I've been in Lonavala for about a week now and I'm so full of so many stories about the rain but that's another post, some other day.This is quite another 'Varsha' that I want to talk about today.
I went to Mumbai for a meeting yesterday. The dry, puddle-free roads gave me more happiness than can be imagined. With the return reservation unconfirmed and the TTE so unhelpful (where have all the chivalrous TTEs of my college days gone??) Ratna and I got into the Ladies' General. No less than a hundred and fifty women in one coach. Awesome. It truly is a universe with its own rules. It's a good thing I do not know Marathi, for God only knows what soul shaking abuses that woman in the green saree screamed at me when I stepped on her toe. She sounded scary enough even with the content so obscure. But I'm a not a sardarni for nothing. I do not let anything intimidate me for long - neck deep crowds, shouting, glaring women - I can deal with it all. I hung my bag on a hook that already had about eighteen bags from it, received and ignored eighteen pairs of angry eyes, planted my feet somewhere and pulled my Ruth Rendell out and started reading. I was supported on all sides by jostling women so it was like reading in a hammock. Quite comfortable, and Ruth Rendell can always make me forget where I am. My friend Ratna who had also traveled to Bombay to attend the meeting had found a similar niche - and was listening happily to the radio on my phone.
About an hour later, tap-tap on my back-"Beta do you want to sit?"
I don't mind.
Someone was getting off from the upper berth and had decided to pick me from the seething mass to present her seat to. These things have their own rules. I don't understand why she had decided to be so kind but I've never been one to look gift horses in their mouths. I climbed up, and in the process stepped a few more toes and got a few more glares. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry - made it!
And in the land of the fortunate seated, introductions were made and greetings were exchanged. I charmed the ladies into agreeing to accommodate Ratna as well. She climbed up, and made friends with a chirpy 5 yr old sitting next to her. The two of them listed to the radio together for a while and then gave my phone back to me when it stopped catching FM. A few more minutes of reading and then someone tapped my shoulder again- "Your friend...." I looked up from my book. "Hey! Where did she disappear?"
"She wasn't feeling well. Just scrambled down and ran to the door....."
Crane my neck as hard as I might, I couldn't see where the poor girl had got to. And we don't want a fellow naval officer to fall out of the door, no way. The paperwork would be mind boggling. With great regret I climbed down too, committing the ultimate sacrilege apparently because I heard a chorus of voices behind me- "But you will loose your seat!!" Yeah, well. Sigh.
Reaching the coach door to see Ratna was as much fun as an expedition to the north pole would be. I found her sitting happily at the door. This girl seems to love the rain as much as I hate it. Anyway she was doing fine so I leaned against the door and opened my book. And that's when I realised that my phone was no longer in my pocket.
All I did was say this to Ratna - O my God, where did my phone go?" And I wasn't terribly loud either, I never am. But thirty seconds later, the whole coach knew.
"She lost her phone..."
"That girl in black jeans..."
"She was standing here...yahan dekho"
"She went and sat up there- did it fall there?"
"Hey tell us your number...lets call it and see if it rings..."
"She walked through this aisle....see if its under your bag..?"It was unbelievable. Some fifty strangers were lifting their feet, their sarees , their bags and looking for my phone. About five of them were calling my cellphone number and telling the others to shut up so we could hear the phone ring. It was ringing. But then I remembered that I had put it on vibration mode in the meeting.
"Tell her to look here..."
"Why doesn't someone call her number and see...?
"She put it on vibration mode, silly girl..."After about twenty minutes of wading through that jungle of feet and bags and shoes and sarees , I gave up.
"If everyone gets out of the compartment at the next stop, I'm sure she'll find it..." Yeah, sure, THAT sounds like it can be done. "Obviously, someone has stolen it....she should start checking people's bags..." This I was totally unwilling to do. So I gave an apologetic smile to the crowd in general, turned my back on them and opened my book again. The effect on the populace was electric.
I tried reassuring them - "It's okay auntie, it was a very old phone anyway"
"Don't stop looking!!"
"Why has she stopped looking?"
My brilliant solution was to write my name and phone number on paper and give it around -"See, in the morning, when the train empties, if you find it on the floor or something, maybe you could call me?". People were rolling their eyes at that. And then. Enter Varsha. She was the most vocal of this very concerned lot, sitting squeezed somewhere in one of the top berths, yelling her encouraging suggestions, and calling my phone number frantically. Pretty girl, about my age. Exasperated by my seeming indifference and my having accepted the state of affairs, she stepped in for serious action - "I'll look for your phone."
She shimmered down from her hard earned seat, tucked her dupatta and went to work. Down on her knees, pushing people's bags and feet like they were so much fluff. Every few minutes she would emerge, red faced, take another gulp of air and go down again. It had to be seen to be believed. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that someone could be bothered by a stranger's trouble to such a degree....I have no words. I was thinking, whether she finds my phone or not, I'll never forget this creature.
But find my phone she did. After an half an hour of serious digging and diving and bullying ("Move your leg auntie!!"), she came up with ten inch grin on her face and my cellphone in her hand. The coach erupted in cheers. Women slapped her back,patted her head (and mine) and laughed in so much genuine happiness!
"She found it!!"
"The other girl.."
"Where was it?"
"I always knew it was there somewhere...you only needed to look properly!" Like in a relay race, from hand to hand my phone reached me. I shook hands with Varsha and said thank you about five hundred times. I wanted to hug her but I would have had to climb over too many bodies so I blew her a kiss instead. She climbed up to her seat and I think its a testimony to the admiration she had earned that no one had even considered taking her seat, lying vacant for the last half hour. She gave me e few well deserved homilies -"See? you shouldn't give up so easily. When you want something real bad, you always get it." Paolo Coelho would be proud of her.
She had found the thing just in time, because we reached Lonavala almost immediately afterward. I hope she reads this somehow, someday. Thank you Varsha. For finding my phone. For warming my heart with the knowledge that strangers can connect in so many ways. For grit and single mindedness that I needed to see and remember and learn from.