“Ah! The Man from Madras Musings! Glad to have met you!” said a voice and after that effusive greeting there was no way MMM could have lurked behind a news­paper and pretend that someone else was addressed. The person accosting MMM this way was a lady on board the Shatabdi Express bound for Bangalore from our very own Chennai. It was early in the morning and MMM was not at his best and brightest. Moreover, there was a considerable amount of work he hoped to get done on the train journey.

“I read everything you write,” said the lady, laying it on rather thick. She then proceeded to introduce me to her husband who smiled and said little. MMM reflected that he got that way as his partner in life did all the talking. By then, other passengers were lining up behind and MMM proceeded to his seat only to find that the talkative lady was back. She had a request, she said, and even before she made it, MMM knew what it was. After years of travelling on trains, MMM has a sixth sense of sorts about such entreaties – they invariably have to do with change of seats, berths or, at times, even compartments. And so when the lady said she and her husband were separated by the railways and their travelling together depended entirely on MMM taking a ­certain seat that was at the end of the coach, MMM agreed. He walked across only to find that a rather burly man already occupied the place.

Conceive MMM’s surprise when the man got up with some embarrassment and said that he was sorry he was seated at MMM’s allotted place but there was this lady who wanted to travel with her husband and had requested him to switch places and she had put him there. There was no prize for guessing who this was. And so it was now MMM and the other man who made it back to her. She was in the least perturbed. Oh, had she directed both MMM and the other man to the same seat? Not to worry. There were two other empty seats in the corner and so could MMM take one of them? After all the train had now begun to move (haha!) and since there were no stops en route to Bangalore, there was no way someone else would come to claim the seat. And so MMM moved there while the other gent went on to where he has been asced to sit in.
In his college days, MMM had frequently puzzled over some Operation Research questions where a certain number of trucks had to move a certain number of parcels (and here was the catch – the number of trucks was always lower than the number of parcels) to a certain number of towns within a certain number of hours, none of which made sense to MMM. And with all that he was asked to work out the shortest route or some such thing. He was reminded of those terribly traumatic questions when, shortly thereafter, two men returned from a smoke to claim the two seats in one of which MMM had been seated by the lady. They had been seated elsewhere they said, till this lady… and so it was back again. Once again she had MMM moved to another seat all the while explaining her modus operandi – it appeared on arrival that she knew that unless six people were moved her husband would not be seated next to her and so she had set about it. Finding MMM she said was a bit of luck.

MMM finally got a seat that remained his for the rest of the journey. He however could not help wondering as to how the Ticket Examiner would manage when he came along. That official, who was probably used to much worse, just breezed through the whole exercise and all was peace thereafter. MMM got to work but only for a short while. The lady was back. She asked MMM’s neighbour if he would mind moving over to where she sat. She had always wanted to talk to MMM she said and now was the best time as he, MMM was unlikely to be disturbed in any way. Her husband she said slept through most train journeys and so it did not matter where she sat.