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Finding Love Again - Chapter 1: In the Train

Short story By: Balaji Iyer

It is about me. The reality I run away from and the reality that confronts me.

Submitted:Aug 27, 2008    Reads: 156    Comments: 6    Likes: 2   

I was travelling second class from Delhi to Dehradun. The journey meant more than just a trip to me. I got down from the auto and paid one flat hundred rupee note and hastily moved towards the station.
The hustle bustle and stench of the railway stations has always fascinated me. The high pitch voices of the vendors, the bumping of the coolies and the heavy baggage of passengers conjures up images of people moving from one place to another… leaving something behind… things they have loved… things that have got used to. It has an inherent separation.
My life at this stage was not going as I would have hoped for. It had come to a point where I was not looking forward to it. Love had somewhere got buried in the midst of mismatched expectations. I was longing to getaway from my own life. I half expected my trip to never end so I would never have come back to my imprisoning life. I had near unrealistic expectation of going to the end of the world and then falling off. A hope to be transmigrated to another world… a world of fairies and hippies, where poets flew in the air and quarreled with their poems. A hope to feel what once felt like first love.
For the trip, I had taken along three companions: my mobile that had a decent collection of rock music, a book by Ruskin Bond 'Season of Ghosts', and a vague detachment from my own life.
I started out with the music and put on the earphones. But in second class bogies it is quite difficult to cut yourself off from the fellow passengers. A mid-forty-something man, travelling with his family of three, kept asking me about the usual train questions… your name, the place you are headed, the reason behind your travel, etc.
He was obviously not mindful of the fact that I was trying to immerse myself in the music. He obviously did not bother to notice the earphones in my ears.
So I decided to make a more obvious statement and took out the book and started with the introduction. This should have made the bugging, pot-bellied man recede. But it took more than the book… it took a lot of silent treatment and monosyllables to give him a hint.
I kept wondering throughout… why would life be unpleasant? The childhood, with its over the hill troubles, was far less complicated and far more fun. By now the train had picked up speed and the lights in the compartment started to dim. By far the only light in the compartment was in my bay. I felt a moral compulsion to put my book back and switch off the light.
I looked at my watch it was 11:00 p.m.
The lower berth seat, the much sought after seat in a train, was never meant for me. I was always more comfortable in the side berths, the ones at the aisle.
Luckily, I saw this tall man trying to force fit himself on the side berth adjacent to my seat. I could not wait but jump at the opportunity of trading places. It was a neat two minute conversation. By the end of it, I got the aisle seat that I wanted and the man was more than thankful. Fair.
I made myself comfortable on the lower aisle seat, placed my book in my lap, plugged the earphones and started listening to Pink Floyd on my cell phone's music player. I got into a trance… images of past, drifting life and nostalgia mixed with detachment flooded my senses. Perhaps I was half asleep.
Suddenly I was woken up by a heavy nudge. In trains, such nudges are a commonplace. I opened my eyes and saw a young girl standing by my seat. She wore a black kurti, a type of a long shirt. She asked me if I could let her sit through the night journey on one corner of my berth. I have always trusted girls in kurties - don't know why. Moreover, such adjustments are again imperatives of an Indian second class train journey. I agreed without giving it a second thought. I couldn't have bothered less. Comfort was not something I was looking forward to in life. So I agreed.
For the next five minutes she kept on shuffling… trying to fit her luggage under the berth and ensuring that she caused the least amount of disturbance to the people who were fast asleep by now and that she took the least amount of space on my berth.
I was lost. Music had taken over. Pink Floyd had dawned.
It must have been an hour after that when the train came to a screeching halt. That brought me back to life around…
The junta around me was rumbling in sleep. The blue rubber sheet of the Indian railways gets to you when the train is not moving and you are left to the mercy of the ceiling mounted fans. The uneasy heat was slowly bringing people out of their sleeps to restless shifting of weight from one side to the other in hope for some cool breeze.
The young lady, who was sharing my berth, was holding my book in her hand and was looking at me in the dead of the night. It kind of startled me into activity. I sprung up and squeezed my eyes to polish of traces of fatigue and sleep.

She handed me the book back and introduced herself as SHRUTI. A cool breeze spun the moment around and the train started moving again. (To be continued...)


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