How often does it happen that an ugly, filthy, impoverished and overcrowded railway station, one like that in Old Delhi, gives you an experience that you can relish and feel somewhat contented with?
Isn’t it true that we often try to look for towering and larger than life figures to draw some inspiration from? In this endeavor, we often don’t even entertain the thought that ordinary mortals (the ones who don’t carry the extra baggage of name, fame and glamour with them) can also leave a profound impact on our otherwise mundane life. And when we find one, they no longer remain ordinary for us.
I was on my way to Haldwani (a foothill town in Uttarakhand) to visit my aunt for a couple of days. My train, the Ranikhet Express was scheduled at 10:40 p.m., so I started well in advance from my room in Hauz Khas (New Delhi). Like any other day, the Metro was jam packed with it’s never ending commuters. There was the usual push and pull. The excuse me’s. The Sorrys…
I reached the station at around 10 p.m. Seeing that there were still 40 odd minutes for my train, I decided to have a nomadic stroll down the platform. I purchased a can of juice and out of the blue I saw a white man with the looks of a ‘sadhu’ — long hair, an even longer beard. Two simple white pieces of cloth adorned his body. I was interested, so I walked up to him and offered a friendly chat to which he agreed.
Where are you going? (I excitedly asked him.)
Where are you from?
How long have you been in India?
The last 8 years!
What caught your eyes that made you stay here for 8 years?
Ahh… it’s very interesting. So many people, so many things. I like what one can see and feel here. Here you live in families that look like families. When there are so many people, you get to learn so many things from them.
Which are the places you have been to in India?
For these eight years I have been travelling. I have been mainly in the south. Been to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra. I like Karnataka. Then I have been to Rishikesh. Been to Mumbai for 3-4 days, but I’ll go there again. Then I have been to Kathmandu and Pokhra in Nepal. There are so many other places I want to go to. I am fascinated by the North-East, especially Assam. I’ve heard lots about it. I will be going to Gujarat and Rajasthan shortly.
Why are you going to Haldwani?
I have to go to the bordering town of Banbasa in Nepal. Actually, as per visa rules, once in every six months I have to go outside India. So, I am going there just to complete the formalities. It’s sufficient if I stay there for 24 hrs.
What is your profession?
Ahh… I was a businessman. I saved my earnings so that I could travel around later.
Who else is there in your family?
I have a very small family. I have a brother, his wife and his daughter. That’s it. (He said something more which I couldn’t make out due to his ascent and neither did I insist on his repeating it.)
Did you ever think of getting married?
(Smiles) No, never.
What is your experience with Hinduism being in India for so long?
It is very interesting. To me it is something that allows you to see and understand the world in a better way.
Have you been through any of our holy scriptures?
No, but I have been to some asharams in Rishikesh and also in the south.
(Realising that I haven’t asked his name so far, I asked.)
What’s your name?
Ghy (Pronounced as “gee”. A French name)
In the eight years of your stay in India, what was the darkest experience you had that you would never like to have again?
(After a long pause) There has been no such thing. Every time I get to learn something or the other. You see this crowd around, the chaos in the metro train…everything, I enjoy it. Five years ago when I used the Delhi Metro, no one used it and today it is overcrowded. See how things, the society changes. You won’t see this in the west. There people are very individualistic. They live in their own world. Aren’t bothered about what is happening to others. Everything, every place is devoid of people; devoid of feelings.
Have you been following the presidential elections in your country?
I am not bothered anymore about it now. Now I am a free man.
The best experience you had so far in India?
Oh…! There are so many. I can’t count them. It is very difficult to rank them 1,2,3…
How long will you stay here?
My visa is ending in two years so I have to travel more and more. Though I can extend it for two more years, but I will stay as long as I am not full of seeing and learning from it. If required I’ll extend it further. Time is no bar.
At the end if you go back to France, what will be your message to the west?
Hmm… I will not say much, just tell them to come here once and experience it themselves. Because no matter how great I talk about it, experiencing it themselves will be a different thing. Every person has his own views and perceptions. All I can say is come here, see things, experience them and learn.
Soon the engine whistled and his coach B1 arrived. I wished I could have continued a bit longer. We departed by shaking hands and bade good bye to each other.
We are now approaching Hapur. It is 12:30 a.m. and the cool soothing wind is slapping my face. I feel slightly more learned and experienced than my previous self about my own world, my own society. That there lies a lamp of hope and joy under every commotion. That there is fun in the messy crowd. That the push and pull in the Metro has its own fun and joy. That waiting for your train for an hour when mosquitoes are constantly drawing your blood, your nose is blocked with an awful smell, you are sweating at your best… as Ghy says is also an experience and fun to be part of!
There may be many more Ghys whom I ought to meet and interact with; not to learn something very new but more to rediscover the lost and forgotten ‘me’, my society and my country.
The mind can be free, and the head can be held high, only when we break the barriers of our visual fanaticism and search and cherish the latent joy, that lies behind every commotion, under every chaos, as Ghy probably has done!
Thinking and writing all this, I am taken back to my school days in Shillong and can feel the beautiful prayer that we sang with lots of pomp and joy, in our tender years— with no draconian worries and tension— ringing in my ears…
“Beautiful eyes are they that see
Only the good in you and me
Peering through tears of sympathy
Beautiful eyes are they….”
- (This article was published in Garhwal Post on 09 May, 2012. The official link is http://garhwalpost.in/gupshup_details.php?nid=ghup_65 )