Permit me to cast Your sieve-like memory back to the autumn half-term holidays when I had embarked on that very long train voyage up to the Middle Lands to see my family, yes that’s right – that triptych of naughtiest Hobbits whom I interviewed intensively – in the second largest city in England: Birmingham. Well, I never did get round to telling You that the return journey was a most fortuitous one, and that despite the grotesque ailment of a battering case of bad weather and a delayed departure, I was once again divinely blessed by Good Magic. Is it not an instance of Good Magic when a life-long friendship blossoms itself in the most unlikeliest of places on earth, and more so should we not ascribe greater magical significance to such a friendship that I speak of, for it did not actually forge itself in one particular place but in many places at the same time? After all, when one is on route aboard a chugging train no more is there legitimacy in rooting a location to whatever happens inside the train. You cannot say, “We sat together in Oxford” or “We spoke of the weather in Basingstoke”. Instead, I think it is more natural to abort the concept of fixed places altogether and substitute it with something like, “We had a good laugh together WHILST we were on the train to Winchester”. Therefore, by token of the fluidity of the perception of place, when one is sat on a train, that good laugh becomes in our retelling a beautiful echo because our perception and its associated language stretches the laugh out from the point of departure right down to the destination. “We laughed so very loud on that journey that the conductor told us to keep it down!” Is that not a wonderful thought? A moment shared on a trip receives the coronation of infinitude! And so it was to be that on that day a brilliant friendship was to arise, and its birth I shall always remember as an echo from Birmingham down to the southern shires of my home county.
Go and prepare a nice brew of steaming tea and return promptly so that I may explain in less teasing obscurity what really did happen in that two-and-a-half hour descent back down to the south of England; as for the tea, I theorise that the wisp of its fragrance will satisfyingly augment the mood of enchantment that shall follow in the wake of my words. ♥
Shall I begin?
Ah, yes, delayed departure and bad weather!
My first priority upon entering the partly occupied carriage was to flag down the nearest seat and take residence on it, my mind sharply focused on the delight that would greet my heart as I briskly open my thermal flask to take a swish and slurp of my warm tea so thus to relieve the exhaustion that had succumbed my little legs after waiting for nearly an hour for my train. I spotted a seat to the right, on the aisle, and by the window sat an elderly Asian lady, white streaks of hair among moonlit silver that curved upwards from the head, tightly spun in a bun and her face was gentle, fragile even, with thick black-rimmed glasses. She sat timidly with her hands folded across and her tiny handbag underneath. I could tell that she was not a gypsy traveller like I and that wherever she was headed it was her first time and this was probably why I KNEW that I had to sit next to her.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?” I pointed to the seat next to her, I always do that when asking people if the space beside them is free, somewhere in my thoughts I have engraved the rule that under such circumstances the words spoken would have no effect unless a visual cue, a clarifying gesture, was added into the exchange.
In an extraordinarily gentle voice, somewhere between pillows and marshmallows, the elderly lady replied, “Yes, yes, you can sit here”. I dumped my bits and pieces, taking care not to put her in any discomfort and thanked her profusely for her kindness.
A two-and-a-half-hour journey from the middle of England to the southern shires and pretty much everyone else in the carriage was on their Smartphones. I do not have such a trifle distraction to stop me from seeing the Magic around me and that is why what happened next would not have happened had I been swept away by the modern craze for phones that claim to be smart but, in all honesty, were designed to dumb down the Magic in all of us.
I still have the Magic.
I turned towards the elderly lady and threw in the proverbial British comment about the grisly weather. She agreed that it was nasty out there, and so it began…
By the time I had reached my stop Lata ji knew the names of all my family members as did I of hers, I told her I was from Bangladesh and she informed me that her homeland was in Gujarat in India, I had offered her tea and sweets and she loved that, I replayed the photographs I had shot of my Birmingham adventures from my camera and gave her a premiere recitation of my tales to which she laughed heartily, we spoke of Diwali and I promised that I would send her a card to reach her on time, I learnt that our views on religion and spirituality were exactly the same and we spoke of books at every turn of the conversation with particular zesty affection for Tagore, Ghalib, Kabir, Mira Bhai and Dickens!
Winchester was here and I assured Lata ji that she ought to wait two more stops before hers would arrive and that she need not worry, it was the last one on the line so there was no way in the world she could get it wrong! She smiled with an understated beauty and I was only a few impulses away from taking the lens cap off and taking a portrait of this radiant lady, however this was not the time for photography. It was a time for bowing down in veneration and humility in front of the Compassionate Magic of God and Destiny as it PRESENTED to me the PRESENT of the PRESENT. In a flash as bright and lively as the yellow and white fireworks flickering into the night of a chilly winter sky, my Spirit soared towards my Allah and I thanked Him that this had truly been a year of remarkable GOOD MAGIC. A year shimmering in the Light of AMAZING REUNIONS and DESTINED UNIONS, I salute to my Creator!
The platform banner read ‘Winchester’ and I hesitantly stood up, collected my belongings and exchanged last farewells with my dear Lata ji, but that would simply not do justice and I dropped everything again and reached out to hug a wonderful human being, planting a kiss on her cheek and she did the same to me, too. I felt at that moment that God had blessed me with two mothers, two sets of arms to cradle my cheeky naughty face, and I in turn had two ladies for whom I would go to the ends of the earth to gift them my own handmade cup of tea. ♥
I watched the train pull out of the station and could no longer see the devotional face of Lata ji. I smiled to myself and took a deep breath of air into my lungs, an acceptance speech without the stilts of words, paying homage to Destiny and its mysterious and exceptional adeptness to weave conditions that do not make any sense at the time, sometimes at our annoyance, only to be later enlightened by the true reasons for their orchestrations. Just imagine, had my train arrived on time and if the weather was sunny as honey there would have been no Lata ji and a lack of an ice-breaker based on the British principle that bad weather makes for good conversation!
As Diwali approached – the Festival of Lights – I sat down by my desk and wrote out a letter to my friend, Lata ji, which coincidentally was written on a card that I had bought from The Louvre Museum in Paris. The cover depicted an open antique map of the world, a symbol of my adventurous nature and a compendious globetrotting articulation of how Lata ji and I had met – on the dazzling unknown patterns of the open road… ♥
Today, 15-12-15, became a personal RED LETTER day for me. Sent by jolly old second class post which would account for why it arrived a few days after it was penned, the envelope shone with a portly-bellied and utterly adorable Mr Robin perched as a guardian in the top corner and as soon as I laid eyes on the porcelain delicate handwriting addressed to me I knew who my sender was! With bated breath, excitedly and anxiously, I rushed to open my red gem and inside, whichever way I read or looked, True Friendship pulsated in JOY-JOY-JOY that was as as Red as my beloved robin’s chubby breast. A wreath Ring bowed with red ribbon was stencil cut on the cover but Lata ji had added her own creative touches of the red stickered ‘Merry Christmas’ and a single red star, as if she had somehow read my recent writings on my starry role in storytelling. This lady has no internet access but, glory to God, witness the power of TRUE FRIENDSHIP as it transcends the barriers of conventional time and space. I shan’t say any further about what she wrote, for I present to You her words, let this remarkable friend of mine speak for herself!
Please retrieve Your Admiral Telescopes, You shall be needing them if You are keen to know what was penned by this lovely soul. As an end note to this post I should like to remind You once again that anyone can make ‘friends’ on Facebook but True Friendship will always find its beginnings in the most strangest of places and unlikeliest of moments, defying the tests of time and space and convention. It is a thing far more powerful than Love, for True Friendship is ALWAYS two-sided otherwise it does not meet the criteria; it is a calm and undemanding relationship that even years may pass before contact is made again and the silence in between is never for once regretted, rather it is sacred and infused with the scent of an eternal Spring. Friends allow each other spaces to grow and develop and to be the very, merry, berry best that they can ever be… ♥
Victory to True Friendship! ♥♥♥
“… I PRESENT to You her words, let this remarkable friend of mine speak for herself… “
“…. A wreath ring bowed with red ribbon was stencil cut on the cover but Lata ji had added her own creative touches of the red stickered ‘Merry Christmas’ and a single red star…”
“… the envelope shone with a portly-bellied and utterly adorable Mr Robin perched as a guardian in the top corner…”
Photography & Words: © Masufa Khatun | Mazzy Khatun Photo Stories | My Home|Winchester | UK 2015