The train from Delhi to Mumbai was about to leave. Sardar Jagtar Singh Gill occupied his seat in the first class coach and started reading the newspaper that he had bought at the railway station. He was Master Warrant Officer in the Indian Air Force. Often he had to attend to cases at Amritsar and this forced him to travel all the way from Mumbai to Amritsar every time. Fully sincere to his duties, Gill was now fed up with this long traveling and impatiently waiting for the train to move.
The man sitting in the seat next to Gill’s tried to talk to him a few times but each time Gill closed the matter with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. His fellow passenger judged his irritation and started reading his own newspaper. A few minutes later the train began to move. While reading his newspaper, Gill would often look out through the window as if wanting his journey to end as early as possible.
‘Talk to me. Then you’ll not feel the journey,’the man sitting next to him said. This time, Gill folded his newspaper and surveyed that man. He was an ordinary looking man of small built while Gill himself was a tall and smart officer. Obviously, that man, impressed by Gill’s personality was eager to talk to him. ‘L.B. Nagarwala, the man said as he found Gill looking at him and extended his hand. Half heartedly, Gill shook hands with him, turned his neck and again started looking out through the window.
‘You didn’t introduce yourself,’ the man said. Gill gave him a rigid look and said in a heavy voice, ‘Jagtar Singh Gill, Master Warrant Officer, Indian Air force!’ ‘Oh, Indian Air Force! I have a lot of say there,’ that man said. ‘Where are you posted?’ he asked further. ‘In Mumbai,’ said Gill and again surveyed that man from head to toe.
‘You seem to be bit upset,’ L.B. Nagarwala said softly. ‘So am I,’ Gill exploded this time. ‘Above that you are troubling me. Can’t you sit silent?’ Nagarwala was taken aback. Immediately he fell silent and began to look out through the window.
Half an hour later, the train stopped at a station. ‘Will you like to have some Tea?’ L.B. Nagarwala asked Gill. ‘You have yours, I’ll buy mine,’ replied Gill and started getting out of his seat. ‘No, no!’ Nagarwala hurriedly caught hold of two earthen pots full of tea and paid the money to the seller. Then he handed over one to Gill. Wincing inwardly, Gill took the pot and started sipping the tea.
‘Where are you going?’ Nagarwala asked. ‘To Mumbai,’ replied Gill. ‘And yourself?’ He forced himself to ask. ‘To Nagpur only,’ Nagarwala replied. Then he started talking about Punjab. ‘I like Punjab very much. The people there are really hardworking. I want to live in some village of Punjab. And roam in its green fields,’ Nagarwala said and smiled. ‘To which city do you belong?’ he asked Gill.
‘Won’t you invite me to Moga?’
‘Yes. When I am myself able to live there.’
‘Why were you looking so upset?’
This time Gill felt pity for Nagarwala. How hard he was trying to please him! I shouldn’t rebuke him, Gill thought. ‘In fact I have to travel a lot,’ he spoke. ‘Often I have to visit Amritsar. I can’t ignore my duty. Then I won’t have my peace of mind. This frequent travelling has started getting on my nerves. So many times I have requested for a transfer to Amritsar, but they just don’t listen!’
‘Is that all? It’ll be done,’ Nagarwala said so simply that Gill couldn’t help smiling. Nagarwala extended his newspaper to Gill. ‘Here, please write your name and code number,’ he said. What difference does that make? Gill thought and wrote the details on the newspaper.
They began to talk on other subjects. Somehow it would help in passage of time, Gill thought. He was amazed to find that Nagarwala had very good knowledge of Indian Defence and Economy. Yet he was trying to share his ideas with Gill, as if wanting to know his reaction.
The train reached Nagpur. ‘Here we depart,’ said Nagarwala. ‘Yours was a nice company. Don’t worry. I’ll get your work done.’ Out of courtesy, Gill came to the door of the coach. As L.B. Nagarwala started getting down, he said, ‘Perhaps you didn’t recognize me. I am Lal Bahadur Shastri.’
A shock ran through Gill. He stood there stunned. Oh, yes! It was Shastri ji. He wanted to say something but words didn’t come out of his mouth. His mouth hung open as he recognized Lal Bahadur Shastri. Immediately he came to attention position. ‘Sir, yourself? In this Coach? This L.B. Nagarwala….. no security…….I don’t understand.’
Shastri ji smiled and patted Gill on the shoulder. ‘I wanted to travel alone…..like a simple ordinary passenger. So I got a ticket booked in L.B. Nagarwala’s name. But tell me, will you invite me to your village?’ Tears welled up in Gill’s eyes.
Shastri ji got down and went away. Gill wiped his tears. Today, the Prime Minister had talked to him over so many issues. He had even shared tea with him, contained in earthen pots!
A few days later, Gill was posted in Amritsar. The incident became a lifetime remembrance for him.
Such were our leaders of our past. Could there be an experience of this kind in today’s times?