I am encouraged. The decision to publish the story here had posed an embarassing possibility if, prompted by how it unravels in later chapters, I were to alter its content in its finished form. And, more importantly, how would I handle suggestions or serious criticisms at this stage of the work when, frankly speaking, I would be giving my whole attention at taking the narration forward than on looking back in review ?
The answers that set my doubts somewhat to rest came after I reached out to a few of my online friends : they all said I should serialise the finished part on the blog. Which wasn’t an answer to any of my reservations … but it enhanced my own desire to upload it re-read it myself along with the readers.
The answers I share here are what I provided to myself in order to go ahead with the doing : one, change howsoever I may in future, the laydown is still enough of a story, as it is now; two, suggestions and criticisms that might trickle in would be welcome anyway, now as info to what or how I will express the parts yet unwritten and later while reviewing the parts already published on the blog.
So, here it is.
What transpires between a man and a woman when they spend time together in an small coupe all to themselves, on a train that will take them to Kalka and, from there, to Shimla through a journey of about 36 hours … ?
There’s absolutely no chance of it being a love story, fit for celluloid, but I do see a spiritual thriller in the situation.
“ What remains with two people who come together on promise of love but do not empathise in their unity, and diverge away from-each other ?”
“ What remains with two people who come together on promise of love, deepen their empathy, and unite to mean everything to each other ?”
[ These questions would occur to me when younger and I’d actually posed them
to a couple of my friends who were in a relationship …]
Chapter – I
” I too am going to Kalka.”
I put down the book. She must have seen my travel itinerary on the reservation chart posted at coach entrance. It was quarter to ten in the night now. The woman who joined in at Durgapur station looked middle-age but was all eyes, weightless and sprightly. It’ll be one more night before we will disembark at Kalka.
But what was there to say. I was glad. The nod in acknowledgment was reflexive but the smile on my countenance had stayed on. The juncture was loaded with a tentativeness, I felt. It would unravel, I told myself, as it always does.
She did her bed on the upper berth. It was a two-berth coupe. I had the lower one. Despite it being late, she chose to sit at the other end of mine. She looked out of the window and I followed suit. It was dark and rushing past. The wind on my face left me indescribably connected. Looking back after a while, I found her watching me.
“ Not sleepy, eh.”
“ Yeah. There’s still much too excitement remaining to subside. Perhaps you would …”
“ No, I hate missing out on so much of experience to sleep. Perhaps, by the early hours of the morning I’d allow her to take over… Are you a little taken up by the situation of spending the night in the company of a stranger, a male… ?”
“ Could be, subconsciously. Anything could happen but I perceive no cause that it would. It’s your perspective to sleep that I am curious about. Most would find it not so normal. Especially at your age …”
“ How do you see it ? And what’s my age, I wonder ?”
“ You look late middle age. What exactly do you experience, looking into the blank depths outside the window ?”
“ It’s chronic … this presumption of what it is from what it looks to be. At what age should one stop appreciating the night … It’s healing, wondrous, quietly alive and so very gathered in peace.”
“ Are you a monk ?”
“ No, just a recluse.”
We slept. It felt good to be traveling with someone. I embraced the track and wheel sounds for long, the wind on my face, the indistinct hills and trees in a darkness punctuated by the amazing presence of light framed in black.
” It felt good to be travelling with someone,” she said zipping close her utility pouch in the morning. I smiled. It was the thought I had slept with… There was no point to it but the wonder turned in my gut. An extra dose of vitality shooting into the nerves, if you know.
” A pleasure.”
I may have said that to myself. She looked moist and fresh and strangely familiar. The book she’d opened was Narendra’s essays on Vedanta. I stared through the window. This existence out there never failed to empty the mind and rest the gut.
Breakfast was timely and a silent affair. I ate without the dramatics but quite as animals do… single-mindedly. She smiled her satisfaction, looked out, read, but was mostly hesitant to launch an engaging conversation. I picked up the book barely read a paragraph or two, and snoozed.
” You know, this term for truth, “Satya,” keeps coming in but remains empty of content. It’s so familiar, almost intimate as it rings in the ear, but sort of undefined and unspecified.”
To Be Continued …