Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Moving Pictures

Act 1

A perfect golden ball of a sun – glowing dustily over winter dried fields and scrub.   The next window-glance sees a Nippon-flag globe, sinking down through the smog of small industries and tiny home-clusters.

Our train murmurs along, with occasional chatter of tracks when we cross the points.  Two of my three train mates are supine, curled in grateful sleep in the quietness of the air-condition coach.
Another watches a movie intently on his large mobile phone (or would that be communicative entertainment system).  His blue tooth ear-phones blinking occasionally.  Blue.  Now he holds a phone in each hand and is watching a video while scrolling through messages.  Outside the villages have given way to unseen forests (by our crew at least) and the blue green ridges of the Aravallis loom quietly behind.

I am off to Lalitpur.  I report for work tomorrow morning.  My brother’s hard-case guitar, the biggest rolly-bag we have filled with clothes and books, a small one for my rusty-trusty computer and a supper of parathas and egg bujia lovingly prepared by Sheba are the happy burdens I bear north as we race past black-burnt fields, ready for a future planting, our train taking us on into the coming gloom.

Act 2

Unusually for the Indian Railways, as I write this, I find myself am totally on my own in my section of the train.  The three chaps have gotten off at Igatpuri – and no-one else has taken their place – so far at least.   Trains normally halt at this tiny town for a generous helping of time so that their ‘extra locomotives’ can be uncoupled.   As if to underline what I tapped into this comp, the whole train just experienced a little surge for about half a meter forward, and is now stationary again.
We have successfully reached the top of the Western Ghats and now will tootle off into the wide expanse of the Deccan Plateau.   We will also be heading north into the cold.  I have not worn a sweater in January since I don’t know when.  But here goes.  

It is now pitch dark outside.  The platform is dim behind the tinting of the far-side windows.   Seeing through a glass darkly, I am treated to a single bulb glowing under the roof of some official looking building, and the yellow letters announcing F.K. IRANI WINE SHOP.    As we gently start moving again,  a slow stutter to begin with, more lights are seen and roads open up to view.
A small army of vendors have passed through.  A their calls – some sing-song, some sharp, some matter-of-fact – mingle with the steady murmuring of conversation punctuated with the insistant words of a child.

Act 3

Early morning.  Mist outside.  Cold already creeps in.  I take out the sweaters.  Black and black.  My trusty SHALOM muffler. Made 18 years ago by women recovering Injecting Drug Users in a different place and different era.  Its blackness still keeps my throat warm.

Small stations flit by outside the window.  Ghostlike trees emerge and dissappear.   My tiredness headache grinds itself into a corner of my head.  Nights when you know you may miss a 2 minute train stop are not full of rest.

The night has seen a family of 6 take up the empty spaces with their food and camaraderie - and then get off early in the morning at Bhopal.  A figure sleeps in a lower bunk.  One man is awake and we chat in the morning gloom, me sipping a cup of chai.  It's too sweet for him - a free spirit, trekker and nature photographer from Kanpur - who runs an educational enterprise to make ends meet.

A young woman wakes up the sleeping form.  Why are you here? She remonstrates.  We have been looking for you for half an hour - 'bahut parishaan hua!'   The mother sheepishly says that it was open so she decided to sleep there.

More fog outside.  I had nipped out at Bina and was told the train had another 45 mins before it would hit Lalitpur.

Finally the train enters a town and before we know it has stopped at the station.  Lalitpur says the big yellow sign at the end of the platform.  I bid goodbye to my fellow conversationalist - who helpfully carries out the guitar while I roll the elephant of a bag towards the door.

It is raining slightly as I step out into the cold and am greeted by the warm smiles of Daniel and Biju.

Our dear Daniel has come to Lalitpur for a month of orientation into the EHA community health and palliative care work here.  Biju is the head of the hospital and has gracious come to meet me.

A new day has begun.

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