The train came to a stop. Maya and her child of eight years, Ayush, got onto the train. She searched for their berth and he walked behind her dragging their strolley. They were on an overnight train to Chennai from Mysore.
The berths were identified. The lady and her child made themselves comfortable. In front of Ayush who was by the window sat a genial tubby old man. Beside him, in front of Maya was a middle-aged lady. She smiled. Maya smiled in answer and said, “Hi, I am Maya!”
The lady answered, “Hi, I am Shanta, Shanta Rangaswamy!”
In a bit, they had a small conversation about where they hailed from and where they were all going. Ayush was not interested and kept looking out of the window. He kept counting. The old man in front found after a few minutes that he was counting electric poles.
That was a cool thing to do, he supposed!
They had already had their dinner at home and come. Though the station and the train offered multiple options in food, the train’s timing helped them in having dinner at home itself. That left them with little to do. So, Maya fished out two books from her bag.
Ayush started asking her about the distance to Bangalore. They had a small conversation where Shanta also participated and the young boy attentively listened to her. Shanta found it nice, a boy being interested in other things other than cell phones and video games.
Maya sat leaning back and opened the pages of her half-read novel. One could see the author’s name. Nandita Bose. Ayush, in the meanwhile, picked up the other book. Shanta started to see what the boy was doing with the book that he had picked up. “The Westing Game, By Ellen Raskin”. He opened it and turned to the page that he had folded on the top to remember where he had left off. Quite meticulous, she thought. Then, he leaned back, folded his legs under him and started to read earnestly.
Shanta was genuinely surprised at his reading habit.
She kept watching him in wonder for a while. Maya, in the meanwhile, had taken a small break from her book. She saw Shanta looking at Ayush with an expression that was a mix between a lot of affection and surprise. Shanta turned towards her. “Does he read that much all the while or is it just because it is a train and he is sitting quietly?”
Maya looked at her boy. Then she answered, “No, he does other things too. But he loves his books. Has a bunch of them and reads every day for a while.”
Shanta was perplexed, “I have kids too. And all I see them doing is being on the phone or those games on the Tab.”
Maya smiled at her and answered, “I don’t usually tell this. But with you I can share, Children do not listen to us, they copy us.”
A pause happened. The old man was listening, he nodded and announced his assent to this.
Shanta was quiet.
Maya continued, “I do like my reading, he just picked it up. As simple as that.”
The train whistled. The boy popped his head up, looked into the night through the window for a few moments and went back to his book.