A Honeymoon, Interrupted

A young couple caught in a bind, are saved by an act of kindness

Aditi Shah Published Nov 17, 2020 14:18:46 IST
A Honeymoon, Interrupted Illustration by Siddhant Jumde

It was a frigid January afternoon, in the year 1966. Flushed with anticipation, my wife, Savitri*, and I sat silently side by side, on the Sahyadri Express. As the train pulled out of the Bombay Central Station, we could barely hide our excitement. We were finally on the way to a two-day honeymoon to Matheran! Although, we were no longer newlyweds, this was the first time we had enough savings to go on a trip together.

The train halted at Neral, where we were forced out of our reverie—the serving Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, had passed away. The news brought chaos in its wake. As we stepped out on to the platform and started making inquiries, we realized it was unlikely we would find a toy train to take us to the misty hill station we had been dreaming of for months.

The afternoon gradually settled into a pink dusk as we sat in a corner at the station, unsure of what the evening was going to bring, waiting for news of the train services as the chilly winter breeze rattled our bones. We unwrapped some biscuits we had brought along when, out of the blue, a little girl, no more than five or six years old, went gliding past us, shrieking, “But I want food! I am hungry!”

Savitri’s eyes turned to the child’s family, seated a few metres away. She couldn’t help but notice the rich embroidery adorning the mother’s raw mango coloured hijab. The family was clearly well-to-do—the little girl was wholly unfamiliar with the sharp pangs of hunger that Savitri and I had often felt. The lone station-shop had been emptied in a frenzy, Savitri’s conscience compelled her to help the little girl.

Smiling, she called out—her name was Mehrunisa, we overheard—and asked her to seek her parent’s permission to accept a half-eaten packet of Parle-G from us. Left with no option, her family graciously accepted. And in the hours spent at the station, we began chatting with the Niazis.

After several hours, the train finally arrived. We entered alongside, like friends. As the short uphill journey progressed, Savitri and I softly discussed our predicament. It seemed unlikely that our reservation at Ragdi Hotel would still be held, considering the long delay, the lack of communication and the probability that guests unable to board their trains from Matheran would surely have to extend their stay.  

As the train came to a screeching halt and we rose to bid the Niazi family goodbye, Mehrunisa’s father, Viraaz, suggested that he would accompany us, to make sure that we had a place to spend the night. He had overheard snippets of our anxious exchange and was adamant about helping us. After much discussion, we agreed.

The rest of his family headed to the guesthouse that was arranged for their stay, and Viraaz came with us to look for a hotel. To no one’s surprise, Ragdi Hotel was packed with people, with dozens occupying even the community verandahs. The manager, apologizing profusely, tried his best to offer assistance by placing a few beds in the coal storage room but the suffocating darkness and cold made it scarcely habitable.

A gradual dread started to creep steadily into my mind—what next? Even if we were lucky enough to get a train back to Mumbai the next day, we’d still have to spend a night in Matheran.

Sensing our helplessness Viraaz swooped in and offered to put us up in their accommodation for the night. “It’ll be stuffy and small”, he said. “The rooms are actually for two. I was bringing my brother Naseem, and thought I could squeeze my wife and daughter in too, you know? Little did I know …” he drifted off, shaking his head. I was overwhelmed at his generosity. Necessity compelled us to agree and we set off by foot towards the guesthouse.

Upon our arrival, Viraaz’s family worked tirelessly with meagre supplies to make us feel at home—food was quickly heated and shared, makeshift gaddas and blankets brought out for the several occupants. The guesthouse was grumbling, filled to three times its usual capacity, but in spite of the cold and limited space, everyone managed.

The commotion caused by Shastri’s death lasted a day or two, but obtaining train tickets was quite the task, and it was only several days later that we bade farewell to the wonderful Niazis. Our friendship has since continued for decades—Viraaz even came to live with us in Ahmedabad, when he shifted to the city. It is quite a wonder that this rich friendship between families started with a half-eaten packet of Parle-G, at a train station.

(*All names changed upon request)

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