There was something relatively calm about the fellow whose auto I was currently on, it was an otherwise ordinary January afternoon, the trees were still except when sudden gusts of wind woke them up and made them wave and dance.. The sun was lodged somewhere near the centre of the skies, the process had begun, she would slowly slip continually into the deeper abyss of the heavens… My sling bag was filled with all sorts of books on various topics, ranging from the Philosophy of Life to leading a life with the Holy Spirit, I had another swamp green air bag that I carried in my hands filled with another assortment of books, these were literature books… I was still covertly operating as a writer, I often imagined myself as someone who observed the dynamics of life at work that one encountered as he himself was subjected to its often times stifling contents. I was taking a trip back to my home town, I had another part time job where I worked as a scriptwriter that needed attending to for a couple of days before I traveled back to the city to work to create my own personal dreams, to play basketball like a crazed lunatic during the long hours of the night and to further study the spiritual content of the city which for the moment was my central muse, I imagined the city to be a woman that I felt undeniably pulled into, and the longer I was separated from her the more my heart longed for her… My destination was the infuriating, messy, chaotic Railway stop.. Chennai Central… I needed to catch the Lalbagh express at 3.35 pm, as the auto sped across the sun drenched roads where perennial motor growls and neurotic horns engaged in a pitiful war of importance and mindlessness, I attempted to spend a few moments of silence, to gather the dissociated fragments of my spirit that was fractured by its contact with the very world that threatened its existence, perhaps I am the only one who asks too many questions… I do not know, nor do I pretend to understand how day after day people can live a life of neglect, mere conformity and abstract and unconscious cruelty… I had prayed in a rush, yesterday at the Church that I attended, the sermon had been spectacular, full of deeply scriptural fireworks that had brought my deadened spirit into a renewed life with the object of its faith, its hope and hunger… It excites and at times troubles me how vast the personal being of God can be, I feel like a tiny speck encountering the comforting yet perplexing presence of someone whose Holiness exposes my own vulgar carnality.., in my own inner sanctum I constantly grapple and wrestle with questions of observed human behavior for they seem to fill me with more and more uncertainty, I attempt often times to connect the invisible dots, to penetrate the thickened haze of lost time and scattered points of causality, and the process remains as elusive as a wet bar of soap.
In my own attempts to write I am often confused as to whom I am meant to chronicle… This sudden thought captured me in its web, I wonder if it is my own personal path with its continual darkness heading towards the light that I seek to write about or to become the silent observer in the hurried corridor’s of others lives… The side gate of the Railway building had been reached, in the distance one could make out the brick red clock tower, standing tall and lone.. Its pointed ends reaching out to the skies, … Its arms were at three pm… I rushed towards the ticket counter… Surprisingly there were only a few people around, I was tempted to break out into one of my mental dance performances to celebrate this ordinary yet profound event, as the odds beat the everyday statistic and ushered in a brief moment of transcendence.. I bought my ticket and hurried on to the next building past dirty men with bags whose eyes always appeared to be neurotically attached to the ticket counters… The main structure that hosted all the trains and carriages along with train timings loomed beyond a check post, the ancient terminal that I had known since forever, this structure often appeared in my nightmares, my most uneasy memories and in some of my spontaneous romantic musings… It had existed when Chennai had been Madras, when Madras was known for the Marina Beach and the outrageously confounding inner city madness, the station was a busy hub spread within tall and spacious rooms with high ceilings, the grand stable with lengthy metal serpents and adjoining rolling tracks and the phenomena of wide screen digital LCD’s with train timings and PSA’s about train robberies and dire messages of caution…old building intermingled with newly painted ones as I left the outer periphery and entered the large station with its perplexing inward movement, large rows of stationary metal chairs were fixed to the ground to my far right… On them sat passengers with dead eyes and bored hearts, irritable and invisible.. The air felt dinghy and there was a foul smell around, I had to make my way on to platform number 6… That was where my train was…, faces with bodies swarmed and moved around me, at times I felt like they moved into me and through me, the very rush of human matter flowed through and around me in unstoppable flows, there was movement everywhere and an air of busy dwelling, the din and chatter around touched one’s ears like noisy repetitive footsteps that felt like the fall of slipping gravel, a thousand different words and conversations carried on, like many colored fishes swimming in opposite directions, twisting and turning the currents with their pace and movements… I made my way further, past the other crowded platforms, past moving book stores with pleasing and attention hungry faces with appeal and smiles with costly prices next to them, they stared at me through the covers of popular magazines, I moved past politically charged weeklies announcing intriguing headlines meant to sell copies, past fictional books with lovers entangled in the other’s arms staring into each other’s eyes completely oblivious that the world around was in disarray and filled with decay , past government sponsored snack stores with stacks of bottled water and attractively colored biscuit packets, lifeless and still, unaware that you passed them by. Past marauding stares attached to intrusive beings that made you nervous as you exchanged a brief and frivolous glance in their direction and past faces steeped with cultural touches that you forgot even as you stared right into them, the more you saw what was around you..the more it seemed to seep into the inner man’s feelings, the more I took in the outer world the more I was thrown about and invaded, tiny cracks soon plunged into my inner calm, that had been achieved through a state of awareness, the more I viewed the outer world, a sudden unexplicable emotion seemed to conquer me, filling me with brief pushes and sudden weariness of heart… The outer life appeared devoid of interesting phenomena, it made one lose hope, it made you feel separated and lost… You felt alone as you saw the grand drama of human life, only apathy and indifference was your response, only guardedness and paranoia was your answer, I walked hurriedly on.
The sixth platform was broad and huge, it extended to many hundred meters in length, the unreserved compartment would be in the front, usually this train had about 6 or 7 unreserved compartments, but on this day it didn’t appear to be that way… Here I was rushing on to what was sure to be two and a half hours of confirmed standing time, I grew irate with every one that I saw, couldn’t they find some other day to travel…? I passed the reserved compartments with the paper lists stuck near doors, past blue green bars with staring human faces, the sun had briefly gone behind a cloud.. , I wondered where my life was headed..? I wondered if I would make it to Heaven…? I walked cautiously, what if I ran into someone from my past..? Would I smile or choke and appear threatened even though I had rehearsed that scene like a couple million times…? I needed more jeans and more books, my worst yet known fears were confirmed, the general compartment was full, I was not surprised.. I had prayed for a seat when I had been on the auto with the divided soul of meekness and indifference, I felt frustrated for a little while and ground my teeth, I had come half an hour before and yet such was my fate… Incredible India had overtaken me yet again… Who on earth were all these people..?
I calmed myself down, this was nothing new.. I had to be used to this by now, I closed my eyes, I wished to pray…I’d need the strength and the spiritual clarity.. But I still felt the rage burn in my soul… I wished I could be on a basketball court or behind my bike or behind my laptop… It was much easier to express my rage and channel it in those streams of , I had been using the train for the better part of my Adult life, that amounted to about 6 years… 6 whole years of standing on overcrowded trains… Seeing the same sights.. Hearing the same neuroses and psychoses of complete strangers…, but my usual rebellious self still rebelled against the merciless sights, against the fate of overcrowded cities and obscure towns and their dire spiritual calamity and blindness to the gospel, against the dull flat, desolate plains that made me feel like life was meaningless and insufficient of becoming more.. I did not want anything to dictate the inner workings of my mind.. That was my private property , I was going to make something worthy with my life, I was not going to drown in the tides of conformity or disappear into becoming lesser than what I dreamt of becoming, I did not want to waste my life being mediocre or small.. , I did not know where my life was headed nor did I pretend to be an expert about it, but I was not giving up, despite what a great many cruel voices had cursed me about in the past, despite their intimidating and torturous opinions about my own life.. I trusted my Lord above all.
It became 3:35 , the train slowly moved away from the station… I stood near the door leaning my back to the wall, in the final minute, three college girls had boarded as though they were celebrities.. Divas with terrible attitudes, and were now attempting to encroach my standing spot with enthusiastic small talk exchanged amongst themselves with seemingly total absorption that appeared fake and pretentious, whilst coyly pushing me little by little to the main path that would be subjected to the onslaught of hawkers and chai walas, I hardly cared nor bothered, I was knee deep in my new book, titled ‘ A Philosophy of Life’ by Jules Evans, they allowed themselves to settle down and politely asked me to move aside as though I had stood in their shadow and was now guilty of treason and contempt, they directly sat down and bought some hot coffee to go along with their raucous gossip and noisy talk, all the eyes of the men standing nearby were upon them.. , I felt a brief mood of protectiveness enter me, but these girls were not my sister and there was this guy who had been wandering about between this carriage and the next, probably a classmate of theirs… And probably someone who had a terrible crush on one of them but recreated it to appear like great camaraderie… Of course I could be wrong, I could sense that the three sirens had not used trains that much in their lives, maybe it was better for them to not know all of the morsels of impersonal information that one got used to, like how to conduct oneself, how to never entertain certain intrusive types.. How to pick spots etc… the train made a brief stop just fifteen minutes away from its start, and usually there would be a rowdy crowd there awaiting that just entered in through that very door with pathetic desperation often times breaking through like a malicious wave intent on causing harm, I wondered if I should warn them for they were directly near that very spot… , they were really young and I sort of saw past the facade, and I felt sorry for them.., it was difficult being a girl in confused India…but I sort of lost track.. The Book had been sweeeeet, and Aristotle was being mentioned, I had a huge fascination with the thought processes of men from the past.. And I was a huge fan of the Sophists, the first Philosophers, you couldn’t blame a guy for his love of Books… And that was when it happened.. my dire prophetic vision came to pass, as Perambur station came in, angry and irate boarders screamed all sorts of prejudiced epithets and neurotic curses at them as they realized that their path into a crowded general compartment was blocked by these three, one spilt her coffee on her pants, another curled into a ball as the crowd indignantly passed her by, the other somehow got up and was subjected to the rushing wave. Despite my empathy I could not help but smile, inwardly ie. Maybe I was wrong to do so, but it was comical.. Both the incoming passengers with their peculiar knack and style of anger and the princesses whose shrill gossip lessened for a brief moment as their self importance was subjected to the restless push of irritable travelers ….Both of the parties would feel justified in their anger later on, but the girls and their talk would continue no doubt, but for now it had halted, subsided as they shared it with the emotions equivalent to a sheer holocaust.
The journey took a while, I meanwhile plugged in my earphones.. Audio Adrenaline sang the parable of the lost sheep from a fold of a hundred, in a modern rendition with haunting guitar strums and other carefully crafted verses that strangely made the train and its form of life fade away, and the music played on, clear and echoing in my heart as I listened without the interruption of outer life.. , I felt my lost inner balance return, and my heart became a cliff, one where one stood at its edges and saw the extent of all past mistakes and bad choices, and felt the love that had broken past his own past and its unbearable sorrow, and had claimed him for a different life. I felt my eyes begin to water, despite the busy meaninglessness of life, the Lord was there with me.. His friendship was still there for me to take a hold of, He was there to listen to my own feelings.. I was such a loser, I completely forgot these simple yet profound things from time to time instead losing myself to grand talks with my own self.. I guess He was reminding me using the power of that beautiful song of the more important things in this life, things that He promised to lead me into and cajoling me to take my eyes away from the world and to rest in Him. I felt guilty about not warning the girls.
The push and size of the crowd had grown exponentially, pretty soon the emotional rush would subside and everyone, at least the ones who were standing would spend time balancing their feet, shifting weight from one leg to another, move within the distance of their standing spot to let pass the announcing sellers of coffee and tea, the train sped past still towns and covered villages near sloping hills not distracted by the hoots and the speeds of the passing train. The more liberal our views become the lesser we appear to be convicted of our sins, the more I sought to embrace the world… The more Christ became smaller in me, I had to say ‘Yes’ to one and ‘No’ to the other.
I could see the ancient hills in the distance, bathed in the fading glow of the departing sun, the skies were turning into a whitish cement gray…the silhouettes of those distant hills appeared clear and mystical, strangely resonating deeply within me and offering some strange and unbroken hope, like the promise of some carefully guarded dream within my heart. Home was only a few miles away, and the train rushed towards it.. the crowds had reduced, many stations had passed, some public school teachers had boarded on and they too had played a game of space with me, but they too had gotten off after huffing and puffing about the state of the nation in indignance, even the socially oblivious damsels had gotten off at the previous station after a long stretch of indignant haught, for the first time I could stand near the door and feel the breath of the wind, I could withold the dance of the pink milk flowers against sparse grass and defeated homes gathered together like clutter with withering paint with leisure stricken unease and mooing cows, I had nothing to look forward to as the end neared.. This was the closest I got to peace, to loneliness, my home had loud television watched by aging elders with persistent commands and immediate counsel regarding life, family and the importance of a million things that they wished to drill in me, my part time work was busy with the noise of the future, with the disturbance of egos keen on importance, even the tender glow of the stars would be disturbed by the sterile illumination of the self important and unnecessary yellowish street lights … The train slithered like the wind with controlled ease, blinding fast even though the large grounds around it moved by slow, tethered to the heart of the earth.. As if they refused to co-operate with the funky movement of the brisk train.. Indignant to the progress of time, .. It appeared to me that acquaintances that stood the test of time, who remain unchanged and true, and constantly flicker with genuine warmth and kindness whenever one encountered them appeared to me like lamps radiant against the onset of a thick darkness, refusing to be put out by the hopelessness of the dark times. I closed my eyes again, I would be an outsider in my own hometown, in my own home and in the days that followed, I clutched my books real tight and prayed as the train slowly glided into the familiar railway station.. I would need them to survive.