Strange Encounters with a Stranger Kind

Shriram Iyengar narrates of a time he chanced upon an acquaintance he had no memory of.

It is often that I meet strangers whose names I do not know. But it is not very often that I meet a pretty stranger whose name I would like to know, but still do not know. Yesterday was one such occasion. I got into the train as usual. After a while of haggling and harassing, I moved into the calmer confines of the compartment. I took my place between the first row. My front seats were occupied by only three people instead of the usual four. I guessed the inevitable reason for that was a pretty girl sitting right between her brother (optimism) or boyfriend (bad luck). I hoped it would be the former. She was busy reading a newspaper so I tried to occupy myself with a fight going on the outside.

After a few stops, I got a seat right opposite her (must’ve been my lucky day). I tried hard not to keep staring. But on the contrary, I found her stealing glances at me. Now that almost killed me. All my life I’ve spent as a ‘Use and Throw’ piece. Girls only came to talk to me if they had an assignment to do or to make their boyfriends jealous. This was a first for me. Unfortunately, I did not have any prior experience in how to commence friendlies. That task was made even more difficult by the muscular young man sitting right next to her. I decided to throw in my best shot. I have always found that a good book attracts more people than glib talking. I picked my book (The Last Mughal) out of the bag and started reading. But still those secretive looks kept coming. By now I was thoroughly bothered.

I mustered enough courage to say “Hi” on the most optimistic hope that she ought to know me if she kept staring like that. Fortunately for me she blinded me with a huge smile.

“I almost thought you didn’t recognise me,” she said.

Dammit. “Of course not. How are you? Long time no see.”

“Oh yeah. We have moved to Thane. That happened after school,” she solemnly replied.

Right, when did I see you in school? “Oh! So what are you doing nowadays? Seen any of our schoolmates?”

“Oh no! Been very busy. Am preparing for the exams…engineering. Haven’t had time to do much socialising.”

Beauty with brains. Now those are as rare as they come.

“ So, what are you doing?”

Just wasting time. “Oh you know, just this and that.” Very suave, Houdini.

By this time, the jock beside her had his face contorted between a smile and a clenched jaw.
She turned to him and said, “This is Houdini. He was in my class in school. Houdini, this is my brother.”

Great! Why do girls have to have somebody in accompaniment when they talk to me? BFs, GFs and Brothers. Do I have the look of serial killer that they do not find it safe to talk me alone? “Oh hi. What do you do?”As if I care.

“I am doing my MBA.”

EMM-BEEE-AYE. So smart, ain’t he? “Hmm. That is good. Your future looks mint-y fresh, doesn’t it?”

Unfortunately, he did not get the joke. “Which college are you in?” he asked.

“K.J. Somaiya.”

“Doing what?”

What is it with you? I am not answering an interview here. “Arts.”

“Any future plans?” he wisely questioned.

Heavens, I ain’t asking for your sister’s hand in marriage for you to find out my economic prospects. “Plan to go into journalism.”

“That sounds exciting.” This time she said.

By this time their stop had arrived. They silently got up and wished me good luck and all other proprieties. I said the same. “Call me some time,” they said.

Call you what, miss? “Sure. I will.”

As she went forward her brother turned to me. Now, I was a bit apprehensive. How could you not be with a guy who is six feet tall, has the built of a bull-dog and wears a t-shirt that says ‘Don’t Mess with ME’?

He stuck his penetrating red eyes on to my face and said in a slow, hushed voice, “You didn’t know her, did you?”

Now what should I have said then was, “Of course not” or “You’re right”.

All I said was “See ya later.” That was the most honest thing that I had said that hour.


Republished with permission from


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