Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Train of thought

I think the lulling motion of a train helps your thoughts to wander. Then you reach your destination and immerse yourself in life. But those thoughts stay on the train, imperceptibly taking up a corner of your mind, forming little trains of their own that take you places when you let your guard down.

Taking the train to work everyday has been such a revelation. Not only do I get to hear different accents fight it out over who has a larger behind and is taking up a disproportionate amount of space, I also get to window shop as trinkets, cosmetics, magazines, snacks and clothes are peddled to women who would otherwise never, on a weekday, have time to stop and stare, let alone buy. And I get to people-watch. Which is incredible entertainment for the (amazingly low) price of a train ticket.

Witnessed this morning was an animated conversation between school boys. They rushed onto my coach, four teenagers, and sprawled on the seats in the largely empty coach. I had no idea what they were saying, but they laughed a lot. Their language was unknown to me. All I could do was smile to myself and make wild guesses about what they were discussing (girls? teachers? cricket?). They spoke with their hands, and I realised I had, in my hurry, boarded the coach for the "handicapped and cancer patients". That explained the empty coach.

Their silence was loud, adding weight to their presence, meaning to every gesture, a word in every shake of the head and a joke in every raising of eyebrows. We travelled along in companionable silence, in worlds of our own, briefly overlapping when they surged past me, boisterous young boys, eager to get off the train before it came to a complete halt.

The opposite of silence is found in the other coaches, where the cacophony of "why you pushing, men" and "oof" and "ouch" and "arre jaldi utro na" usually drowns out the gentler side of most of my co-passengers. I watched in surprise as an entire crowded morning local once allowed a raggedy woman to remain asleep, stretched out on a three-person seat, cozy under a too-small, torn sheet, all the way till Churchgate. Perhaps they saw her exhaustion and homelessness etched on the blackened soles of her feet and in the three worn plastic bags that held her belongings.

Or perhaps it was the simplest way to give a little to a fellow being who would be forgotten as soon as everyone rushed off the train to rejoin their worlds.

Except that the little gesture, which meant so much in a crowded train where there's little room to stretch, will stay in our minds, making a home, snoozing under a torn sheet as we live our wakeful lives.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The March of Time

1993. 2004. 2007. 2011.

Leaving home this morning to return to Mumbai, I went through the usual ritual of touching feet, hugging, and bowing before photos of the dead.

And it struck me, that what began in 1993 as the lightning-quick, unexpected loss of a grandparent, ended last Sunday, with the gradual decline and demise of my grandmother. Fewer feet to touch, more prayers to send into the unknown. One by one, all four of my grandparents have moved to make their homes in photographs. Ever-smiling, healthy and eternal.

I can make my peace with that.