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Train to Mumbai

A chance encounter with a Miss India contestant makes this writer feel both like villain and tragic hero of the tale.
None | By Kartikey Sehgal
UPDATED ON APR 06, 2008 03:01 AM IST

An attractive Miss India contestant sat opposite my seat on our way to Mumbai from Indore. My relatives, dozens of them scattered in different compartments of the train, all wanted to catch a glimpse of this light-eyed beauty, and took turns to sit next to me.

Those who didn’t have the courage to sit and talk to her, just passed by, smiling at me and glancing at her.

A relative arrived at our seat. With his face pointing towards the girl he enquired about my health. He asked me if I was doing fine and whether I would be interested in visiting his part of the train anytime soon. I assured him about my health and the relative comfort of my seat.

Some relatives and some perfect strangers became unusually friendly with me, patted my back and smiled gleefully. Since I was the only one close to her age, I became the unwitting medium to get closer to her. Strangely, some middle-aged women, too, were stirred by the maiden.

Now, the hero (I), a tad embarrassed with the oldies, tried to involve the maiden in a talk on the finer things of life... like literature. Away from the hypocritical world of deceitful men and judicious mothers, we could sail on in our boat and discuss the world around us.

Alas. She decided I was boring and started talking with the women, who praised her courage and wisdom in pursuing her dreams and showered her with limitless praise.

She declared that men who talk “concepts” do so only to impress girls. Still, she was surprised that I had not done what men normally do, that is, talk ‘light’ and praise the girl’s beauty. Behind every intelligent conversation, she continued, lay a man waiting to get his hands on the girl. I protested against the stereotype but she was not convinced. I was really only interested in her physical beauty, she said, and the rest was unimportant.

The women in the compartment chuckled approvingly.

I gave up, thinking it was best to read a book. However, it was declared that I was reading the book to impress the lady.

She left the train after receiving blessings for her Miss India mission. The relatives who blessed her would frown if their daughters had a male friend or entered a beauty pageant. They would happily say that girls in India were choosing unconventional careers, as long as their daughters were in ‘proper’ streams.

And the only person in the train who gave credence to the pretty woman’s mind was sidelined.

Whether she wins the contest or not, let’s hope she widens her horizon about people — and men. I hope she doesn’t tell the judge, “You are asking me too many questions. You just want to impress me.”

(Kartikey Sehgal, a journalism graduate from St Xavier’s, is currently pursuing an MA in English Literature)

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