Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Ride on the iron dragon

For reasons I cannot put my finger on, I prefer travelling by train and, if I am travelling alone, I prefer sleeper class. One of the reasons is probably my need to reassure myself of something. Another reason, in this case, is definitely the different shades of people I get to meet. People in the sleeper class tend to be less pretentious. They are noisier and less considerate but definitely not pretentious. People in the 2 and 3 Tier AC (which are the other compartments I occupy at different times) tend to act their class (AC?). I get to see people in all their human-ness in the sleeper class. This time I dragged my mother along. We were going to Madras (Chennai for you but not for me). We did expect a lot of Tamilians to be on board, so that assured my mom some conversation. Or so she thought. She always says that no one talks but she herself would pick a book (from the many, both of us carry) and reads. Of course, no one would disturb her and she proves her point that no one wants to talk!! God save her.

I usually wouldn't want to talk to anyone unless the anyone is a kid or an interesting girl/woman. The determination and urge is stronger if it were a kid and visibly so if it was a girl child and more so... forget it. None of them occupied my cubicle (what is it called anyway?). That was for the first 15 minutes of our journey. At the first halt, a young girl of about 24 walked in. Nothing attractive about her beyond her eyes. Beautiful eyes. I went back to my book. I was reading A lady and a monk (Pico Iyer). A very interesting book about his trip and stay at Kyoto, Japan. I have always had a soft corner for Japan and try to imitate her characteristic lifestyle by bowing my head whenever I get a chance. I know. Silly plagiarism. I would love to say "Hai" too, but people always reply to that with "Hi" and wonder why I am repeating my earlier greetings. Last thing I would want to do is explain to them.

This girl, whom we shall call Doe for this conversation, decided to climb up to the upper berth. I was on the other upper berth parallel (or nearly so) to hers. That was when I noticed, that she had a nice skin tone. She was dusky complexioned and her skin was well stretched over her creating the image of a ripe grape; succulent but not sagging. Slightly oily on her face, but wonderful in toto. She had draped herself in red and blue salwar-kameez in a very careless fashion and it never seemed to inhibit what she wanted to do with her bag and walkman and magazine in the upper recesses of the compartment. For people like me, every space is too little. She managed well enough. Would I call her attractive? Hmmm. If you take her in parts, maybe. As a whole she was pleasant.

I continued with my book (and I am sure you wonder how I could, with a girl lying beside me separated by a chasm of about six feet). It took me through the lanes of Kyoto and the mannerism of her inhabitants (which I religious likened to mine, thereby feeling glad that I was inherently Japanese. Hai) and through their attempt at English as a spoken medium of communication. The story of the monk and the woman, which Mr. Iyer creates for Sachiko, was interesting. I loved the description of the various scenes whereby, Mr. Iyer carries you with him and demands you listen to him, which you accede to.

I had an uneventful dinner and decided to retire early. The lady (not Doe) in the side upper berth decided to study just then and kept the lights on. No way was a going to sleep with that. I somehow managed to doze a bit when the group in the adjoining cubicle realised that it was 22:00 hrs and time for laughter, the really deep belly laughter, spewing pickles and rice over all those who didn't join in.

The lights went on again, and my pretty Doe decided to read her magazine. I waited long enough before realising that it wasn't the magazine which held her interest but the discomfort of the berth. Well, whatever the reason, the light had to go. I jumped down (I never climbed down since I was 10) and looked up into those beautiful eyes. Of all the things I would have liked to say or ask I chose the most significant and pressing one: "Are you reading, or is it ok for me to switch off the light?". She simply smiled, a demure one, and nodded (or shook; I don't remember. The choical world around those eyes was a blur). A stare held any longer and she would have thrown that magazine at me.

I couldn't sleep for some time, and before I realised that that time had passed and I was asleep, the lady on the side upper berth decides to resume studies and more seriously jot down notes!! For crying out aloud, where is the sense of decency? Pretense shitense apart, why can't they be more considerate?

Madras is beautiful in the morning. It should vanish from the surface of the earth after 7:00 hrs only to reappear around 18:00 hrs. I enjoyed the view while the train pulled into irrelevant station after irrelevant station. The sun is very partial to the skies above this city. Actually it seems to me that the sun goes through this emotional ride everyday. He (you must read Mr. Iyer's piece on why the Japanese call themselves the children of the rising sun, while they actually love the moon, which supposedly is 3 times bigger from Japanese soil) starts out being partial and paints the sky in crimson and gold sfumato and around 8:00 hrs he realises that "Oh oh. I can't be so partial. Let's do a jig and make everyone believe I am not." Then he burns down the sides, front and rear of every creature in Madras throughout the day till they clothe themselves in light cottons and sweat. By 18:00 hrs, he has convinced himself that he hasn't been partial and mellows down. He picks his brushes and daubs the sky with lilac and vermillion. Humans being humans, fall for this
softening at dusk and smile and forget the gory heat of the day.

We had told the driver not to come to the station. Actually it was my mom's idea. She seemed to be getting into the trekker's mood!!

The autorikshaw ride was uneventful like the last dinner, and both did a number on my stomach!! :-(

The events of that day will be related in subsequent posts. A post for each day...


  1. enga ponalum jollu vida vendiyadhu. adanga maatiya?

  2. Anonymous2:46 PM

    Boss, adu mottum-daana therinjuthu? Rest of the post-ai gavuni :-)

    What to do? Control nahin hota...

  3. @eroteme:
    The interspersing of the description of the train journey and the book's contents is a good way of writing the post.

    Strangely enough I relate to this strange habit of yours to prefer sleeper class to AC class, exactly for the same reasons - I like the people there, whether I interact with them or not, they give me a sense of being totally grounded on the realities of the day. I like being surrounded by them.

    Though I find train journeys too long and tedious anyway..

    You seem to be in love with Madras more than with Japan. And that statement that it should disappear between 7 am and 6pm is touche indeed!

    The train incidents were boring, repetition of the lady and the light switch was unnecessary maybe. Hope Doe comes again and happens to be less boring than here, and hope too that more of Pico comes in the other later posts...