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The Old Man and Wife

– A Runner-Up Prize Winning Entry in ‘Around the World with Expedia!’ contest –

Toy Train, Shimla

The toy-train to Shimla braves the wind and rain to carry passengers to the lovely hill-town.

The toy-train ride to Shimla is quite an experience. The narrow-gauge rail snakes around hills and valleys and you need to slide windows to prevent a wild bush from scratching your cheeks. However, the experience gets some ‘flavoured’ fervour when you have a seat right next to the train loo. I got a chance to go through as much while travelling to the lovely Himachal capital years ago.

For one, the loo was very basic – devoid of fancy fresheners, if you please – and for a second, it wasn’t scaled up to cater to a dozen full bladders. I covered my face with a handkerchief every time someone opened the door and a whiff of air brought in fresh perfume. The old lady sitting opposite us offered a tissue to her old man. I looked at her keenly as she tugged at the sides of her black handbag.

“I had no idea we would get such bad seats…”, she sounded upset, “you aren’t even able to enjoy the view.”

“Never mind,” the old man chuckled, “at least you are safeguarded from the scent, tucked in your corner seat!”

I smiled. The old man – at least a good seventy years of age – was dressed in a sporty tee and pants, both too loose for his frail body. The lady on her part, had on a sombre sari.

They caught me staring and the man grinned. “Nice tee I am wearing, am I not? I told Mala that I am not too old for these yet.”

The lady gave me a conscious smile. “Beta, he has a little problem of asthma. But he did not heed me one bit when I advised against coming to the hills. You know all this huffing and puffing at this age-“

“Tch.” said the old man. “If not now, when will I see the mountains? And dine at a Mac Donald’s?” he rolled his eyes. “When I grow old?”

The couple, originally from Punjab, was out to vacation in Shimla and then go up to Manali. The old man wanted to pick blossoms from the ‘Valley of Flowers’ and present them to his wife, ride a horse at Kufri and get pictures clicked and finally dig into chicken at an open-roof restaurant. The lady nodded her head all through but managed to put in a word about returning home soon.

Bahu has a hard time bathing the little one…” she began, but was brushed aside with a scowl.

“I think it is high time you visit a Turkish bath yourself.” the man turned to me. “Beta, our bahu works in her office from morning to night and hasn’t a worry in her head. All very good for our son who has been dying to invest in a house but all the time I get with Mala is when she is serving us food at night.”

The lady looked uncomfortable and fidgeted with her bag again. The man went on.

“Now they have a little son…”, his eyes lit up, “wonderful boy he is. I scoop him up in my arms and point to the bough outside, where the koel sits and sings.” he paused for breath. “But I miss the time when my Mala would sing for me and no koels could dream of vying with her.”

The toy-train took a steep turn, bringing us closer to the conifers and sweeping skies of Shimla. A gust of wind, sprightly and mischievous, danced about our compartment. Smile, it seemed to say.

“Where are you putting up in Shimla?” I asked the couple, partly to put the dear lady at ease.

“He has booked us a hotel in Mall Road. Said a travel website did it all for him. The tariffs are outrageous but then, so is he.” the lady shook her head. “You know beta, I took his medicines to him this morning and he threw them away when I wasn’t looking.”

The old man turned defensive. “How can you say that? I drank them all up like a good boy. And the deal we got, by the way, was the best you can have.” He looked at me. “Beta, she is miffed because I brought bahu in question. But you tell me, is it wrong if I ensure she gets a break sometimes? You know, for instance, pamper her hair and mine?”

“Oh be rest assured.” the dear lady now sounded chirpy. “Your head massage with oil will not be forgotten.”

I laughed. “Make sure you sing for Dadaji this time. Then I am sure he won’t throw tantrums about his medicines.”

Evening, Shimla

The lights come out in the hill-town as evening rapidly turns into night.

Evenings in Shimla are a delight. The good-looking shawls come out of closets and thela-wallas gear up for the day’s hot snacks. Bhutta, samosas, tikkis, you name it. The streets light up with neon and laughter and the valleys of Kalka below, sport glittery beads of various shades. As I walked down a lane, I spotted the couple in a restaurant. Open roof, festive and bright. The old man was tapping his feet to the lively music. His wife was looking around with awed eyes. She smiled when a waiter came along with a big tray of steaming food.

Even in Shimla’s twilight chill, my heart warmed. It does even now when I think about the couple – chattering and teasing and perked up about their big holiday. If it was their desire to spend a few fleeting moments together that first drew me to them, it is now more. Over time, I have realized the importance of a loved one’s reassurance on a stormy day. The very belief that come what may, frail or frayed, love will never grow old… I tell you, the feeling is splendid.

Discovering new alleys together is certainly one of life’s little pleasures; it never fails to surprise me how every new street we walk down has new tales to uncover. Somewhere there will be an old man like him with an undying spirit of adventure. A lady like her, adept at suppressing desires and dreams, out to relive moments of togetherness. A town perhaps, withdrawn yet beautiful, promising the moon and actually sending it over in a ribbon-ed package.

And probably, someone like you, waiting to listen to a tale and tell a few of yours.

♦♦

Expedia

*Written as a part of “Around the world with Expedia!” contest on Indiblogger. Brand ‘Expedia’ – the one word for travel – is not new for the travellers among us and that, is no mean number. I wonder if the Punjabi pair I met was assisted by Expedia. :)

To read more entries to this splendid drive, and spread some love on mine, go here.

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About Deboshree

~D.B. The one who loves to cook up abstract stories about all and sundry.

46 responses »

  1. Treeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeat!! :)

    Reply
  2. Sweet romantic story excellently narrated with nice appropriate pictures. Congrats on the expedia consolation prize.

    Reply
  3. Congrats on being a winner in this contest, Deboshree :-)

    Reply
  4. Nice post Debs, and lovely pictures too!!

    Reply
  5. This has been fantastically written, Deboshree. I went on that journey with you and the old couple. I realize now that I missed your writing all this time. Good to be back.

    Reply
  6. Train rides and acquaintances are beautiful always. And this post is so romantic!

    Reply
  7. What a delightfully warm encounter you have had.. and so beautifully written Debosree! Your words made the whole scene alive, very sweet tale indeed :) All the very Best for the contest :-)

    Reply
  8. This is a beautiful story Debo. The old couple sounds so romantic in their own way. I bet it was a delight to meet them.

    Best of luck for the contest, Debo :)

    Reply
  9. Wow! What a cute story, I was just trying to sketch it all and smiling all the way…loved the serenity of the love you wrote about….

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  10. What a lovely, heartwarming encounter, Deboshree, and so beautifully written too.

    Good luck for the contest :-D

    Reply
  11. Nice post. I had somewhere lost track of your blog. My bad. Good fun reading your new posts and the old Pune ones.

    I was ~G from gunjaaish then. And btw, I think of your post on the Model colony Coffee Stop etc shops whenever I pass the area.

    Reply
    • Hey Gunjan – so good to see have you back here!
      Ha ha… it’s nice to know that Coffee Shop post of mine has recall value. They feature in the search queries my blog gets every day. ;)
      Thanks ~G!

      Reply
  12. Deboshree, what a lovely write :) I do hope the couple do get more time like this to spend for themselves :) And you took us through it all with the perspective of an empathetic well wisher :) Lovely!
    It reminded me that this was possible :) An old write of mine :) – If I may?

    http://ushus.wordpress.com/2008/01/27/growing-old-together/

    Reply
    • Indeed Usha di, I hope the same. They brought a huge grin on my face with their innocent bickering and camaraderie… love indeed is timeless. :)
      I am so happy you enjoyed reading it. I am jumping over to yours, the post with so beautiful a title! :)

      Reply
  13. Heartwarming! Written in your inimitable style. :)

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  14. Aww that was such a heart-warming story of love that you recounted, Deboshree! Loved it!

    Good luck for the contest :)

    Reply
  15. Yet to bless Shimla with my presence :D
    All the best sweetie :)

    Reply
  16. That’s such a sweet post… All the best for contest debo… :)

    Reply
  17. That’s a really nice post. Sweet love …

    Reply
  18. What a beautiful write up. Keep it up the blog is delightful!

    Reply
  19. train rides are such joyful one, hope u had a lovely time there in Simla, after a long time I am here. misse many of ur post in the midst of moving to new domain. missing u on my blog

    wish u all the best for the contest dear

    Reply
    • Hey Sukanya… so good to see you here again! :)
      Yes, I had a great time in Shimla and have been there many more times ever since… you should also visit the hills sometime.
      I know… even I have missed so many of your posts what with all the travel and stress I have been up to. Will surely catch up soon.

      Thanks a lot! :D

      Reply
  20. Beautifully written. Best of luck for the contest. :-)

    Reply
  21. shimla wow, you know one good thing about living in chandigarh .. Shimla was almost local, weekends when clouds would come we would get together and drive ot shimla on our bikes spend a few hours on the mall and other places .. in bazaars and then drive back..

    We have a house in Solan so that was ideal go there on weekends and then go to shimla come back forthe night ..

    You had a nice journey , can you beleive it i have never sat in that toy train , always something or the other came up .. maybe this time when i go i will make sure i sit on it and enjoy all that scenery
    :)

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • Oh my, Bikram, the way you talk about Shimla makes me want to go there again, right now!
      Its been a while since I visited Chandigarh. My Dad is from there and we used to go frequently at a time… I like the city.

      Yes you should certainly opt for a toy-train ride sometime. It is a worthwhile experience and the views are to die for!

      Thank you. :) Glad the post brought back good memories.

      Reply
  22. Awww, so sweet. Quite a romantic, you are!! :D
    And that was a fast entry.

    Reply
  23. Nice post. Best wishes for the contest.

    Reply

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