You’re at the Great Indian Railway Station.
The din of the announcements is ringing in and out of your consciousness.
The fragrance of oily bread pakodas and slimy batatavadas and refried samosas and the sizzle of steaming tea – all these are attempting to grab front row neuron space.
You’re trying to avoid touching anyone or anything, as you’ve managed to do till now. Not that you’re OCD-y. You weren’t even mildly bothered about notions of microbes transferring from one person to another. But this damned virus has changed what even your SOP used to be. “Avoid touching or getting touched by other people”, (even those of the other sex) – this is the mantra. The tragedy/comedy is that that’s a utopian notion, apt for the lockdown days of vacant platforms. The times they have changed. Bob Dylan doesn’t need to repeat those lines now. The masses are back in their thousands. “Maintain social distancing,” the loudspeakers are blaring. “Follow Corona guidelines,” a moment later. Yeah right. How the heck are you supposed to socially distance when there are fifteen people – get your head around it – fifteen people milling around a single steel bench? Anyway, that’s how it is, so maybe no point whining about it.
You rode pillion on your friend’s bike to the station. The road is in good condition. Funny thing is, it’s supposed to be a four-lane route through the heart of the megapolis, which it isn’t. The shops lining the route have their parkings, and then there are the people. Here, there, all around. Walking on the sides, walking through the middle, walking where they need to, walking where they want to. On bikes and scooters. In cars. Solo. In groups. It’s chaotic, but it doesn’t feel wrong. It is who we are, but even more importantly, it is affirming, of both life and stupidity, of the certainty that logic left this place a long time ago.
The mask is a strange ubiquity. It’s fortified the solitude of the city. You keep looking around to both sides of the road, to see faces, to see drama, snippets shorter than an Instagram Reels video. You’re seeking the connect with another pair of eyes that will make you look again. Because yes, we all have our individual lives, but what is one journey without intersecting with others’? But the city, the great bad cauldron of anonymity that calls you and me and all of us but doesn’t want to know us, will swallow you in its throngs. There will be no recognitions, only fleeting glances and wistful heartbeats.
Anyway, back to the station and the mask.
You’re sitting on that steel bench, surrounded by this restless mass of sapiens, finding a gap between two bodies big enough to let you gaze at the opposite platform. The wait for your train has grown interminable. Trains are late as a routine, yes, but that’s not what happens on this route, or to this train. And it’s seven minutes late already. There are days you start late, and keep wishing that you reach the station before the train does. Riding the bike like flood water making its way through a settlement, remember? And there are days like today, when you’re way early. So early that you had time to chat with your friend outside the station for a full ten minutes. It’s not meant to be this way, not with the late-lateef that is you. But there are days, and then there are days. All days aren’t made equal.
So, you have just enough space to gaze at that platform. And then a train whistles past it. It’s a Rajdhani, you surmise. And then you notice something you think is impossible. Your eyes fix at something on the train and they are forced to follow it. As the train passes, if you’re pondering the future of the Earth in the middle distance, you can keep your eyes fixed, as they are. If you’re trying to focus on the body of the train though, it is impossible to do that. Just like it is not possible to turn time back. Just like it is impossible to make a broken china cup whole again.
Anyway, the train arrives. You’re in one of the fancier compartments. Facilities, uncrowded, the yards. You board. You’re on your way. The city will call you again, and you’ll answer the call, wouldn’t you?
I wrote this post to get back to the blog with something other than reviews. Hopefully, I’ll have more stuff on here.
The End…for now.
Featured image courtesy.
Do share memories from your trips in the comments.
Thank you for your time.