The King’s Cross railway station in London is the heart of British railways. It connects London to all major cities in the United Kingdom. No wonder the British left behind such a good legacy of an efficient railway system in India. The Kalka-Shimla and Darjeeling railway lines, which we have not been able to expand least of all replicate elsewhere, stand testimony to my conviction.
London always beckons me and holds a different charm. May be one feels at home due to the common language, English. Apart from the fact that I have worked for a British multinational, it has a homecoming feeling that no other city can offer.
Leaving Frankfurt on the short flight to Heathrow, I was eager to meet my friend from IIT-Kharagpur, Nawal Kant. He had settled down in the UK after graduating in 1976. After completing masters and Phd from Manchester University, he joined General Electric, UK, in the nuclear power division. He is a technical director now, setting up nuclear power plants in India. In a way, paying back to his motherland. His hug gave me the assurance that Nawal had not changed in all these years in the UK. After the exchange of a few Punjabi jokes from old times, we were off to King’s Cross to catch the train to Manchester.
An old man wearing corduroy pants and a tweed jacket also boarded the train. He looked widely travelled. He exuded an old world char m. Before sliding his leather brief case under his seat, he took out lemonade and a sandwich. The train flagged out of the station and we were soon enjoying the English countryside. I ordered coffee and sandwiches for us. It was an endless exchange of life stories since our college days when we had met as teenagers, had become husbands and then fathers. We were back to small pranks we had played on each other. This time, the old man sitting across was the butt of our jokes.
The way he was relishing the sandwich reminded me of red-faced monkeys at Jakhu temple in Shimla, feeding on handouts from tourists. He didn’t seem to pay any attention to our conversation in Punjabi, or so we thought. We commented on how he resembled the monkeys of Shimla, busy eating, scratching and attacking.
A few jokes later, the train approached Birmingham station and the old man prepared to disembark. He smiled at us and said, “Yeh laal muh wala bandar aapko salam karta hai (This red-faced monkey salutes you)”. He was a retired Colonel from pre-independence British-Indian army and his last posting had been Shimla.
Saying “Hun mainu ijazat (Can I take your leave now),” he got off the train with the briefcase in hand. He had had the last laugh leaving us red in the face, but he made our day.