It’s very hot in the train. I have been sleeping on the uppermost berth, so it’s even hotter. There is greater activity this time than the last because a group of 50 Maharashtrians are in our compartment too. The chatter is nice, friendly, and full of camaraderie. I wake up and realise that the whole day is yet to pass by until I can get home. It’s going to be a long day ahead in the train. I try to go back to sleep but I can’t. What have I been dreaming about?
Ah. It comes to me. I have been writing in my sleep and by the recollection it seems as though I was reading Black Milk in my dream as well. I can’t remember where the writing stopped and when the reading began. It was a very busy dream. I guess this happens when you read a whole book at a stretch, on your phone, in under 4 hours. I wish I could write down what my subconscious was thinking. I’m sure I’m an intriguing person when I’m not fully aware of my senses. This is also the reason why I stay away from anything intoxicating, who knows what I might turn into?
The food that arrives is bland and unappetising. After eating delicious lunches and dinners replete with lip-smacking curries and soft porrotas, this seems like abstinence. The Indian Railways are also selling dosas for breakfast, and I am apprehensive. It’s obviously not going to be good. But I decide to take my chance. Who knows what I might get to eat, specially when an entire day is to be spent in the train. The vada and dosa are like cardboard. I give up. I have a coffee and 2 slices of bread and I wish I can read some more of Elif; it will put my mind off food. But there is nothing. Sorry Kate Atkinson, I have unceremoniously dumped your book. I have a Turkish hangover, I will be back soon. I promise.
After some time, my mother buys me a cucumber which I eat. Some vendors come over to sell grapes and I buy those too. Parents are shocked at my choice of food. (They believe I’m a pathetic eater, which is devastatingly untrue.) All I can think of is this peace in my mind after reading Black Milk. I have no idea what happened. Was it the book or was it the Kerala effect? I have spaced out and feel like the world has achieved some sort of balance.
I decide to sleep some more. What better way to escape time? None. So, I sleep for what seems like a long time, but it wasn’t long enough. Didn’t I say time doesn’t pass when you’re not in Mumbai? I try to sketch my characters, but I fail. No inspiration only. Rather, it seems like nothing is needed. There is acceptance of the present and suspension of the future.
I check my emails, reply to some, and delete others. The only thing that works on my phone is my office email, and of course the sms. And now the train is tunneling again. Again! Someone in the compartment says the train goes through 35-odd tunnels on this route. No wonder it’s so tiresome.
As we touch down Mumbai, the heat is even more. Or may be it’s just me. After all that wait to get through the day, homecoming is good because, finally, there is a clean bathroom. Also, coming back is a little disappointing because who wants to get sucked into a routine in which you have no idea where time goes and all you’re ever doing is play catch up? Mumbai inflates your being with its wholeness and you’ve got to keep up. There are no two ways about it.
Nevertheless, the Indian Railways makes me feel proud of our country. It is an ecosystem of varied people who journey with you. You talk to them, watch them live a day of their lives just like you do, and then part. It’s amazing to me how the whole ecosystem runs day after day not stopping and taking people through and back the plenty journeys they undertake.
All said and done, this is also a kind of survival where we escape our lives and come back to them all while interacting with people who you have never met or will never meet. Imagine how the universe designs this. Specially with a population like ours.
There is magic in the mundane. There is.
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