My cognizance to this journey happened some years back, reminiscing it brings a smile to my soul…
It was my last day at work, last day of my first job, the most loved and cherished as one’s first love. My mixed feelings’ farewell note was ready to be shot to all and sundry in my mail box. I was packing my friendship bands, good luck charms and many small keepsakes gifted by my fellow colleagues. Meticulous and organized as I was from day one, my handover document was ready appropriately.
Oh! How I was going to miss this place, the office, my witty boss, the office boy who called me ‘mam’ for the first time, the male colleague who sat opposite me and gave me side glances at every opportunity. My only female friend at work, Vidisha, who introduced me to the city and gave me the confidence to explore beyond my small town limits. This was the place where I took my first step to realize my dreams, to demonstrate my competence, establish my self-esteem. I was the first girl in the family to have done management degree and entered the corporate world.
I scurried out of office at lunch time to see her and say my goodbye to her. If there was a Facebook at that time, I would have made her my social network friend and stayed in touch. Well it didn’t exist and neither did the cellphones, so I was visiting her unannounced. I followed the street behind my office in Hans Bhawan, as she had explained me once; evoking the memory of the first day we had met.
Like every other day, I was doing the morning drill to reach office, walking briskly to the main road to catch an auto-rickshaw to Badkhal railway station in Faridabad. Forgetting the soaring high heels, my precious purchase from my first salary, I managed my way through the crowded door of ladies compartment of electric train to Delhi. I looked at the crowd of faces equally occupied in settling down, managing their baggage, lunchboxes, adjusting their saris after getting pulled and pushed in rush to board. A blind man was taking refuge in ladies compartment and getting a seat out of sympathy. This morning had become a permanent imprint in my memory and ran every day like a replay of same scene. Similar faces, same rush, same tussle to get into the local train.
Women of all age groups, from young excited, chirpy sales executives in western formals to middle aged working in government departments with desperate attempt to hide emerging fine lines under layers of compact and dark lipsticks. But all of them certainly had one thing in common- an expression of purpose and air of confidence about themselves. I was a small town girl, barely twenty, who was learning to cope up with the big city temperaments. I was a bit lost, looking for a vacant seat as my office stop Tilak Bridge was one hour away. Suddenly my eyes met with those of a strikingly beautiful woman who was dressed in crisp cotton maroon coloured sari with thin gold border. To match with her attire she had a large maroon bindi on her broad brow making her stand apart from the rest. I stumbled upon a place to hold a side support next to her. She noticed me and smiled, ‘it’s equally bad every day. Some of these ladies will get down on the next stop and we will get place to sit.’ I smiled back nodding. ‘I am going to Tilak bridge, you!’ she continued. ‘Oh! Tilak bridge only. I work in Hans Bhawan’ I replied.
Well this was the beginning of my knowing Achala, who was working in an audit department of a government organization close to my office. Educated, smart, interesting women of about twenty eight years, mother of two sons, she had just joined after her maternity leave. She became my travel companion for the next one year. I unknowingly idolized her and started seeing growing up in Delhi as a young pass out from university from her eyes. She had sort of become a mentor to help me navigate my way in this big city.
Upon TT’s request, I took out my ticket to get my first lesson from her that railway pass was a more economical option than buying a ticket every day, adequately proved by her apt mathematical skills .
One evening, while I rushed to station after work, I realized I have missed my usual train by five minutes and the next would be after forty five minutes. With a sigh, I deposited myself on a nearby bench on the platform. Suddenly I saw Achla also slowly walking with her tiffin towards platform. We saw each other and exchanged a sheepish laugh realizing we both had missed the train. We had plenty of time at our expense and we were both starving after a consuming day. So we decided to get something to eat and the safest she suggested were Litchis from a vendor selling fruits at end of the platform. I made sure we take an extra polybag for chucking the peals and seeds. When we were finished, I took the polythene and started looking for a litter bin around. Achla gave me a mischievous smile pointing at her watch and suggested with a wink the option of throwing it on the side of the platform as most people do. I smiled back and went ahead looking for the garbage bin. Finally after a long walk I found one over spilling trash drum, surrounded by stray dogs. I managed to add my bit also from a little distance and started back quickly, as it was time for the next train.
Getting a railway pass to shopping places around office, advance course on balancing home and work at the same time, managing husband, having children to losing weight after delivery by breast feeding, she was my ‘Ask me’ for just about everything. In return I shared my office experiences, my dreams and how I desired to learn quickly the shipping business. How I really strove and worked hard to be regarded as one of the most respected professionals.
I had to ask a few people and chai- wallas on the roadside to seek directions and finally entered the building where she worked. I joined her for a quick lunch with her colleagues. I was impatient to get a moment of her alone and say my bye and thank-you. In her small cubical, I told her that today is my last day at work and in Delhi, as I was getting married. I barely managed, ‘I have been wanting to tell you so, but didn’t see you for a couple of days while traveling. Today was my last day at work and couldn’t have left without meeting you, so came looking for you in your office’ and felt my eyes moist. I searched the same emotion in her eyes, but she only smiled.
I finally said my customary Thank-yous to her for being a great friend, a wonderful company, an elder sister who always had quick pearls of wisdom to spare in a city where I was completely a novice. I will miss you was cliché and uncalled for to match her temperament. So I dropped this from my script as a last minute decision and instead gave her an affectionate hug and said bye. While I was handing her over a small gift I had brought her, she smiled again as always, with her beautiful round face radiating warmth and said- ‘Mandy, you are a gem. You have a fire inside you, keep it kindled…always’.
It sounded like a cautionary advice, more than a compliment.
While I silently wadded along these words and moments, I also stowed two more valuable lessons:
First- When you part and move on in life, cherish the learning and good memories of great people, growing above the emotions to hold on. As life is a journey and so it should be lived.
Second- keep your youthful energy and childlike curiosity alive always. It comes handy to keep you lit when the hard process of maturing tends to burn you out.
That was Achla!
And that was my first conversance to my inner self, as described by her. I made a mental promise to her on my way back, to keep my strength and attitude alive.
How could she notice that fire, the desire I had nurtured from my childhood, unconsciously. My strong yearning to create self-worth and make a difference by giving my best to whatever I lay my hands on.