I could not hear the train’s chugging sound, but there was a distinct cough, the cough of an old man. I could not see him, but imagined him with a muffler and a woollen cap pulled over his ears. This was a journey from a village in Bihar to Delhi. I was not in the train.
My journey was by proxy. A friend had visited his home in the interiors and was returning. He carried his rum in a bottle of cola. Mobile phones were working. So, we spoke. I heard the old man cough. People talk. At the next station I could see the few commuters get out and replenish themselves with water, tea…
How does one travel by proxy?
A couple of years ago a Pakistani writer had mentioned a trip to India; I told him that if he needed any information he could ask me; our interactions had been restricted to writing.
To my surprise he wrote. I could tell him about Delhi…the other places he visited were really a ‘going back home’ for his mother. It was touching that he kept me posted almost every chance he got, small notes. It felt like I was there, travelling back in time with his mother in history, a history she shared with her late husband, her years as a young woman in college. He told me about relatives and weddings celebrated. When I said I was looking forward to an article, he said it was too personal. It made these emails all the more precious. He did write about it, almost two years later. And there was a sense of déjà vu, as though I had been there all along.
Just as I was the other evening as the sun set and an old man coughed and a friend took a swig of rum and we spoke about literature and art. About Raja Ravi Verma and raag Humsadhvani…and about that poem I had left unfinished.
“It never happens. I don’t know why I have not completed it…ajeeb baat hai," I said.
“Here…write it…write about this…‘ajeeb baat hai’…”
I brought out my writing pad and pen and we lost the signal. I scrawled out words. What did they mean? I know they were not embedded in that moment; I know they took on a life of their own, like a train changing tracks.
Sometimes it follows a pattern, a signal…if it does not, then it derails. The twisted remains of a bogey, if it is empty of people, can look like a modern sculpture. I know it is a macabre way of looking at things. But emotionally I have travelled in many such trains, twisted beyond shape, meant for another track, colliding, skidding.
I have lived more lives than what I am entitled to. I have lived them because I got under the skin of those who were meant to live them. I pushed through their pores, opened them up.
If you open me up you will see bits and pieces of these…and with every movement of the wrist, there will be a different whiff of fragrance on the pulse points.
There is Poison, and then there is Eternity...