Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore

Chapter 1

The train came to a screeching halt at the station. Tarun woke up, dejected; his head a mass of tousled hair, a distinctly unsure taste in his mouth, feeling unusually horny and vaguely depressed. Pangs of nerve-wracking hunger careered fleetingly through his sleepy body, making him wince. A chai-wallah passed, advertising his wares in a low-pitched squeak. Tarun desultorily wondered why all their voices sounded familiar and repetitive. He let his mind ponder on the question for a respectable moment, hoping the banality of the thought would lull it into desperate slumber.

Tarun felt restless and edgy; he wanted to know the name of the station. Still not able to shake off feelings of acute lethargy, he got up and rummaged under his seat, eyes squinted, trying to make out his pair of slippers from the unimaginably humungous amount of crap under it. He pondered writing a letter to the railways, asking them to put light bulbs under every seat. The sheer stupidity of the idea made him laugh silently.

He finally found the slippers, in the process disturbing a closely-knit family of cockroaches which had made them their home for the evening. Nudging one of them, he watched amusedly as they scurried nervously in multiple directions, and remembered that these are the guys who have been here on the planet when the dinosaurs roamed. His mind boggled - What a race! Or was it called a species? He trudged desultorily to the door of the coach. He peered out for a substantial period of time, trying to make out the name of the station. What looked vaguely like Hindi, was in fact Marathi.

Tarun noticed a bespectacled person urinating into the gap between the two coaches. He asked him the name of the station. The man got a little startled but recovered quickly to give Tarun a dirty look and answer his question. The village-town the train had stopped at was Bhandara, one of the typical Indian village-towns, inconspicuous by their very nature, conspicuous by their untouched beauty. Tarun instinctively thought about village damsels, dark luscious bodies, rowdy sex in sugarcane fields, dacoits hiding at street corners, and felt strangely aroused. Yes!!! His mind screamed, you can get aroused at just about anything. He wondered if he should begin writing to the Statesman again. He fondly remembered letters he would read over and over again, silently amazed at the measured erudition of some people and the incredible naivety of others. His mind wandered.

Tea was of the essence, the mind pestered. The chai-wallah had disappeared. Just when I felt like a nice hot cup. He got off the coach, and looked around at the bogies, windows closed; water dripping off the edges, and was quietly amazed at the beauty of it all. The chai-wallah finally emerged from one of the coaches, having woken up most of the people on it, wearing the smile of a man satisfied with the knowledge of a job well-done. Tarun signaled him for a cup. He also asked him if he had any marijuana on him – in a well-rehearsed and suitably hushed voice. His personal supply was running out. Village people have it all the time, Anshul had said after one of their drunken binges. They smoke it all the time, he had said pontifically, his specks on the verge of breaking. Who knows how tough it will be to get dope in Bombay? He had heard that the police was unnaturally and typically unreasonable with dope-peddlers in the city.

The tea was strongly flavored, with thick cream on the surface. The cream looked like stationary ripples on the surface of a brown ocean. Tarun hated milk in his tea, but it was a somewhat chilly morning and the tea warmed him. He felt like a new man. He wondered what people meant when they said they had become new men. Bored with his own questions, he stared at the train. Blue with white stripes over the windows, it looked strangely romantic in the wee hours of the morning.

Tarun had always loved trains. He remembered his early days in the city-town of Bhubaneswar, where he and his friend Babai would go every evening to the station, sit on the single worn-out bench on the equally dilapidated platform, and look at the trains as they whizzed by. There was a strange joy in trying to guess what the next train would be. Express trains (the ubiquitous super-fast kind) thrilled them. The speed and size thrilled and scared him at the same time. Tarun smiled as his mind wandered back to the time when he first got on one of those super-fast expresses. He had expected it to be super fast. The fact that it was only marginally faster than the normal express trains had been a severe dampener on his enthusiasm. He had been very disappointed.

The guard’s whistle mingled with the sound of the train’s horn to rouse him from his mental meandering. He got back on the coach, and wondered if he should smoke a joint. Feeling strangely alive and totally rejuvenated, he went to the lavatory, and smoked it anyway.

The unscheduled stop at Bhandara had woken up most of the passengers, a majority of them Bengalis from Kolkata traveling to Bombay – in all probability – to meet their relatives who were stuck in Bombay for many-many years and would pine for Kolkata and the charm of it all. As he smoked the joint and tried to blow the evidential smoke out of the small gap in the lavatory which was supposed to serve as a ventilatory-cum-recreational purpose, Tarun wondered about the pain of being probashi. Every year probashi Bengalis would host Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja, wear kurta-pyjamas to be suitably ethnic, and talk about Tagore and his genius, and occasionally about the pitfalls of communism and the red-brigade.

He came back to his berth. The marijuana made him happy. The four sharing the coup with him were one extremely noisy and generally happy family. The kids, a boy and a girl, to be precise, were screeching intermittently, high-pitched and noisy screams, mostly without reason; Tarun had immense trouble in resisting primal urges to deliver each of them two carefully aimed kicks on the backsides. The elder kid was a child, bespectacled, with frames which looked exceedingly large and funny on his little face, around ten years (or so it seemed), and the younger one, Tarun had been pleased to notice, had no teeth. The mom was a plump, jovial, and to his own surprise, faintly arousing. He, the archetypal lonely traveler, had roused the mom’s maternal sympathies, and she had offered him dinner the previous night. Tarun had smoked a stick in the evening, and had failed to refuse anything. He ate everything they offered, and was speechless as he ate. Having eaten his fill, he had quietly gone off to sleep. Now, having returned to his bunk, the dope had started making its effect felt, and he could not recollect if he had thanked them the previous night. Unable to recollect everything with any degree of coherence, he decided that he would thank them right after they offered him breakfast, and immediately felt ravenous.

The man from the pantry car, dressed in bright crimson asked him if he wanted breakfast. Food on the Indian railways has pretty much been on the abysmal side of things. Tarun was however too stoned not to like anything. Post a highly satisfying breakfast - he relaxed and quickly slipped into a trance-like haze. When he woke fifteen minutes later, there was commotion and pandemonium all around his coup. The kid (male) from the Bengali family sharing his coup had not been given food yet, and was in the crankiest of moods possible. The mom tried her level best to keep him quiet, but he was incorrigible in the way most kids are. He whined, cried, stomped, and did mostly everything which he felt would get his point across. People had woken up and were going about their morning ablutions, the men had towels wrapped around their necks. Some were returning from the toilets, faces aglow with the joy of a task successfully accomplished, the women strangely shy.

Tarun felt hot and dry. After a period of time, which to Tarun, in his drug-induced stupor seemed like an eternity, the kid was finally fed. The Bengali family’s food did not look particularly inviting, but he felt hungry all the same. The kid looked at him with questioning eyes; his mouth stuffed with idli, crumbs falling off at regular intervals. Tarun felt disgusted and revolted, but continued to stare at him, smiling childishly all the while. The train was now going through rugged terrain before entering the mad realms of the mega-city of Bombay. Tarun went and stood at the door and took in all the sights – impressed by its beauty.

He reminded himself of the aspersions cast upon the city. Parents never felt as endangered as when their kids are on their way to Bombay, as any other city. Bombay has its fair share of wit, charm, love, longing, stink, filth, dirt and he felt happy that he was on his way to experience all of that, and maybe more. He fretted about the friends that he would have to make all over again. He fretted over the fact that he would have to start all over again. Of course, his friends from college would be there, but he had never enjoyed their company, and he made a mental note not to get closely associated with them. He felt scared of losing his identity.

After thirty six hours and numerous halts at some totally worthless and nameless stations, the train finally screeched in to a final stop at the sprawling metropolis of Bombay. Tarun had informed Subho that he would be reaching Bombay on the morning of Saturday, and although he half-expected him to be there to receive him, he did not have his hopes pinned on the event. Subho was not his closest friend. They had shared a professional relationship in college, and he had definitely been the sanest person amongst the wide variety of lunatics which composed the class of electronics in his batch. He shared Tarun’s passion for marijuana and associated pleasures. Tarun however, hated Subho’s penchant of using extremely wiry words to describe perfectly normal situations, and had come close to bashing his (own) head against heavy immovable objects in utter frustration when Subho went on his pleasure trip with words. In spite of all this, he realized that he did not have too much to choose from, and vowed to be at his civilized best.

Subho had indeed come to receive Tarun at the station. Tarun felt strangely pleased. He had always hated it when people came to receive him. It irritated him and made him feel like a cripple. Today, however, he felt overjoyed. He had been without company for the last thirty-six hours and he could do with some, he decided. Dope and loneliness had always made for a lethal combination, and he did not want to live in its stupor for too long. He wanted to talk incessantly, about nothing in particular, and tell him about the hot Bengali housewife who had shared his coup (and nothing more), with him in his journey.

Unfortunately, Tarun did not get a chance to talk. Subho was at his garrulous best. Apparently, he had visited one of the dance bars in the city, and at that point in time, he could not think or comprehend anything other than dancing girls. Tarun was happy to notice a slight tinge of salivation every time Subho started describing his dance-bar-experience. Positively demented, thought Tarun, and laughed aloud.

2 Responses to “Chapter 1”

  1. # Blogger EQUINOX

    Great one Sandy!.. waiting for the next episode!  

  2. # Blogger Sheer melody

    Thanks for the comment - work is in progress on chapter 2 :)  

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