A Hindu and a Muslim boarded the train.
The Muslim, Sarkari Babu
The Hindu, Soldier
One, white skull-cap on head,
The other, red threads on left wrist.
And then there was me-
One Mute, Part-Time Atheist, Voyeur.
The train groaned to a start.
Cellphones beeped, goodbyes were said:
As-Salaam-Aleykum, khairiyat, Khudaah Haafiz....
Pranaam, yeah OK, bye......
The coach was AC.
Yet a heaviness rose in the air
And then settled:
And silence ruled
The world began flashing by:
The land framed in two Be-Tuf windows.
Cities, villages, stations;
Rivers, low hills and fields.....
Suddenly, the Soldier said,
'Our country is so green,'
More to himself than to anybody else.
Yet the Babu turned his head
Listening, eyes shining.
'The green of our country,'
The Soldier finished softly,
'Is the most beautiful.........!'
(I snorted inwards.
What of the Amazonian emerald green?
Of the Barrier's turquoise green?)
The train paused just then.
A flock of grey-blue animals pranced into view.
'Nilgai!' explained the sage Old Man.
'Really!!' smiled the delighted Young Man
'Have you seen the peacocks
When they descend in flocks?'
The Old Man queried, smiling.
'You know, the Peacock, our National Bird?
The Young Man smiled back.
The train chugged to life again.
The two men gazed out at their Land
Framed in two Be-Tuf windows.
And in their eyes,
I saw it dance-
(Have they turned up the AC?
It was cool inside,
As if Basant
Had seeped in from outside.
And the clattering train sang to me-