“Pronam kore aai, Baba ke (go and touch your father’s feet)” mother said in Bengali, just as I was about to leave home, and was climbing down the stairs, to head to Howrah station to board the Coramandel Express back to Chennai from Calcutta.
“Why do you always do this?” I snapped, as it’s one of those things that irritate me – as she’s reminded me for the last ten years since Baba passed and I left home. Ma has instructed us sisters to do ‘pronam’ to Baba when alive, at every opportunity. “Why do you have to say this…Baba lives with me as well, and I have the very same picture as you do – in Chennai, so why do I touch his feet here?”
Yet, as I tend to humour her in spite of cribbing, also as I was leaving, I climbed back up the stairs and touched Baba’s feet on his large picture, Ma has mounted at all times on her bedside table. I’ve always done this to please her, but for the first time, I sincerely asked Baba to keep me safe and well in life, especially on the journey, and then rushed down, got into the car. After driving ten minutes or so, I recalled leaving my keys hanging right off my cupboard. So I instructed the driver to turn back, then vividly recalled my stress as always during departures from home, due to Ma’s getting worked up and the resultant nagging over little things such as the ‘pronam’ to Baba.
After placing the cupboard keys safely in my hand bag, I strode down without answering Ma’s question – “what happened, which key?” Listening to the last round of Calcutta FM on the ride, I was looking forward to another soulful, eventful experience, as on the journey to Calcutta – what with the book thief. I was also tensed about getting to the Station on time, dressed in my special train wear – a lose kurta with a pair of stretch jogging tights – to clamber up and down the two-tier bunk, my feet in slip-ons, but the most essential part – a pair of glasses that give me an intellectual, unattractive look, so I can safely peer at those around me with a sense of personal safety; my hair tied off my face to add to the sternness of look, no trace of make-up obviously.
In spite of leaving well over an hour early, due to heavy traffic congestion from election rallies on every other stretch of road, I could not board the train. It had departed half an hour prior to my dogged determination to get on to it – would have me look down the empty platform dejectedly, even rush to the enquiry counter to ascertain what time it had actually rolled out. This was the first time in life I had missed a train or flight due to delay in my reaching, though I did miss a flight once very strangely from right inside the Calcutta departure hall, as I had missed hearing the announcement, then paid a fortune to get on the next one.
Even as I returned home, reserved a seat online on a flight to Chennai, I vividly sensed Baba smiling at me, with a smugness I recognised from his once charming smile, that I was not on that train. It’s true, if he were alive he would have desisted my travelling alone on this twenty-seven hours train journey, in spite of the romanticism around it I might have tried to convince him of. More so, in Ma’s room, where she’s kept his spirit alive all these years – in her heart and mind, I had asked Baba to guard me on the journey. Now I suddenly realised the uncanny difference between his powers in Ma’s room (the bedroom they shared) from anywhere else in the world.
Ma relieved at seeing me back, as she had called a few times on my ride, to find out at which point I was, knew I had missed boarding the train. Even as I blamed her for this mishap, for missing the train due to her nagging me, she defended herself calmly, then quickly brought the money for my flight tomorrow, on learning how much I had spent online, placed it earnestly in my hand. The look she gave me read – I may be old, but I’m still your mother.
Now with this couple – my parents, still much alive emotionally to each other let me tell you, how was I ever going to get on that train alone, if they could help it? One has supernatural powers now and the other a boldness of spirit that she will take along to meet him again someday.