A senior citizen that I am, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that the winter clothing set of jet-black overcoat, post-box-red hand-spun T-shirt, convertible baggie that can fold into shorts, and a navy-blue cap with a stiff sunshade, that my NRI son brought for me, could cause so much flutter and turbulence. One chilly evening, I wore the whole set and felt fit like a fiddle, with youthful energy engulfing me afresh.

The mirror confirmed I was looking like a general in civil dress. I reached the Chennai Central station with my better half to catch a train. The train arrived on the platform and there was the usual commotion to get in.

As the lights were not on yet, I waited outside for the electrical staff to switch on power. A young man rushed to me with a lady in tow, telling me, pointing to the woman, “Sir, she is in advanced stage of pregnancy”. For a moment, I was perplexed as to what could be his motive behind the unwarranted introduction. I said: “Gentleman, I’m not a doctor.” He continued: “No sir, you can’t be a doctor, I know. My problem is, she needs to go to Delhi. She could not get reserved accommodation. You’ve to help.” I did not comprehend what he wanted me to do. I said: “Please go to the TTE and check.” He said: “Aren’t you the TTE, then?” He left in a huff, furious. I was speechless. He mistook me in the first place and troubled me, and he was angry with me?

What nonsense? Anyone with a black coat on, could be taken for a TTE? Anyone with a turban and beard would be deemed Prime Minister? My agony doubled when my fair lady burst into laughter.

Before I could retrieve myself from the ignominy, another middle-aged man approached me and asked: “Sir, can you please change my side-upper berth into a regular lower one?” My wife was already grinning. I told him: “You may ask the one who is allotted the lower berth.” He persisted: “But there is none there, Sir. You being TTE, can you put a word, Sir?” Not losing my cool, I told him I was also a traveller like him. He left cursing me. What sort of world was this? Was I responsible for everything, just because I wore a black coat?

While I decided to remove the trouble-making black coat, there appeared a fairly well-dressed man in his stone-wash jeans and jerkins, asking me: “Sir, I forgot my senior citizen ID card. Will you please allow me to board the train? My son is also a TTE like you in the north.” I told him bluntly he could not board, and also that I was not a TTE. He grumbled, “Appearances are deceptive.” I was infuriated. It was I who should have told him that.

I took off the coat and handed it to my wife, sporting my remaining red T-shirt.


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