What is so exciting about it?
I have never given a good thought on the question. But today, as I sit in a quiet air-conditioned room, somewhere in Jodhpur, with the bright sun and the playful wind outside, I feel I am ready to try and solve the puzzle. Is it the destination then, which makes the train journey so exciting? But then I reciprocate to myself, why is then traveling by flight not the same? Indeed it is not the same. The train allows more room for the travelers to get cozy; it’s not just the length and breadth of the seats, but it is also the fact that an entire village is moving through the landscape with kettles and drums and teapots. No “kettles and drums and teapots” of course, it is just that I am reminded of one great novelist who had written about the train looking like a kitchen rushing past a village with an entire village on its tail. For me, indeed it does feel that way: as the train accelerates and tears ahead in a break neck-speed, it crackles, creaks and cranks from side to side—it’s kettles and drums and teapots all along!
A bunch of strangers intimately packed into a compartment…
It’s intimate. I have had my fill of such intimacy inside trains and that’s why I always consider traveling by train even if I have the choice of air-travel. The nature of intimacy I am talking about is, to be quite frank, vulgar. There, in that small compartment you see men and women lying on their backs, cast in a spell of languorous repose. You see them in all their symmetry of hips and calves and haunches, giving you plenty of view and poses. Because your poser is unashamed; the setting is such that there is no room for much modesty. In fact, the setting is so disarming and simple that you sleep languorously in repose with all your private thoughts and dreams, just a few feet away from your fellow travelers. It is highly intimate, especially during the night time.
With nothing in common…
In other words, you will never meet each other again. And that gives you a certain leeway to be bold, and to be slightly vulgar—I must add here, as a cautionary step that this vulgarity is strictly confined to staring and an objective discussion of the subject among good friends. This last I understand sounds questionable. But I pray that one takes it sportingly and forgivingly, as a case of youthful dalliance. As I think about it I am reminded of a train journey, which might very well illustrate my point.
It was my return journey to Guwahati from New Delhi. We were three guys, Disi, Lolat, and me, inside the Northeast Express, heading home. When we had all somewhat settled down and the train was about to move out from New Delhi Station, a girl in a white boat-necked blouse and black leggings came in with her companions. These new fellow-passengers sat on the seats just a few paces behind us.
The girl in the white blouse looked like a movie star--the way she dressed, the way she was talking and laughing constantly. Showing her wide "close-up toothpaste" smile.
As the train moved forward and we were all settled down I found myself looking at her from time to time and thinking about philosophy. The human flesh withers away in a sack of dirt and bones. And yet for a few moments on earth it glows and hums with its own dark energy. Perhaps we owe it to the senses and are required to give it its due. And surely that is the reason why she was reacting to me—and rightly so—animated as we are with the gift of life and youth. She with her folded legs was stealing mischievous glances between her laughter.
“Bro. that girl is looking at you,” Lolat said.
“Just see her boobs,” I told Lolat (who sports a shoulder-length hair tied into a pony tail, to go with his charming face.)
Lolat smiled a shy yes quite taken aback at my outspoken vulgarity.
“Just see her boobs, man,” I turned to Disi unable to contain my enthusiasm for the boobs that took me by surprise—I wanted to discuss those boobs: “Hypnotizing is not it?”
“Yeah I did notice that,” Disi smiled knowingly. Disi is someone who looked as if he knew things personally. And looking at my excitement he broke out into a theatrical laughter. A trail of “ha-ha-has” that had ingenuous phonetical properties—of glottal activity and place of articulation.
“Those pair of boobs are different, man, just look, they stand apart from the rest of the body, like headlights are apart from the car, they are small but look how they hang, unmistakable in its texture and round-shape. It’s as if they are a nuisance to her, something that demands to be handled with care,” I told Disi.
“My brother you have put it one-and-everything perfectly,” Disi said. And he proceeded to laugh his (slightly devilish) laughter again.
This is the kind of vulgarity and boldness I had been referring to in my enquiry of the idiosyncratic pleasures of a train journey. But before I jump back to the ending of my story I have to clarify certain things: my interest is first and foremost artistic, I can discuss the boobs, only because I am not too interested, or rather, interested in an artistic sort of way, I look at it objectively and I try to describe it using metaphors, similes, and the like. I am not inflamed by it, nor too passionate about it. (Look at what happens in Lok Sabha when an MP gets too impassioned.) Secondly, I do know where to stop. I do know my limits. There are other important things to be talked about and to preoccupy oneself with.
“Wanna talk to her before she leaves?” Disi asked me the next day. We had reached NJP (New Jalpaiguri) Station in West Bengal and she had changed into a red dress and a hat.
“No,” I said, “You go ahead.”
And I sat there inside the train, thinking about her family in Darjeeling. She must be coming home after a long time. How excited her parents would be to see her. Parents are darlings. Thus is life, nobody is lost forever. I won’t ever see her again does not mean that she is lost. We are all made of the same stuff and connected forever in this Universe.
I have come to realize that somewhere along the way my train of thoughts got sidetracked and lost its original purpose. I can actually recall that particular point in my meditative enquiry where this derailment took place, it happened when the Nepali lady advanced into my thoughts, the very same who kept us more or less entertained till she got down at her stop in NJP Station. Once she had come in, I lost track of my thoughts and had entered into a different sort of enquiry which—as I reflect on it now—was nothing but an apology to stare at the attractive parts of women. Owing to such errors I have to admit that I cannot commend myself on having done a good job on solving the puzzle of what is so exciting about a train journey. But as a last attempt I would wish to suggest that, along with all that has been brought to light as causes for the idiosyncratic pleasures of a train journey, there is also this one last element that we unwittingly ran into in practice. This element is nothing but the infinite possibilities of sidetracks that we are offered, infinite sidetracks that we could meander into from our original line of thinking. The constant gentle rocking of the train lulls you into a dreamy state and you jump from one track of thought to another as the train takes you onward to your destination.