengers who were eager for Nagda station to come; to satiate their collective hungers for poha, kachori and sanchi srikhand.
There was this "Indori Bhiyao" gentleman, now a production manager with some manufacturing firm in Ludhiana accusing the Punjabis to be hostile to outsiders in Ludhiana. There was also this other girl now doing her MBA from MDI Gurgaon (and I over heard that she was a junior from my college for engineering). And she got a lot of uncalled-for advice from this gentleman about why an MBA after BE, and about wasting her BE degree. I am sure she would have paid any amount to escape from the train. There were three more boys all from finance / banking background in awe about life in US. And they too got a thrashing from this gentleman who sincerely believed Indians only did menial jobs in US and told lies back here about their riches.
I had an overpowering urge to jump right in and defend the girl, the three boys, and beat this gentleman black and blue in a verbal duel. But I restrained myself. I would be fighting a war that was not mine for the next 8 hours or so. And also it would have proved that I was over hearing them all this while.
None of these people were in my compartment. My own compartment was strange in the fact that it did have quite a few talkative fellows, but with friends sitting elsewhere. There was this man from UP, apparently with a big brother in IAS, and kept rambling about him all the time. There were two working class youth who were busy in their laptops, having private jokes about their office colleagues in Mumbai. Three middle-aged punjabi men, business class, who had a wise view about everything. And a teen doing his MA in Political Science from DU. All of them tried to befriend me, but given my sleepy ways, gave up after a while. I was still secretly listening to all their talk. However, soon, all of them disappeared to where their friends were respectively. To my satisfaction I was left to myself.
Then just me and one other very quite fellow were left in the area. Seeing all people gone, and Ujjain coming near, his two other friends who were sleeping on top births came down and joined him. They were talking in a very strange language. And except the quite fellow (who could blend in the crowd) the other two had distinct features. They were tall, had rugged looks, and coarse and long hair. They were all apparently in much agony because of this unexpected delay.
Curious I striked a conversation with them, with some innocent questions. They were on a long journey, as they told me. Before the train they were on a flight that got delayed as well. They told me they were from "foreign". Their Hindi was pretty bad, but they were able to manage small broken sentences. Curious as I was, I implored them further, to which one of them declared, we are from "Pakistan". I gulped down my shock, and asked "Sindh eh?". He said yes. We only had small talk after that. I did not want to appear shocked / rude at least to their faces.
All the images of Mumbai terror attacks, the violence in Kashmir, and the bombings of Delhi flashed through my eyes. And yet I could see the average Pakistani sitting next to me, coming to India to meet his relatives, attend a marriage perhaps. The contrast was so real and yet so hard to imagine for me.
Before I had any more chance to talk to them, Ujjain came. He (the one who declared they were from "Pakistan") noticed that I was packing and bid me good-bye. We shook hands and exchanged smiles. It (this meeting) brought a strange feeling. Something I would remember for months to come.
I got down from the train. And then it striked me, not a single person in that talkative crowd brought up subjects of recent firing along the Indo-Pak international border, Ajmal Kasb, the humiliation of Pak players in IPL, the possibility of an Indo-Pak war. Subjects which usually end with sentences like "lets nuke them once and far all". And I thanked god, for we would have been much embarrased later, all facts not withstanding, as we still should be playing good hosts to our visitors.
Having met the average Pakistani, I wondered, is it time for "Aman ki Asha". Though personally I am more opposed to the idea. Only the debate has now intensified within me.