When you travel alone, half of the time you are observing people. You watch the naughty kids playing and running around, men discussing seemingly important issues and these days, people working on or fiddling with their phones. You see, observing people is the most fascinating aspect of traveling alone, at least for me. I can spend hours looking at people at airports, railways stations and bus stops, and I am never bored of it. There are many stories associated with these journeys, but there is one that is etched in my memory permanently.
It happened in 2007, I was coming back from Ludhiana on a passenger train. The otherwise overcrowded general compartment was nearly empty that day. Ludhiana is a big industrial town and there is a huge population of laborers who have come there from Bihar and UP to earn their livelihood. And when they head back home for vacation, they take a passenger train to Ambala and then another train back home from there. Ambala is a big junction and many long route trains start from there. It was late in the evening in May but the heat was unbearable. I was working on a legal case and was busy taking notes from a thick file when two kids and their mother came and sat next to me. I didn’t look at them, but I could make out that they were trying to settle down in from the corner of my eye. They made no noise, quite unlike the kids of their age. Even their heavy accented Bihari Hindi was polite, with a few English words here and there. They were speaking in a very low tone, hardly audible. In short, they were very refined and well behaved. Few minutes later their father came with a polybag and a Hindi newspaper. When I saw a newspaper in his hands, I was very amused. I never saw a laborer reading paper during his train journey before. He had two water bottles, a couple of packets of biscuits and chips. He gave the biscuits to his kids, a boy and a girl. They finished it instantly and father took the wrappers and tucked it in the side pocket of their bag. It was a treat to watch them, behaving far better than most educated families who trash public properties.
When we were an hour into our journey, the boy asked for the chips packet. His mother gave it to him and asked him to share it with his sister. Both started eating the chips, but they had some sibling fight and the boy pushed her. It looked pretty normal to me, but to their father, it was not acceptable. He asked the boy to leave the packet with his sister and come to him. He obeyed and then, his father told him why he should never push his sister or any other girl. He told him that Hindus worship girls as goddess and if he will not respect them, there is no point in going to school. He then told the boy to apologize to his sister. It may sound normal to many but I have seen parents protecting their sons, giving them special treatment and overlooking their mistakes. But when I witnessed a Bihari laborer explaining his son that women should be respected, I seriously felt that things were beginning to change in our country. It was a beautiful experience to watch them teaching manners and values to their kids in a country where most forget it as soon as they step out of their houses.
I met only one such father, but I hope there are many more fathers like him who are teaching such valuable lessons to their sons. It is one incident I can never forget and it fills my heart with hope, love and cheer.