Sitting on the window side of a sleeper berth, while going from Ranchi to Bokaro, in the skin parching and lip cracking heat , I wonder at a question, I read in the book that I am currently reading. what is India? Who is an Indian? How are we alike as citizens of a common country?
It is so difficult to relate to those women bathing in the pond by the railway station (Khalida, was it?). There is another woman sitting on the same berth as me, feet dirty, heels cracked, hair cut in the “boy style”, face as though unwashed since at least a few days, wearing a cream-colored sari with a dull brick reddish-orange border, flowers printed on it. She is wearing her blouse inside out. She has a bag, a polythene and a worn out sweater as her luggage and she is singing a song in a language which I do not understand. The TT hasn’t asked for her ticket. Does he think she is mad too? And then there are herds of cows and buffaloes in the pond, trying to defeat the heat somehow. How do I relate to these countless people selling tea, jhal-muri, cucumber, paan masala and so on in the train? Where do they board the train? Where do they get down? Where do they actually live? How much money do they make? Does it suffice? The woman I just talked about, said aloud, all the alphabets, A-Z, I don’t know to whom? I don’t know why? Its strange, the amount of questions a mere glance at the world around you can fill you with. There are plug points in this train, one each for approximately four seats, so that cell phones can be charged. And I am forced to think of the places where there is yet to be electricity. That can’t seem right to anyone. or does it? I have this sudden urge to get down somewhere near such a settlement. And talk to the people there. I want to know what do they think about. Is their life simple? Their thoughts untroubled? Do they sleep early? What do they do the whole day? The cattle. I am sure rearing the cattle must be a time-consuming and tedious task. Or is it just my notion? Do they enjoy their lives? Or do they envy ours? or maybe pity ours? The woman beside me is clapping her hands and smiling. It seems as though she is looking at someone or something, I can’t see what. But the fact that she can be so happy or oblivious to her surroundings or so carefree, makes me want to prod her. But I hold myself back. I don’t know why. Am I coward? Am I shy? Am I too proud? Maybe I will never know. I am waiting for my station, Bokaro. I will get down there to catch another train to Delhi. Even the train to Delhi would be different, forget the life. It is much more shiny, noisy, crowded, much more made up. And yet it is so much more inviting. Does that seem right? Or is it as perplexing to every one as it is to me. I should stop now. My station may come anytime. Rather, I will reach there anytime now. I should be ready to get down soon. I don’t know how long would the train stop there. And I want to look out of the window. Not intermittently like I have been doing so far while writing. But giving the hinterlands my full attention. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because I might be a dot in this hinterland sometime. So long!