My First Train Journey Alone
I think the year was 1942, I was only 12 and in the sixth grade in a high school in Karachi. After two year of repeated asking I had finally been allowed to travel alone to our joint family home in a town called Jaranwala in Punjab. The total distance from my Karachi to the destination was about 1400 kilometers. I was to change trains twice. The time of my dream had come; I was in the train alone, exited and happy as a lark.
I was in the 3rd class, the lowest of four in those days. The coach had two sections; each had four unpadded wooden benches fitted lengthwise. A luggage rack was provided above the benches. I was in the middle bench facing Southside windows. To my right sat a Sindhi young lady who, as I overheard her conversation with a fellow passenger, was a teacher in Karachi’s most prestigious English medium Grammar School. She was going to Hyderabad about 5 hours away.
Her name was Usha. She was friendly to me and two other children sitting nearby. It turned out that all three of us were from Hindi medium schools and had just begun to learn English as a foreign language. She made friends with us and asked if we would like to speak in English with her. We talked mainly in Hindi but used a few words of English we had learned. One of the boys bragged a bit too highly and Usha madam asked me, “Do you think he is telling the truth.” I understood, but could not think of correct English answer and said, “He speak wrong.” Usha corrected me, “You might say, he is lying; or more politely, he is exaggerating.” All of us liked Usha didi and we conversed a lot during our time together. We not only learned many new English words from her but also a strong interest in the language itself.
After changing trains twice I finally reached Jaranwala. My cousins had come to the station to receive me. We were happy to see each other. I was the happiest because they praised me for coming alone and made me feel like a hero. My younger cousin Raghunath (two years younger) showed his amazement at my feat all over his face. I became his idol and he trailed me wherever I went. He went with me even to the canal where he knew he was not permitted to go without adult supervision. My ability to swim raised my stature even higher in his eyes. He did not believe me when I told him I had learned to swim alone without permission of parents.
One morning I was taking a bath. A Nepali servant boy about my age was priming the hand pump. To attract my attention he joked and laughed as he pumped and often skipped pumping. I was not used to servants in the house and thought that servants were supposed implicitly to obey their masters. When he ignored my repeated calls, I got up and hit him. He began to howl which attracted my uncle to the scene. My uncle quietly settled the dispute and later gently reprimanded and told me that I should not have hit a servant who was just a child like me. I felt very embarrassed and the lesson got permanently engraved in my head.
I went on long hikes with my cousin Raghunath and engaged in many other contraband actions like stealing fruit from an orchard and sugar cane and carrots from the fields. We watched birds and climbed trees to peep over their nests. When I visited Raghunath a couple of years ago we remembered these and many other daring exploits of our boyhood days.
I immensely enjoyed the visit and for the rest of my life learned to like small town living. I also thank my father for letting me travel alone at such a young age.
April 28, 2007