It was ten to five as I woke up to the screech of my attention seeking alarm- late yet again- what with the rerun of Friends occupying hours of my sleep, night after night these days. So couldn’t do the things I was planning to do, like a few hundred burpees or push ups to appear, stiffer and thinner in the right places to turn befitting to a white linen shirt I had bought. Screw you Chandler.
I had a train at six to catch and here I was dazed, far from ending my night’s stand with the bed. Mom and caffeine got me on my feet- barely so – as I reluctantly slid into the Uber summoned to take me to the railway station.
This particular cabbie had a twisted sense of humour if his playlist was anything to go by, which took me a while to figure out. He started with M.S.Subalakshmi going, ” Punarapi jananam, Punarapi maranam…“(One is born again, One dies again…) and I was overwhelmed by the serenity of the rendition.Well, who wouldn’t be at that time of the day.As I continued to linger a little longer in my reverie, it segued in the cryptic existentialism of the next song-“Ponna usuru vandhuruchi…“(Life that went, came back..). And the way he was manoeuvring with disdain through speed-breakers and sharp turns; he seemed quite determined to visit the town southwards of life. And I was being dragged along like a rag doll, before I rained in his parade.
All it took was a choice few words about his lineage, a gentle reminder about the possibility of him having to face the firing end of his employment and voila, the song and the gear changed! The buildings and trees stopped appearing like blurry-fleeting images from the window. Well, nothing works like swear words in this part of the world. It’s not like he drove like he had the prime minister behind, but at least I stopped being able to count the bumps on the road with my back till the station came.
As I stepped into the station, little did I know that there was still some ammunition left in the morning which had already expended the adrenaline of a bungee jump by then.
The friend who was travelling with me to Bangalore called up from the coach and cut the call with a wry instruction,”Come fast“.This reasonable person had booked the tickets, wouldn’t give me the coach number of the train and was reminding me to up the ante to a train with twenty other coaches.
Running in crowded places in Chennai can be quite a task at times -as daunting as running against a sliding sand dune. While the outgoing crowd doesn’t make space, the incoming one competes and hinders. Finally with a few minutes left, sanity prevailed over him as he texted the coach number.
As I wove my way to my seat, the next scheduled entertainment for the morning was staring at me. Apparently my friend couldn’t find seats together to book as it was a last minute plan. After a failed attempt at asking this person to exchange his seat, my friend had perched next to a fragile looking septuagenarian whose face had more wrinkles than the pashmina shawl around his neck. I was left high and dry with this person next to me, who had Dravid‘s first session determination plastered across his face with a tacky film magazine in hand. This hirsute wouldn’t relent to my request to switch seats as well, even if it meant depriving two friends of their company and me of some space in my own seat.Man, was he big. He held in him meat enough for an entire hamlet to feast upon.
Talking of feasts, I had a rendezvous with what Indian Railways’s idea of one was. It started with a trolley that waltzed its way into my coach, with infinite red trays arranged symmetrically. My mouth welled up with saliva at the sight of this elaborate red herring till I saw what the tray contained-A single Marie Biscuit packed to perfection!
Marie biscuit on a red tray is not hospitality, but hostility. This is one thing we’ve learnt to dodge consistently during tea times at home and have deployed as an effective weapon against out of town relatives who dropped in without prior notice. In short Marie is the Indian middle class’s silent “fuck-off”. And here it was deconstructed into as many headcounts and circulated like one of these compulsory ads on youtube, that one had to encounter first before the video he really wanted to watch.
Before the “Marie”-scar could heal, the breakfast made its grand entrance.
If bad karma was edible, it would’ve pretty much looked like my meal that consisted of pongal that resembled idli spread across a vaster geography, chutney that resembled sambar and sambar that resembled rasam. Little did I anticipate this when I hopefully answered,”Vegetarian” in binary to a question about my meal preference.
But there were people who dealt differently with their meal like the cute kid opposite me, who without a clue was putting to practise principles of mergers and acquisitions, albeit on a smaller scale as she combined the isolated omelette with the vacant bread that tasted like feet, when everyone around were going for jam. Smart girl steered clear from the evil trinity of pongal, chutney and sambar.
Relief came much later after the tables were cleared, in the form of packaged juice which seemed to obviously have escaped the chef’s intervention.
Whatever sensory satisfaction couldn’t possibly be achieved through my mouth, I was attempting with the eyes. After all the Chennai-Bangalore route is quite the picturesque stretch. But how was fate going to let my redemption be such a low hanging fruit if the turn of events since daybreak were anything to go by. I was gorging on the green strokes of the creator’s artistry as the morning’s culinary fiasco was starting to dissolve from my memory,till a fateful forearm came in my viewing perimeter. The density of the forest outside the window became a redundant sight before its miniature manifestation in the hairy hands of the person next to me. He had all of Anil Kapoor‘s body hair in his forearms alone. So long to the audacity to sight see.
My train called itself a “Super Fast Express“. Yeah, it continued to do so with another hundred kilometres to cover, twenty minutes past the scheduled time of arrival. It was like going through one of my worst nightmare in exaggerated slow motion, without being able to wake up. Rahman came to my rescue briefly, when the Railways didn’t. I thankfully had made a playlist full of his songs which helped me slip into a blissful sleep. I was musing on a million things -internal and external, like my defeated taste buds on the tired tongue, the limbs that had forgotten to stretch; courtesy of the encroachment from the seat nearby, the promises the trip held ahead, the pretty woman who was wearing a sari relevant from her grandmother’s era and whether I would go on live till seventy five.
I woke up to the sonorous screech of the train. Never had anything been more music to the ears. The train had finally arrived at Bangalore. People were bursting out in all directions like stock characters in monster movies. But I was in no particular hurry, for I wanted to take a moment to ensconce in the full expanse of my seat for once, without having to contend for a piece of the arm rest with an entire village next to me. That epiphany, I got a slight inkling of how the first few minutes of the fifteenth night of August must have felt like in 1947.