My anxiety in catching the train was now resting with me on one of the seats of the New Delhi Kalka Shatabdi Special. As the train grudgingly left the platform with a clickety clank, all things around me began to settle into a comforting monotonous rhythm of the wheels like my own thoughts. But not her. Her restlessness was keeping pace with the train’s as it caught speed.

First, she was busy combing her grandfather’s fast receding hairline. The sun outside the window had disappeared without much of a trace by the time we reached Kurukshetra. She was now playing with the arm of the chair, lifting it up one moment and pushing it down at another. I longed for the yellow light that the sun had taken away with itself, leaving us to dwell in our gathering darkness.

But the descending darkness had little effect on her rising energy. She stood out in her deep blue frock with white stripes in her mother’s lap now. The young woman carrying the girl in her arms lifted her up to give her a better view. The child looked up and so did I, tracing her gaze. Our eyes spotted two switches over her head. She leapt up a little from her mother’s lap and struggled with one hand and then two and then… Eureka!
PHOTO • Amir Malik
PHOTO • Amir Malik

A beam of yellow light enveloped her face. There was the sun, hiding inside her eyes, rising again. She pressed the second switch. Yet another beam of light lit her body. There she stood light flowing from her eyes, her smile, and through the cupped fingers of her palms that she placed underneath the yellow bulb.

Entranced by this luminous sight of her, my fellow traveller, I murmured a few lines by Nida Fazli

Bachchon ke chhote haathon ko chaand sitaare chhoone do
Do-chaar kitaabein padh kar ye bhi ham jaise ho jaaenge."

Let the little hands of children
Reach for the moon and the stars
After reading a few books,
They too will become like us.

Amir Malik

Amir Malik is an independent journalist, and a 2022 PARI Fellow.

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