March 07, 2002

Train#2626

I can never escape this urge to pack everything and run. The feeling always persists that you are just a guest wherever you are, at any given moment in time. You always belong elsewhere than where you are at that time. Where is that elsewhere? I have no clue, maybe I shall never know.

It is never consistent as to why this urge is there. At times it comes with an escapist tinge, but most times it originates from the boredom of life being predictable. There is a wanton worthlessness that accompanies it.

The only consistent thing in it is the return to the place where you started, which is the feeling. Once there, there remains no point to be proven. No one to be made proud of. No individual pursuits. But you are always there, which means there is no point in it anyway.

All that remains is me the traveller with my only baggage of a bunch of questions. The only answer that one ever gets to is that, there is no answer.

In those moments I feel like a lonely ghost talking to himself.

Ever since I was a child I had this great fascination for train journeys. Even now, one of my most favourite series ever is Michael Palin's Great Railway Journeys of the World. Somehow trains have always been special for me.

India is a beautiful experience as far as train journeys are concerned. But other than the beauty aspect of it, I feel that most people who love trains have a commitment problem. It is a strange explanation but is one that holds true, at least for myself. You are a certain kind of an escapist if you love train journeys.

There is a strange guarantee about it. Even on the longest journeys there is the assurance that you do not have to put up with anyone for more than a maximum of three or four days. Staring out of the window I can catch a glimpse of countless lives that are in progress, while they cannot even feel my existence. In a funny way this amounts to a total lack of responsibility.

Once at the destination, armed with the pleasing knowledge that you will most probably never meet them again in your whole life, you part ways with the cosy acquaintances that have been made. I have a stolen a glimpse of their lives from them, while nothing has been given by me. In short, a brilliant deal.

Back in the city every time you happen to glimpse a train the urge comes running back to you. It is a certain high that cannot be explained.

Before you know it you are back at the station, it is another day, another journey, another set of people to make friends with and part again.

You know the destination, the route and the journey. The overwhelming sense of deja vu one gets then is almost cruel. Again, monotony catches up on you in spite of all the efforts you made.

Does it not sound a lot like life? One lonely ride punctuated with people who occupy a certain amount of restricted space and time and then they move on, leaving behind just a whiff of reminiscences.

Maybe I do not want even that to whiff to remain with me, which is why I refuse to talk to fellow passengers these days.

With a sudden jerk the we move forward, a few tears are shed, hands wave final goodbyes in a mad frenzy.

No, I do not have anyone to say goodbye to.

With a soft sigh I sink down into my seat, everyone else is getting to know each other.

Pretending to be an introvert, I stare out of the window with an aimless gaze. The rag pickers and the shanties fly by first, followed by the villages and the vast open plains for my prying eyes to feast on.

The system takes over. Within hours my resilience is broken. I submit to the rigours of the journey. Suddenly the beauty in it vanishes and I realise my bunk is too close to the loo, needless to say it is stinking.

With another violent pull from the engine we are almost up to full speed.

Three days of boredom lies ahead of me.