What people read on trains

I’m leaving for Scotland tonight, and will be back on Monday morning. Await interesting stories…

While academics has prevented any outdoor adventures over the last few weeks, the underground has been an unending source of intrigue. This morning, for example, I decided to take a survey of what people in the underground were reading. People on the trains would either read something, talk on their mobiles, or listening to a walkman. The last category are uninteresting. The only mobile phone conversation I overheard is too embarrassing to be be printed here. So I’ll stick to what people were reading.

Most, of course, would read the newspaper. There’s a free paper called The Metro which is available in most railway stations. Some would read books, but till date, I haven’t been able to recognize a single author other than Colin Forbes and Arthur Clarke. Quite a few used to do their office work. For instance, there was a black lady who was reviewing the HR policies of her company. The tourists were easily spotted, since they would be clinging on to the railway map and poring over it. Several would be reading books on how to speak English. But these were the normal ones.

The more interesting ones were, for a start, a Professor who was doing his quiz paper corrections on the train. It was a quiz on financial markets, rather like Prof. Srinivasan’s — a few questions, with blank spaces for answers. He seemed to be going at the rate of 1 per minute.

Another one was reading a book on chess problems. Endgames, particularly. I couldn’t tell what language it was in, though, but I did find time to copy a few phrases down. “en zwart gaf”, “verliest”, “weerlegging van de tekstzet”. Sounds Scandinavian to me. This man was so engrossed in his problems that he didn’t even notice me looking over his shoulder.

But the most interesting one was a man I shall call “Piccard”, because he looked quite like Patrick Stewart (who plays Captain Jean Luc Piccard in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Piccard was bald (almost), with blue-green eyes, wearing a jeans, striped T-shirt, and an orange-black jacket (the kind that policemen wear). Which is all fine. What’s interesting is that he was memorizing something from a notebook. It looked like a diary with handwritten notations. It isn’t easy for me to read upside down, but after 15 minutes, I realized that they were names of streets!

For example, one page was titled “Wondsworth Town Hall to Harrods”, and was followed by a whole page of street names. Nothing else. Now, who on earth would memorize street names? One possibility that struck me was: pizza delivery men. Piccard didn’t look like one. Another possibility: terrorists. Quite possible. Piccard was bald and was chewing gum. Very likely. Piccard went on with this right though the journey, even memorizing maps, when they came up. Now I’m absolutely sure. Maybe someday he’ll hit the papers, and I’ll say “I travelled on a train with this guy.”

My memory being terrible, I was writing all this down, lest I forget it. This made the person to my right (whom I’ll call Demi, reasons will be obvious later) extremely curious. I mean Demi sees this person who’s got a tiny Post-it pad, in which he’s writing down stuff in a tiny handwriting, while suspiciously staring at a bald-head in front of him. I didn’t want Demi to know what I was writing, partly because I was writing about Demi too. So we’d play hide and seek. I’d wait till Demi turned around, then quickly scribble a word or two, just when Demi’s head would turn back, and I’d put my pad back into my pocket. There would be a stalemate for a few minutes, and then Demi’s head would turn back again.

The reason I call Demi Demi is: I couldn’t tell if Demi was a guy or a girl. I mean, he/she had a crew-cut hair. His/her face looked slightly feminine, but his/her build was masculine. No ear-rings, no sign of facial hair, nothing. The first image that struck me was: Demi Moore in GI Jane. I would’ve tried to find out more, but something else at the station stopped me. I’ll write about that later.