full moon, half berth, and quarter cat at least

We begin moving. The sun is crisp like the round of my masala chai. A stranger town and the familiar pigeons. An electric landscape held in place by electricity lines. Paper in my left hand carrying the Indian Railways trademark while the paper in my right hand struggling to trade anything of mark in exchange for ugly doodles. I am sitting down in the second-class compartment and rocking in anticipation of some first-class sleep. An ache to retire has replaced all geometry of desire in me. The weather seems as sure of letting go. Outside—pond, herons, sheep, water, blue, navy blue, more water, junctions, and skies puffing up like cigarette smoke, and inside—my back flattening with the berth like a two-fold quilt and trucks—many trucks, severely many trucks—sparkling in wet windows. A man next to us is walking his kid like a dog between the aisles. D had said this train will halt around 8 30. I continue filling myself up (only my fifth round of beveraging!)as the clouds empty. The kids around are giggling. Rain Rain Go Away is playing on somebody’s phone at the center of minor entertainment and major parental relief. Had I been in Delhi at this time, I would have been sitting behind my Dell screen—a large Americano and a small pencil in hand—riding the sounds of a classical playlist and a classic traffic. All would be Ella-right in a Third Wave somewhere. But tonight’s wavelength differs, a first-of-a-kind. And so I tip my head against the glass and lean further into lightning and forests and cockroaches. 

I think about him and about sharing this moment with him. I dial him but he does not pick. Must be working or somewhere. It’s been like this for some time now. I try to ignore his ignorance. He has been a constant in my life. Regular like the old yellow classic salted Lay’s—the one you originally loved no matter what gourmet flavors have followed after. Anyway, doesn’t anything get normalized if you do it over and over again? Like buying a 300 bucks worth of a Sea Salt Mocha every day or not saying I love you every day in love. We used to have so much fun when we were young(-er) and in Bangalore. He had met me all center-partitioned on head and in heart. As much Dali as I was Jobs. A lover of chia, with a liver for chai. Weak in memory more than in bladder. Pot over poet, any day. Now, I live in a low-ceilinged terraced house that has a park for its head and a market for its bum. It is near a gurudwara and an ice cream shop and a medico in case neither work. In more ways than one, the house is characteristic of me. It sits in a corner on two roads—part construction, part introspection. It is short and segmented and with a lack of roof just enough to justify its charm. In his home thirty kilometers away, he sits at his work desk, faces a wall, and breathes at a screen.

One square oasis of coffee-heavy heaven and two fragile egos. I didn’t know you’ll grow into THIS, I thought. I didn’t know you will not grow up at all, I thought, he thought. He got up from his chair and walked out upstairs to heat his mug and I physically panicked like a lost pup. He came back after a half hour of workout and we were looking at one another like we were having a private conversation in our very physical public silence with at least 65% averting glances. ‘’You do you. I don’t want to do you anymore.’’ I typed and deleted in a single breath. He looked at me with his side profile and I felt owned. I seemed to have picked up some book of an unfamiliar genre. Who is this character and have I met him before? He came closer and lifted my shirt and brought his mouth to rest on the donut of my stomach. Then he blew hard—a tiny shape—on the soft big bagel. I felt cold like the sub he had ordered. I didn’t know why I was sad. Because we were going to be distanced or because I was sensing we had already parted subconsciously. I went away to the kitchen to pour off the French Press but my eyes watered up instead. At work and in love, I like delegating responsibilities. You take care of this, okay? At work—to the lower powers and in love—to the higher powers. And so I did that.

We are already at the Kota junction. I pluck my bedding aside and fumble for my chappals. All-evening-round convenience of tea and bread has failed to keep me stuck to my window. I want to take my feet around. My ears stay plugged. Divine continues delivering pure sheher ki awaz mere gully mein. Into the bright red lights, in light red brights, I step out. I forget to pick up cash but the conductor offers to take care of it for me before the sleeping coaches snore away to speed again. Sipping the tea from the station, I come back to Ishq Mein Sheher Hona that lay half-open on my seat. Beside it, Khushwant Singh’s Delhi rests comfortably on the pillow. My Delhi is now five hundred kilometers behind. Sleep is settling behind my glasses as the sun had set behind the visible land. A coral light is spilling all over like an orange zest macchiato being pumped around, keeping us all awake and alive through the hurriedly blackberrying skies. I feel this night is pure. This night is bespoke. And I press it close between the pages of Aurangzeb’s life and sleep. White noise of wheels turning on tracks. A stranger’s snores. Tea in fat, coarse slurps. Rajma chawal in skinny, sophisticated burps.

I wake up to the chant of chai chai omelet chai. Bed tea mornings are my favorite ones, always. I was not feeling I was going away, I was feeling I was returning home. It is 6 30 am and a board says Kolai river station next to things that are green and golden. Pond and a man bathing naked. Kids playing football in the earth. Men before a railway faatak on their bikes. Like pulled arrows. Ready to unbolt. People with their beds packed on their heads walking on the lines. We have come very far from Platform no. 7. Boarding Station H in this Train no 12098 and it’s been reasonably poetic thus far, not like an Amrita Pritam verse but rather the way of an Ikea catalog. The corridor is busier than Delhi’s Janpath market—people and babies alive with talk and tantrums. The city of minarets and momos is now far behind as we make way for a metro that runs on meter and motor. A man is carrying red and green flags. Stations have names in Devanagri scripts and that’s something I bookmark in my head to reference later. The lady in the next section is staring at me nonstop. I have never been to Mumbai before. Our compartment has been mostly quiet save for the group who boarded from Vadodara around 4 in the morning and rattled everyone up to confirm their seats. It was the worst hour, more pitiful than waking up to a tea brewed with a bag. I dive my fingers in my head of curls as luxe cozy fields open into Lux Cozi ads. I take out my lipstick while a man is intent upon a small oval mirror across from me. He is sticking back the few fronds of hair on his forehead —eyes drooping and tongue falling out. I go on to single coat in the usual manner and blot out the extra with a tissue. Only a touch of Touch of Spice it must be. From the rich aromatic forest of the bathroom before us comes a piercing reminder of where I am. The train door flung open to the tracks on my right is almost nearing the attraction of a movie but the more immersive fragrances from the toilet usher me back inside. Many sincerest pressures (and pleasures!) from all the coaches have called it alive with a fuming honesty and I can almost sniff my soul leaving the humble square.

If you think, this is going somewhere, you might be in for disappointment. This story like me is forever in transit. I did reach my destination though. And am now being driven to write. No reason, just that I see bloggers have it all on social media. Elaborate affairs of miniature dishes. Delicacies that are mathematical miracles on delicate bone china. Restored heritage suites at ancient palaces. JW Marriott brand of a Himalayan affair. Fuchsia pink Valentino gowns down the collar bone. I asked A if he writes every day and what his process is like. He said he writes when he feels like it. I write not often but more frequently than I vape or comb out my bun. Draping pretty sentences over the naked form of my feelings and trying to sell them off like a sparkling Sabyasachi bride walking the aisle at the Taj Lake Palace. Conformity and consistency have always been dull to me. Duller than a repeat purchase of the same nail color month after month. However, if I don’t put things down on paper, I believe all the memories of all the time spent would come clean off the nonstick skillet of my head like the sunny side up R cooks me for breakfast. Oh wait, N’s come in with a smoke and a song. Now I must go. You may continue to sit back with these raindrops—pretty on the glass—catching beam from passing cars like slick fielders on a sick pitch. Late for a latte, I am. Later!

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