It is Nov 11th 2008, 11:20 pm (Germany time) at Munich Hbf (Munich). I am having a chat with 3 elderly people from Australia, including an old lady, after being questioned by German police due to some discrepancy in my visa. Thanks to the discrepancy I made some friends in German police! I realize that it is not the aging of body but the aging of mind which makes people old. These so called elderly people are having so much fun!
After some time I see two police men, in uniform, questioning people resting in the waiting room and I think what kind of problem these people may create? I don’t want to again face police so I think of going out of the waiting room and I see towards the clock. Wow! It is time for my train so I wish the Australians happy journey and head towards the platform. Phew! I was saved :).
My train is at 23:45 pm, heading towards Wien Westbahnhof (also called Vienna) leaving from platform no 14, my next stop in the journey. Little did I realize it is going to be quite eventful. I first see this girl, as I always like watching interesting people, dressed in winter cloths as normal backpackers but she also gives an impression like a hippie from 70s. I say to myself let us look at other things also and she is no more my point of attention.
The train comes on time. I entered to a second class coach and looking for an empty seat. I see the same backpacker girl behind me as she is also looking for the same. I entered an empty compartment and she also enters there, as it is the only one which seems to be not reserved. She seems quite preoccupied but quite conscious. She says “I am going to shift to compartments with sleeping beds”. I asked “Do they allow for the second class passengers?” [Who won’t like to sleep comfortably during night?]. She comments “One can try if it is empty”. Then we shift the handles of the other two seats and make place to sleep. Now it is quite a comfortable place [Indian railway ministry can learn a lot from it].
I try to strike a conversation with the girl. She is quite interested in talking, but only if it interests her. She tells that she has been traveling to Finland in woods and forests and then heading towards Vienna where she will meet a friend of her. I think “What the hell such a girl has been doing in forest and woods?” I asked her about what kind of subjects she is studying? She tells “I don’t study. I don’t like studying. I just like traveling.” and then she adds “Wow! The Eurail goes to Romania also. Then I can go to Iran also!” What a crazy girl? Once she says she is going to be in Vienna & then she wants to go to Iran. I tell her that I also don’t like cities & cities are all like same. She agrees and says that nature is so different in woods & forests. I tell her to visit India, as she has never been to India, and how it is different without many big cities. She takes out a book by some writer from Afghanistan and saying how it is different in Afghanistan where ladies are being maltreated.
She is now deep into her novel. I am planning to sleep. I finally ask her name after telling mine. It’s Ichaco (I am bad with names so don’t remember the correct one). After 10 min or so two police men in plain cloths come. They want to see our visas. I give mine & the guy is satisfied. She asks for the girl’s visa and the girl gives her visa after making remark about why is there so much of police checking in Germany. The police man asks about her nationality & then makes some comment about how “Hells Angels” doing in Denmark. The girl stops sort of making a comment about Nazis in Germany. The police man then takes out his small torch & checks the girl’s eyes. I intervened and the police man then goes away. I asked the girl about what is this ‘angel’ thing all about? She replies there are problem going on in Denmark by some groups and this is one of problem creating groups. I am getting curious. She is quite aware of things going around her. I ask again about what subjects she is studying. She tells that she was born in Belgium but now living in Denmark. I then ask where her parents are staying and she doesn’t look towards me. Her remaining silent answered my question! I thought not to ask more questions and went to sleep. She went to sleep after 20-25 min.
We are again woken up by another person, whose name I came to know later as Christophe aged around 28. The girl really gets pissed off and says why there is only so much checking in Germany! The guy says he is from Austria and now we are in Austria. I later came to know that he had been with the Austrian railway since last 2 ½ years. He asks for our ticket. I show him mine. But the girl is really shocked. Somebody has stolen her purse!! She told me that she had kept it near her head under the seat!
She is now very worried. She had her tickets, glasses, credit card, mobile and camera. Christophe is very helpful. “I need to block my credit card first” the girl responded. Christophe uses his official mobile and tries to get customer care no of the concerned bank. The girl doesn’t remember her credit card no as it was stored on the mobile phone. I ask her to check her bag in the toilet room. She says she didn’t keep it there. I wanted to go to toilet and when I reached I saw a bag lying by the side of the tap. I bring it to her and she says it’s her. She checks it and except mobile phone & her camera everything is there! She is not very worried now? She makes comment about the camera that she had nice pictures from a party which she had with her friends at Finland and her friend had lent the camera to her. She is not worried about her mobile phone. She tells “It was a pretty old camera and I paid for it in someway.” When she looked towards me while saying this I knew that very moment that the answer was to be understood than to ask any further question. She tried to make some calls from Christophe’s personal phone but finally she couldn’t be sure whether the customer care people could do it or not. In the meantime Christophe told me that it is not so common but it has been observed earlier also and the person may have got down in Salzburg. After Christophe is gone she sits there in dim light & doesn’t want me to switch on the main light [I was sure she must have been crying]. She tells “Why this happens in Germany only? Where the guys thinking that I am a rich person?” She says she believes in Karma (What the crap - Is it her Karma or her parents’ karma?). She asks me “Don’t you think we are safer without police? Police have weapon & weapons make people more insecure. I don’t have weapons. What if the police man wouldn’t have found her passport? He would have put her in jail.” I try to justify it but deep down in my heart I know she is correct. I don’t have any convincing argument. She had experienced much more life than me or many of my colleagues. She later tells about once getting caught by German police and spending time in jail because she was hitchhiking. She tells that she will call from the mobile phone of his friend in Vienna and get her card blocked. After some time she goes to sleep and I kept on thinking what have we done to people like her.
It is now 5:55 am and we have reached Vienna. She is still sleeping. I woke her up and tell her does she need some help. She refuses and I thought of giving her my email id [as I always do – I think quite high of myself], in case she visits India. We get down and I see her friend and I am shocked. The guy looks like a 35 year old person with out bath for many days and I couldn’t muster the courage to give her email id. I felt so impotent & thought whether I will be able to help her in any way. I wished her good luck when she thanked me for all my help. Later sitting at the Vienna railway station I thought why I couldn’t hold her hand, in care, and tell “My friend you are not different in our society. You are one among us. We live in a world which cares.” I couldn’t offer any help to her. But I won’t be same again. I felt different. Bit more changed. I learnt something which any classroom can’t teach me. May be you can help or suggest how we all can help? She may not have any family to hang out, interesting friends to party with, worried about big careers as we are but she should be able to feel that there is society which cares for her and she needn’t be afraid from cities.