My hangout was all set to be gloomy with the preconceived notion of having to spend the early evening in a badly lit and unclean waiting room of a railway station. These ‘refugee halts’ did not have much seating capacity; one such experience, about 5 years ago, had me standing in the waiting lobby for almost 2 hours before I managed a chair for myself; the regular commuters under such crises helped themselves by spreading newspaper or bed covers on the floor, almost setting up a feast for a picnic. The littered room infested with rodents forced me to leave and to find myself resting against a pillar of the station platform. This time too I had no choice but to head towards the dungeon, but I decided to check out the place before buying myself provisions to keep me engaged.
I was at the Kharagpur Railway station, which happened to be the world’s third longest train platform, after Gorakhpur and Kollam junction in Kerela. On approaching one of the vendor-stalls of the railway platform, I was shown the way to the waiting room. The image of the waiting room embedded in my head was slapped out by the makeover. I had learnt about this improvisation from the news some time back, but hadn’t expected a 360 degree change. It was a equipped room with modern amenities and housekeeping staff moving around to check on the cleanliness and maintenance. The walls were mounted with aids such as mobile phone charging points, fire extinguishers. There was provision for charging the laptop too at designated work stations. It also accommodated a snack vendor, a book stall and a medical desk. I was relieved by the transformation. I could now boast of well-equipped waiting rooms of the Indian Railways. After collecting my coffee and magazine I made it to a table surrounded by six steel chairs. Another chair at my table too got occupied by a septuagenarian who tried to make herself comfortable. As I dumped my heavy backpack on the table my spine groaned with pain. However, a sip of the steaming coffee in the midst of the winter chill relaxed my senses and my sandwiches eased the craving of my gastro muscles.
Not perturbed by my presence, my table- mate pulled out from her large straw bag a box full of pencils in varying shapes and sizes; along with it a canvas. In minutes she got engrossed in her sketch work. Taking the magazine in hand which I purchased from the station vendor, I too tried to engage my brains with a bit of entertainment. My attention however, was drawn towards those drawing pencils- some with sharp nibs, others flattened and several blunt. My fingers itched to sharpen the blunt pencils as I got nostalgic about school days, when we would use the sharpener to get those un-ending pencil shavings till we could no longer cling onto the pencil.
With no intention to curb my curiosity, my eyes sneaked into the canvas. A very flat tool was put to use, which was rubbed hard and fast in small strides to create a 3D- effect. A few circular objects were partially done which were bordered by a shadow to give them a dimension. Color was infused into the canvas with varying degrees of grey. A ribbon-like article was given a silver lining with those lead gadgets. Her strokes were so magical that I could see color in the shades of black and white.
What was it that she was trying to portray? I did not want to break the silence, lest it disturbed the flow of the pencils. Those circular objects and ribbon were now being placed on a surface that featured like a hard rock. A mouth with a grin- the teeth was getting its edges; with progression I figured out a zip came into being.
The antique grandfather clock in the hall struck 6 o’ clock- the maturing sketch chewed into my time without consent, but I did not mind it at all. My magazine lay on the table waiting for the pages to be flipped over. The colorful pages of the book failed to grasp my concentration as I looked on at the colorless.
The surging winter chill demanded another coffee. Bearing two coffee cups in hand I prowled back to my table and with utmost care I placed one of them beside the artist at work. For more than two hours without any exchange of words, two strangers had developed an implicit rapport. She lifted her head, smiled and said, “Thank you dear;” head down again to dive back into her work. My eyes widened as I saw something familiar on the canvas stare at me.
“This is my backpack with its badges and scarf,” exclaiming aloud and audible to others who were now sharing the waiting room with us. The senior citizen smiled as she found me overwhelmed with the revelation. “This is simply incredible, thank you; awesome,” fumbling for words of appreciation.
“Would you like to keep it?” her question startled me.
“Yes of course, I’ll be more than glad.” Her cheerful face acknowledged my heartfelt gratitude. “Your sketch has instilled life into my backpack.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you. Which train are you waiting to board?”
“Uh- the one to Kolkata from Bangalore, it is scheduled to be here at 7PM,” I mentioned taking a look at my watch, “and what about you?”
“I will walk back home in some time,” there was a pause. She noticed my quizzed expression. “Yes, I stay here in Kharagpur Main town colony. I come here every evening to sketch something or someone, anything that pleases my pencils.”
Her enthusiasm and search for inspiration amazed me. How I wished to have initiated a conversation with her much earlier in the evening. The clock ticked and we had to part. For the lady I may have been just another stranger, but for me she was a creator who injected life into the mundane.