At the commencement of this year around six months ago, I was travelling back to Hyderabad from Calcutta. As always with that route of travel, I was a little depressed to leave home and loved ones again toward a city I didn’t like. Thankfully the feeling didn’t last long because it were the ultimate time I would be travelling on that route. We were scheduled to move from Hyderabad to Pune in a few days upon our return from Calcutta, and that at least brought a streak of joy inside me. Normally when I travel by Indian Railways, I pray silently for a lower berth after booking the ticket. The God of Railways doesn’t like me much though. It has been a middle or upper berth for me each time I have travelled in the last three years. This last time turned out to be different, as the Gods were moved by my sufferings and I was granted a lower berth. A happy me arrived at the station for boarding and checked the passenger list, just in case. To my disappointment, the co-passengers in my coupe were three elderly people, an octogenarian gentleman, a septuagenarian lady and another gentleman just shy of being a senior citizen.
I was a little upset, yes. At the same time I and my husband prepared ourselves to offer the comfort to them. Being in my thirties, I am still capable of keeping my claustrophobia (of middle berth) in control than forcing the elderly into discomfort. We enjoyed the limited sprawl of lower berths for about two hours until the train reached Jamshedpur and our senior co-passengers boarded the coupe. I was half expecting a frail couple considering their ages on the chart, but was greeted with amazing smiles from two surprisingly agile people. The gentleman was the quintessential Bengali silver-haired grandpa with a permanent smile in his eyes, and the lady resembled my mother more than grandma. We promptly offered them both the lower berths that we had, as they panted for breath after running a long way to board the correct coupe. Their companion for the journey was a distant relative who was evidently very fond of them. It didn’t take much time to strike a conversation in Bengali, and then there was no dam to hold the free-flowing adda.
After lunch, everyone took their turns to rest. Grandpa changed into comfortable clothes and lied down on the lower berth. We had been noticing a queer bag that was strapped to his waist with sort of a belt. It didn’t seem like a travel pouch and made everyone curious. One of our co-passengers couldn’t hold back his inquisitiveness and inquired about the pouch. What we listened to thereafter was beyond our imaginations. Grandpa had fallen sick a year ago, he had a severe colon and intestine infection. Their only son lives in USA, who flew them over to Boston for ‘better’ treatment. The American doctors however rest their case and declared it impossible to treat him. Apparently, the infection was more severe than they had suspected. The couple returned to India with their son and visited a premiere hospital in Hyderabad on recommendation from friends. The extremely competent team of doctors removed his intestine surgically and saved his life in the process. They stitched a disposable pouch to his abdomen where the fecal matter from his body would accumulate in absence of an intestine. However, the pouch had to be replaced by a new one every few months. Since it wasn’t possible for their son to visit India every time they needed to travel Hyderabad for a check-up, the couple had decided to travel on their own. The accompanying gentleman had very graciously offered to escort them as they were growing older with each passing year.
We were astounded, all of us in the coupe and a few people peeping from other berths. Not only the gravity of their situation was profound, the elderly couple’s courage and endurance was infinitely inspiring. While we pondered on and then saluted grandpa’s vitality and will power to survive, he kept on saying with a gorgeous smile, “I’m only a young man of eighty.” The journey which would otherwise have been boring, remained one of the most memorable journeys of my life. Whenever I’m bogged down by adversities, the angelic smile and twinkle in the eyes of a silver-haired young man reminds me a precious lesson of endurance and hope that I learned from him.