I had belatedly taken up the task of telling you a certain unforgettable journey I happened to make last week, but given my habit, expended an almost 800 word background before coming to what it was that made the trip significant….. but I feel it is important for all of you, dear readers, to understand the context. Only then will you relish the account.
However let me get back to the topic. I had reached the point when the train finally left, and unlike other times, I forebore my customary position at the door till the train was out of the environs of the railway station, despite not knowing when I would see it again — given the recent sordid happenings. However, that is a tale I would hardly like to share, so let get back to the one I am sharing.
As I had told you, there was a single co-passenger, and as I went and settled on the comfy berth opposite him, we made some chitchat about it was bare necessity that made us travel first class, as we waited for the ticket-inspector to come and perform his duty and then leave us to our own devices.
As we got chatting, my passenger revealed his background – an ex-army officer, now making a living as a corporate executive. Somehow the fact I was a journalist didn’t come as a surprise to him – perhaps, no, well it was the safari jacket I was wearing as he pointed out himself. Then I started recounting my career covering the beat, further cementing the bond. In the meantime, came the railway official on his appointed task.
This gentleman turned out to be stately Chief Inspector of Tickets named Amir Ullah, whose voice and diction gave away the fact that he was of Avadh. As he checked my co-passenger’s ticket, his eyes fell on my book (Fasana-e-Ajaib, as I had told you, one which I had transliterated a considerable part of for your enjoyment, and wanted to read a few chapters ahead out of curiousity how it was going to turn out). When my turn came, I noticed he kept on making glances of wonder at it, and finally could not restrain himself. He said (I am sorry I do not remember the exact words he used due to my lassitude – see the first part of this post but I will offer you a gist) that he found it quite impressive to see someone reading a book like that, and that too, on a journey.
The rail official maintained it was rare to see people read Urdu books, and my co-passenger made the usual comment about Urdu disappearing. It was time for me to advance the usual arguments about the presence of scores of Urdu words in our common vocabulary, covering living, health, law and order, justice and so on (A full list is available on request). However, Ameerullah returned to his fascination about Fasana-e-Ajaib, but in tru Lakhnavi style, he observed I should rest and we could talk later. He then withdrew.
We both settled back on our berths, I read a few pages of an interesting book containing trivia, but had soon drifted off to sleep. I must have nappped for an hour or so, and suddenly woke up to find the train halted. I stumbled out, screwing my eyes in the sudden sunshine after the dim lighting in our plush coach, to find we had crossed the river Ganga to enter the Doab from Avadh and were at Kanpur station. Ameer sahab was on the platform and as I stepped down, greeted me and ordered one of the pantry staff serving tea to give me a cup.
He then asked me to tell him about Mir Amman, which he recalled reading years back but had forgotten, and then what qasidas were called in English. Just having woken up and rushed out, my antenna was fully up… I couldn’t hear it properly and gogged at him in the sunshine and asked him to repeat it. He did but I couldn’t still make it out and he kindly elaborated to tell me it was what Sauda wrote. Diatribe, panegyric, sonnet and for some strange reason, linnet were the words that rushed through my brain but the correct word eluded me. I stalled by instead telling him about Mir Amman while I racked my brains otherwise.
It was well after the train started ….
To be continued….