Another journey begins ...

Swarnajayanti Express sounded very fancy but knowing Indian Railways as I did, there was no expectation of gold plated furnishings, cutlery et al.  Of course being a magician and an acrobat helps in any train journey in the subcontinent. I didn’t want here to get started on the toilet first but it’s an integral part of long distance travel even though the actual time you might be spending there might be small, God willing. But let’s get the dirty part over with first. I don’t think the railway official who decided how long the chain has to be that ties the steel mug has ever travelled on a train or washed his ass for that matter. You have to be a magician to know how to use it. Being a yogi is also helpful if by your will power you can add several meters to the length of the contraption for it to be of any practical purpose. Previous experience of acrobatics and gymnastics is absolutely essential. It’s like passing motion in a washing machine in spin mode. But to give credit where it’s due, the toilets were cleaned twice during the 3 days trip. 

I travelled III A.C, putting the reality that is the heat and dust of India at arm’s length. There’s always romance in a journey, the romance of the voyage into the unknown, the unseen and a million other things even if your journey is preplanned to the minutest detail. Anything is possible including meeting a beautiful witty stranger as depicted in ‘Before Sunset’.  But as I survey the scene these days, all I see are people obsessed over their cell phones and laptops. How do you start a conversation?  But then I would have to remind people what exactly a conversation is…

  A family of three gave me company on this journey. The dad, mom and daughter all lost in their respective mobile world. I’m still fascinated by India speeding along outside a train window but it seems very few people are. They talked in monosyllables and occasionally glanced in my direction as well. There were so many kids in the compartment that we could have started preschool but they were surprisingly silent and well behaved.  

The trip to Delhi from Thiruvananthapuram took 50 hours most of it spent in deep sushupti. There’s something deeply relaxing at being rocked to sleep in the AC compartment in a train. Quite a few fellow travelers spent a considerable time curled up under the blankets. Alluring as this is, it is always a good idea to step outside once in a while to smell the ‘fresh’ air outside. In India the possibilities are endless.

On the outskirts of Vijayawada, the train stopped on top of the bridge over the river Krishna. It was fascinating to look down from the door of the train into steps and then a sheer drop into the green waters swirling below. The gentle lapping of the water could be heard clearly , and one could see fishermen struggling with their catch on a boat not far away.

In Bina jn, I saw that somebody had come to see their family off. She was so arresting in her appearance that I had to click some pictures…


Before Sunset Part 2

continued from the previous post...

It was past seven and the evening shadows announced the end to a perfect day. They were almost at the end of the walk when they unexpectedly came across an unmanned railway crossing. There was not a soul in sight. 

‘You know I’ve always wanted to do this in England, be in a deserted place by the tracks just to watch trains speed by’, Krishna said as they were climbing a small wooden platform for a better view. They sat together watching trains speed by in opposing directions. 

‘We’re like those trains ,innit, just meeting for today, one whole day in the exclusive company of another and then speeding away.’ , Krishna philosophized in his fake cockney accent which brought a half smile onto her lips. 

He was starting to feel a vague sadness engulfing him knowing that their time was up.
“You’ve suddenly become an old man’, she laughed, pulling out some of the white stallion’s hair stuck in abundance in his black hair. Her hand lingered on and she was now stroking his hair, both of them looking straight at the parallel rails never destined to be one.

The sinking sun on the horizon painted the skies a mellow orange and bleeding ochre red, almost like the colours in a Kancheepuram saree. Krishna thought it funny to be thinking about sarees at this particular time watching a sunset with an English woman. 

Krishna watched in amazement almost like a third person as his hands cupped her face. She mumbled something.
‘What’s that? , asked Krishna breaking out of his spell.
‘Vaneesha means blessed’, she murmured gazing shyly into his eyes.
‘I can see that you have that effect on me’.  

It was almost dark when they finally reached the rail station. The intensity of the day had drained them and they let life take the lead to inevitability. 

On the London underground they couldn’t bear to sit together or look at one another. Yet they couldn' refrain from stealing glances at each other. She was surprised that she could feel so much sorrow and pain for parting from a man she met just this morning. She looked at him from the corner of her eyes and found he was smiling to himself. These things didn’t affect men the same way, she thought.

Krishna felt tremendous gratitude and thankfulness for such a profound experience coming uninvited. His heart was already heavy with longing and sadness yet he was smiling. He heard her say again for the third time that she would send him the snaps. As the doors of the tube were shutting she turned around and mouthed something which he never heard. It could have been ‘I had a nice time’ or ‘I want to walk with you again’ or even ‘I love you’.  He would never know.

It’s been many many years since the day Vaneesha walked with him just for a day but Krishna still checks the spam folder of his email hoping to see the promised mail. Why didn’t he ask for her email id or number? He went for many walks after that but he never saw her again. Why hadn’t she contacted him? Maybe it was due to her boyfriend whose hangover was the reason she came walking alone that day anyway. Maybe things were better and simpler this way. Occasionally, Krishna dreams of a woman travelling with him on the tube suddenly getting up to go but not before turning around and mouthing those unheard of words. He just winks at her and smiles.

Before Sunset

                The train sped along the blossoming English countryside and he began to nod off.  The journey was an impulsive one. Krishna had been in the country now for almost 3 years and had recently taken a fancy for taking long walks in the countryside on weekends. Time Out magazine had come out with a book which listed walks with easy access from London. There was also a timetable for walks where people could just show up on a designated day, usually over the weekend. The detail provided was meticulous including the train timings from London. Usually he liked to walk with the group but today he thought it would be better off if he walked alone. So he took the later train in the day.

He got off at Wadhurst, the terminal point, fiddling with the book, trying to find the correct page. 
‘Oh, are you doing the walk as well?’ He spun around to face a smiling young woman who also had the same book in her hand. So they set off together chatting like old friends. Because they were having such an animated discussion they soon got lost. But because of that they were rewarded by the sight of bluebells in full bloom on a field on the way. Vaneesha was good with directions and they were soon back on the path. She had bought the book just the day before and had missed the earlier train because she got up late. Krishna joked that fate had conspired to bring them together. 

They exchanged their personal stories while at the same time enjoying spring unfolding all around. It had been a long time since Vaneesha ventured into the countryside. She was like an excited kid stopping ever so often to smell the flowers. At one stretch of the walk, they had to walk through webs made by caterpillars and it was amazing to see them spin webs just like spiders. At the end of that stretch through the woods, they were covered with webs and caterpillars. 
‘Looks like Spiderman has zapped us’, he said. They picked the cobwebs off each other and laughed.

Krishna looked into her light brown hazel eyes. She had a prominent nose which somehow complimented her beauty. Her dark brown hair was tied back in a ponytail. She was wearing one of those walker’s trousers where you could detach the part just below the thighs to convert it into a shorts, which she did one hour into the walk. She had beautiful legs and exquisite skin. I’m walking with a Goddess, Krishna thought smiling to himself.

On some stretches he walked ahead of her, for there came a time when there was nothing left to be said, when there was no necessity to speak or for physical proximity. Once he turned to look behind him and she had stopped at the stables that he had just passed. She was patting a huge white stallion. He walked back towards them secretly wanting to do the same. He had never patted a horse before. She told him that she had grown up with horses in a farm and had her ways with them. Without asking, she took his hand and placed it on the stallion’s neck. His heart beating fast he marveled at the touch, the soft touch of her hand on one side and the smooth skin and underlying hardness of the stallion’s. She took pictures of him hugging the horse and nuzzling his head against the beast.

Summer was just around the corner and the day never seemed to end. All along the walk, she was competing with nature for his attention. But were they really different from each other? He marveled at the sheer physicality of this woman’s beauty, the sonorous voice, the carelessly swinging hips and the rise and fall of her breasts. On the way she shared her knowledge of plants naming almost all the flowers they saw. He was happy to be silent, listening to her, feeling love well up in his heart for her, the incredible beauty around them and the power that made all this happen. 

To be Continued...