A railway journey serves as a platform for creating a feeling of oneness among our countrymen. Diverse cultures in our country need no introduction. People from throughout the country travel together just as family, with the compartment serving as a cosy home. By the time a long railway journey ends, people have made new pals, exchanged addresses, made promises and sometimes the search for a suitable match for their children ends on the train.
Apart from promoting national integration, sometimes such a journey acts as a mirror to the complexities and ironies woven in human lives.
I was returning to Chandigarh from an official visit to Mumbai a few years back. The train had just left the sweltering Andheri station. The movement brought a whiff of fresh air. The passengers had settled down after adjusting their luggage. Now the only suffocation was that of silence, which didn't last long; somebody soon broke the ice, the feeling of strangeness melted away, and the journey took off.
After the formal queries, the conversations were on the usual Indian track - politics, cricket, soaring prices, stock markets, slamming government policies and so on. Soon we found our conversations being interrupted by melodious voices and musical tunes wafting from a nearby compartment in the same bogie.
The voices were lyrical and honed. People in no time started listening to the notes and commenting on the sur-taal. People going to the toilet began halting at the 'musical' compartment before returning to their seats.
With my curiosity getting the better of me, I got up, waded through the passengers' luggage and staggered to that compartment to see the mysterious singers. Many passengers had gathered there for enjoying a free musical recital. It was a musical group going to perform at a concert in New Delhi. All artistes were young but skilled. Their agile fingers played on the keyboards and strings of musical instruments with great panache and their voices were just mellifluous. By now, several passengers were humming to their tunes.
The young performers must have felt proud by judging their admirers all around. But they could not read the expressions on their faces. Nor could the artistes see the glint of appreciation in the eyes of their fans. Ironically, the young artistes happened to be blind.