Escaping Bangalore to attend the convocation! I'm so upbeat, it's impossible to dampen my spirit. I wake up early in the morning and work at a hurried pace, charge my cell, iron my clothes, clean my bag, impregnate it with clothes, pay my rent, get a haircut, take a bath, buy some burgers...& am off!
Mani, Mantu, Anand and Santosh had already left a few days earlier, making them my envy. I take an auto to the station...the fare being a shade below Rs.60. So far, so good.
I'm in Platform #1, 'coz this is where my train to Chennai is scheduled to halt. The station looks dingier than usual. Perhaps it's because of the thick crowd that makes it impossible for me to find a decent footing. My would-be co-passengers are strewn all across and the whole place is deafeningly noisy. The overhead TV manages to grab the attention of some people.
What makes the platform doubly crowded is the fact that there are too many people who have come just to see-off their near-&-dear ones. It's one attribute almost unique to India. For each traveler, there'll be at least 2 people (often from competing camps) to ensure his loyalty! Vendors are busy selling of their cheap products. Some children cry hoarse, a man guides his dumb wife with street smart wisdom, someone bargains hard, the loudspeakers cracks into life and utters something indecipherable. Most people are dark skinned-a trait of inhabitants of South India-and ugly.
Amidst this crowd of seemingly rowdy people is a young guy trying to sell some books on Hinduism. He is very fair, in stark contrast to the others on the station, and is very humble but persistent in his approach. My eyes are fixated on this oddity. He has a shaven head and wears a warm smile. I guess he's from a religious group called ISKCON. He zeroes in on a lady, who, after some persuasion, bothers to flip through one of the books-if only to satisfy our ISKCONian. She doesn't seem convinced and returns the book. No problem, our friend moves on to another unsuspecting person.
My train finally arrives. I take my window seat (lucky me). My fellow seaters are a mother-daughter pair. Not surprisingly, at least 4 people have come to see them off. Sweet talks are exchanged, precious advise meted out, last-minute messages for other loved ones passed, coffee sipped and the bye enacted when our train finally begins to move - a good 30 minutes late, at 2:35 pm. By Indian standards, that's pretty punctual! The daughter takes the window seat opposite mine as its occupant isn't expected to arrive until a halt at another station. She's plump & pretty. Perhaps the ugliness of the other passengers and accentuated and elevated her beauty. I steal occasional glances at her until station damnation brings forth the rightful occupant of the seat.
Some children in our coach get acquainted to each other in no time and strike playful conversations, pulling their own guardians into the act. A cutie pie has an affinity for the footboard. I lose interest in the proceedings and stare out of my window. The sights are featureless but beautiful. Daylight gradually fails. Our train reaches Chennai Central. I disembark and after some moments discover that my next train (destination Ranchi) will arrive on Platform #1.
There's enough time to kill. Chennai Central is the worst among the 4 metropolitan stations, Mumbai's CST being the best. My station is unimaginably stuffy and dirty. I quickly have my burgers and arrive at my platform after dodging through a labyrinth of clumps of people. It's isolated and pleasantly-deserted. Mosquitoes torment me as I wait for my train to arrive. One good thing about Bangalore is that there are few mosquitoes. Indeed, I had forgotten all about them until rediscovering them now. With this came the horrible realization that Ranchi too is heavily infested by the blood-suckers. Anyway, I refused being demoralized.
My train arrives and I take my berth (side lower). We depart well after the scheduled time of 10:30 pm. I feel sleepy. The train pulls out of Chennai Central into the piercing darkness of the lonely night. My fellow passengers are all asleep. I peep out of the window into the naked night sky. The heavenly specks look stunningly beautiful. Most of the stars are usually lost in city light; but away from civilization, where the sky isn't polluted by artificial light, the sight can be absolutely spectacular. Everthing changes, but the heavenly patterns remain the same. I can see many familiar constellations, they look exactly as they did when I first discovered them. Only wandering planets and the rare comet betray the stillness of the nocturnal sky. They are my companions in solitude.
I wish them adieu and drift asleep.