Saturday, November 22, 2008


Life is one long journey beginning from birth and ending in death. But this Great Journey is the sum total of all the smaller journeys , comprising man's achievements ,accomplishments , failures and successes. It is not on one such journey that I write today but on a much simpler and pleasurable one.

The incident dates back to the year 2003 when the Mumbai blasts rocked the nation. A student of mine had shifted his base from Mumbai to Jamshedpur. It was just a week that he had joined my classes. In one of the language sessions, I gave an assignment to my students, in which they had to write an account of any experience they may have had of communal harmony. What one child wrote deserves merit and I shall narrate his experience in his person.

" I live in the outskirts of the throbbing and the bustling city of Mumbai. Our vacation for the 'Ganapati Mahotsav' had started ; the atrocities of the Mumbai blasts were smarting in our hearts and minds ; we were still reeling under the horrific trance of the incident .Yet life did not stop but went on. We were a group of ten to twelve boys who travelled to school by local trains and then took buses to reach our destinations.
They were long journeys indeed and difficult ones, I swear. But we were brave hearts. On this particular day when we were travelling back home from school,with great relief that we would get respite from this cumbersome journey for a brief period - we decided to celebrate. So we began to sing ; from the peppy numbers of Himesh, Mica, Abhijit sawant and Daler Mehendi to the old numbers of Kishore Kumar. We tried to compensate our lack of musical talent with our volume and vigour. I wish I could freeze those moments!It was an amazing feeling as the train crossed one station after another.

But our fellow travellers were least amused. A few smirked, some smiled okay. Most were irritated. An impudent uncle even remarked," This is where the tomorrows of our nation are heading towards. The moment they get an opportunity they start wiling it away . A bunch of disoriented fellows. That's what they are."
One disgruntled gentleman ordered us to stop our cacaphony ANON!

We stopped. Not because of the hysterical command but because of a voice. Another voice ! But this time a softer and a more soothing one. In a reflex action we all turned our heads to see from where the voice generated. Only after straining our eyes and craning our necks in the crowded compartment, did we finally spot him . He was a short, frail man, probably in his mid-fifties, who had managed to squeeze inside the train with an 'ektara' in his hand. You guessed it right . He was a minstrel.

"Another singer!" "Oh no, not again!" exclaimed two hopeless passengers. Those who had turned their heads resumed their work. Some slid behind their newspapers. Some feigned sleep. The hapless minstrel must have pretended to be oblivious of all these initial apathy because he began to sing . He sang the popular Kishore Kumar number 'Zindagi ka safar, hai ye kaisa safar'. No sooner had he finished the line than every head voluntarily turned again. This time not in disdain or in indignation. Not even in reluctance. Their heads had turned inadvertantly. Their ears became receptive. Men who were posing to be engrossed in the newspapers now looked up. The sleepy ones opened their eyes. A mother who was hushing her infant to fall asleep by droning a lullaby stopped droning , when her neighbour glared at her indicating her to shut her mouth.

The man continued to sing. One after another he delivered such soulful numbers that we , in fact, joined in too. The whole compartment sang in unison because most songs were very popular. Then he sang the last song , as we approached our destination. This one, he said, was composed by him. It was a very moving lyric where a father was looking for his lost son in a crowd. When it was over, MOST of us had our eyes moist. Then he requested us to join him to sing 'Vande Mataram'. The national song , came alive, as everyone, the young and the old ; the men and the women, the stoics and the flippants , lent voices.The compartment reverberated with an energy that was so profound, so pure , so poignant. It was a veritable mini India. For the next few moments we forgot our sorrows, the blasts, the missing ones, the dead. Many people from the adjoining compartments left theirs to see what was happening in ours. This impromptu vocal ensemble, this medley of voices and this unity of spirit was REAL, was INDELIBLE. Its glory became clearest to me when I saw the impudent uncle chime along , with tears in his eyes.
The power and the impact of this moment will remain with me forever.
The train stopped. Our terminus had come.We got down.

Then someone from the crowd cried out aloud to the minstrel, who was standing behind me, scampering patiently for some space to move ahead, "ASALAAM WALE KUM, Noor Salim!"

Noor salim reciprocated, "WALE KUM ASALAAM , Hari bhai". "