Monday, August 22, 2005:
The last day of the trip actually never began, because it was already Monday by the time we got back to our room. To make amends for the debacle of Sunday morning (when we were left stranded in the station with no one to pick us up), a cab had been waiting for us since 10 PM!
Our train was still four hours away, so we could have only managed an odd sleep. The foolhardy side of my brain decided that such a sleep wasn’t worth missing the train, and so I shifted my attention to the TV. Armageddon on STAR Movies. But I had kinda endured the movie already in a movie hall. So even Liv Tyler’s magnetic presence wouldn’t fool me into another time. I decided I would watch the English-subtitled Malayalam movie on DD National. Half an hour into the movie, I was bored because it was too melancholic – an old man who feels neglected, and every scene only adds to his insecurity… I might have enjoyed it some other day.
News was the only option left, and I was watching the news anchor on Headlines Today repeat the same sentences every twenty minutes, coughing after reading the same word every time, misreading the same thing again and again… how they manage it is beyond my understanding. Then came this really funny movie about a confused romantic, on STAR. I missed the title, so I didn’t know the name, and I mistook the hero for Adam Sandler. The guy happens to be Jason Biggs (you’ll agree he is a Sandler look-alike) and the movie is Anything Else.
I woke my friend up at 3, and we packed up and left in the next 25 minutes. Just into the Bhubaneswar railway station, and we learnt that the train was sometime away. At 4:40 AM, the Howrah Mail recommenced its journey, taking me away from a city and an experience I won’t be able to forget.
Inside, almost everyone was asleep. I decided to follow suit. The next thing I knew was that it was late in the morning and that everyone in my coupé was eagerly awaiting for me to wake up because I was tucked in the middle berth, and was hindering a comfortable seat for them. It seemed to me that the whole world spoke Bengali and nothing else. The Tamilian’s reaction to any language other than his own is filled with cynicism. Malayalam is spoken too fast, Telugu and Kannada have really funny scripts; and Bengali… sounds as if the speaker had a couple of stones in his mouth perennially.
The morning would have been impossible to spend had I not chosen to buy the Deccan Chronicle. Never in my life have I read a newspaper as I did that morning. I went out of my way and even read comic strips, attempted crosswords (and almost completed the grid) and solved my first su do ku. I was so engrossed in the paper that had there been this beautiful girl sitting opposite to me, she would have said, “Gosh, you are trying really, really hard!”
I rejoined my friend over lunch (he being in a different compartment), and over lunch we had a heated discussion on some general universal principles, most of all, what is good, and what is bad (or right and wrong). My friend (I don’t know what he was thinking) suggested that it was a sin to eat in a non-vegetarian restaurant, even if you were partaking only vegetarian food. To this day, I am amazed at his statement – surprised and shocked that our understanding of right and wrong is limited by such crude biases. I then embarked on a I-know-everything kinda lecture on what constituted a rightful action and what didn’t. Looking back, I find even this ridiculous. Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita said, “sarva dharmān parityajya mām ēkam saranam vraja…” (abandon all notions and judgements about good and bad, and surrender unto me). And here were two people, who considered themselves stud-level experts on His Divine Song, and yet were arguing about good and bad. Īshvaro rakshatu (only God can save us!).
During our discussion, we had crossed Vishakapatnam. The city that I had missed during the onward journey was now under a cloud cover. No sooner did the train leave Vizag than a slight drizzle started. And sometime later, it was raining quite hard. What can be better than such a magical Monday afternoon, spent in the confines of an air-conditioned coach, in a train that was moving through a verdant landscape… add to this the fact that you get an On-Duty leave!
I came back to my coupé, and decided that I would start a conversation with the folks there, the weather being too nice for me to break into a sleep. Ten minutes into the conversation, I learnt that the smart-looking chap and his mom were travelling to Yanam, and that he was the medical officer for that principality… he belonged to the Indian Medical Services! It seemed that I was destined to meet an officer from every one of the services before I reached Chennai. Glimpses of Annavaram and a few other beautiful places ensued. I remembered that Mr. Rajendra Gupta must be informed about the result, so I shot off an SMS to Kolkata. By 4, we had reached Samalkot where the medical officer got down, leaving an entire set of 6 seats to me and a Bangalore-bound Calcuttan.
I hate sleeping in the afternoon, but I had had only 4 hours of sleep in the past two days, so anything would have been fine. I would have slept till dinner… but for a group of ruffians! Though I was deep into dreamland, I could sense some noisy chattering. Suddenly someone woke me up, and I found that the coupé, which I had assumed to be mine till Chennai, was suddenly full, teeming with a bunch of well-built men, all seeming like the typical rowdy you would meet in a Telugu movie.
The guy who roused me from sleep spoke no English. He should have assumed that anyone who was in a train that cut across Andhra should be conversant in Telugu. I only managed to say, telugu teliyadhi (I don’t know Telugu). Immediately a tall, mustachioed guy, obviously the leader of the pack, stepped forward and commanded benevolently in a Telugu-accented English, “We are all travelling as a group, so please shift to the next coupé.” My neighbour and I had no choice, but I issued a minor protest saying, “Why don’t you let us stay here?” Pat came the response: “Actually, we are going to enjoy… eating, cards, smoking, drinking…”
The new coupé wasn’t exactly comfortable, partly because of their incessant chatting in the one we were displaced from. Even otherwise I would have gone out to stare at nature. For this was Mother in all her glory. We had just left Rajahmundry, and it was time to behold the beauty and the might of the river Godavari once again. As one stands near the door, one can experience a 5-minute royal orchestra, the main elements of which being the jangling of wheels, the roar of the train and the whish-whoosh of the wind, the serenity of the scene and the smell of the humid air adding to the effect. It was as if we were in God’s own country, this monied belt of Andhra Pradesh.
Back into the not-so-likeable interior, it became even more unmanageable because of the smoke and the stench of the liquor. If there is one reason to dissuade anyone from drinking, it should be the provocative smell of liquor. And whenever I looked in their direction, it seemed as if those rogues returned the glance, but with a smile, as if to tell us with pride, What’s life without a royal challenge?
At the next station, Giri (that was the name of the guy along with me) and I accosted the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) and got ourselves shifted to a more placid zone. I protested about the festivities in the area that we were leaving but Mr. TTE himself seemed helpless. “But Sir, someone has to give a complaint and only then can we take any action… who will do it?”
The occupants of this new area seemed nice, and they shared our dislike for uncivil people. Another conversation ensued, this time with a church official from Kolar (a small town famous for goldmines). He gave us some insights into the life and times in that place, and some details about how gold is – rather, used to be (sadly, he informs us, not any longer) – mined. First it was communism, then the services, now the mining process – will my education on this trip ever stop?
At 7:50 PM, I received a call; one glance at the number, and the guess became child’s play. Mr. Gupta, the Left-leaning entrepreneur from Kolkata, was overjoyed at the result, but more with my remembering him. A passing comment that I would meet him next in his hometown evoked this passionate respone: If you do that, Sir, I would consider you among my best friends! Oh God, here was someone whom I had not known two days ago, who had the great Shyamal Sen as neighbour, and this comment!
There are nice people in this world, beyond our realm; just that one has to embark on a journey of 2500 kms to get in touch with some of them. Chennai now appeared to be some inconsequential red dot in a corner of a world – a universe – that I had imagined could be studied from the confines of a 12 x 10 ft study. Perspective – that’s all there is education. And I am still learning.
An hour later, we were back on the River Krishna. It was dark, but rivers are, by nature, romantic; so are nights; and the combination! Everything now was in rewind mode… the journey was drawing to a close. Three unforgettable days, and miles to go before I sleep…
The essence of living is discovering. These notes are a reflection of the joy of discovery that makes life worth the effort.
More than the content, which wasn’t in dearth, it was the title that I spent a lot of time thinking about. Indeed this title isn’t new. My first blog, which was born over two years ago (and was alive for less than a month), was christened this way. The rants contained there would be similar. You may access it via this link: Notes of a Nomad
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