E-Pao! Incidents - Life is a Journey - I

Life is a Journey - I
By: Takhellambam Anjan*

Read first part here.

Oh! Man I am definitely going to miss my train tonight. Saying this I pick up my backpack after passing over a hundred rupees note to Vikas, my pal from college. As I leave the overpowering stench of alcohol and tobacco lingering inside the dimly lit pub I can feel the pounding music overtaken by a sense of worry now. I should have left before.

I keep telling myself. I flag down an auto. Boss railway station? The auto driver can already see the urgency and asks me an exorbitant fare. And I see no point in negotiating for a few bucks, not at least now. He drives like a mad man drunk to the core and awkwardly rash. Nevertheless I am at the Bangalore city railway station right on time.

"Here he comes", I can hear the suppressed plaints as I walk past our group of ten to say hello to Mohon. "The train is late by half an hour it seems", says Mohon. "I hope you did not forget my bag ?" I ask him. Mohon is one of those very few people whom I have befriended in the beginning of my college days and know that in spite of his good nature he can be absolutely blunt and straightforward if he has to assert something which he dislikes.

And I can read from his face that he did not mind bringing my bag from hostel to the station while I was partying with friends elsewhere. As I sit down on the cemented round about of a pillar sipping a hot cup of coffee I can see various groups of people conglomerating here and there as though the rest of the world does not exist.

Occasionally a dog would hopefully walk up and sniff around only to be shooed away. The periodic cries of hawkers on the platform distract my attention. The platform is periodically swept over by a tide of people disembarking as a train halts for a while. After the abominable whistle it chugs away leaving the platform back to its lifelessness.

Finally our train arrives and pulls slowly along the platform. "Look for S9" says Kapa, the senior most guy in the group. We settle down in our compartment plopped as a result of running around in chaos shifting the luggage from one place to another.

"Oh gosh! You could have booked this computer" laments one, clearly not pleased with the whole thing. Eventually the train starts moving. "Now I feel we are going back home", says Mohon. "Yeah" I nonchalantly answer him as I withdraw myself into a deep sleep on the first night after a long tension gripped sleeplessness of semester examinations in the month of August.

The next morning I wake up to the sounds of 'idly-vada, idly-vada' coming from a hawker on the platform pushing his cart near a dilapidated wooden bench. "Where have we reached?" I ask one of the guys who is already awake and after unhooking the middle berth who is now rather enjoying the view outside. "Somewhere close to Chennai" he replies.

I make no effort in getting up from that perpetual state of laziness partly because of the weariness of the examinations that has taken a toll on me and also because I know it is a very long journey and I have all the time in the world. But the heat becomes too overpowering around noon and that is when I decide to get down from the top berth and sit near the window.

Post lunch I can no longer sleep as the top berths are occupied by Michael and Donnie. So I just keep looking out of the window towards the silhouettes of palm trees at the far horizon and the lush green paddy fields occasionally separated by a brook or a dusty village road. The journey from Bangalore to Gauhati that covers the entire geographical distance of the country along the coastal belts of the Bay of Bengal never fails to intrigue me.

One comes across people with different languages, food habits and even the way they dress, not to mention the economic disparity between the rural and city lives. And I get a feeling that these people are unwilling to change, blissfully rigid in their own world where two square meals a day is the very challenge that life poses. Mahatma Gandhi rightly said "if you want to know India travel in third class", although I feel it suffice to be in sleeper class these days. I read a few pages from the 7 habits of highly effective people, slouched like a dead duck lying motionless in that state of languor before I again give in to the urge of a nap.

I wake up again in the evening with an awful headache oblivious of the past few hours. The incessant noise of the giant wheels and axles on the rail as the train now moves full steam ahead with a lingering shrill whistle cuts our otherwise legibly audible conversations. I decide to go near the door.

The train is running somewhere in West Bengal. As I grip the rusty iron bars of the heavy door facing the pitched dark world outside I feel amazingly vulnerable and it is this very thrill that takes away all cautions and fear. For these few moments I am completely lost in my own world. Nature calls and I go to answer.

A group of pilgrims in orange colored attires have taken the place near the toilet singing bhajans. One of them has taken the place near the door where I stood minutes back and I am not pleased with this encroachment. I give him a cold stare as he looks at me. I just keep standing there with an iota of hope that he might have to get up at some point of time to ask for a beedi or a match box or even to empty the bladder.

Out of curiosity or the pressing urge to drive him off I start a conversation with him in Bengali. In the north Indian plains during the months of July-August when the rains come home people of Hinduism faith offer prayers to various deities, Lord Shiva being the most prominent to be worshipped in the holy month of Shravan.

I learn from the devotees that they are coming back from a pilgrimage, a place called Baidyanath Dham in Bihar. To please the housed deity devotees walk around hundred kilometers to a place called Sultanganj where the river Ganges is called uttarvahini, where it flows in reverse direction, one of the most pious place considered in the holy books.

They carry gangajal from there in their kaanwar which is made of split bamboos and walk back to the Dham chanting bol bam bol bam all the way back. The water is poured on the Shivlingam and the act pleases Him immensely. Sometimes it's scarry how people are so fanatic about their faiths. The account rather interests me and I decide to write about it at some point of time.

The next morning we reach Gauhati and I know for reasons not sure that I am almost home. Familiarity in the facial structures, similar food habits and of course that sense of brotherhood, I feel the rejuvenated strength inside me. We have to continue the rest of our journey from here onwards by bus for the next twelve hours.

We book our tickets with Kangleipak travels where they not only have given us good discounts but also have agreed to our requests to pay half the amount there and half on reaching home as we need money for food. We go hunting for a cheap restaurant nearby as the bus would leave only in the evening. We settle for a place where they claim they serve authentic Manipuri food. It indeed seems heavenly with all the delights of that very familiar and yet deprived aromas of hot local dishes.

We board the bus in the evening and I keep pondering over the nature of our journey and look out of the window to the setting sun at dusk with pockets of orange sky occasionally shadowed by the dark clouds before we enter into the Kaziranga forests on the national highway number 39, the only lifeline for the people of most of the north eastern states.

The next morning an appalling chill of high altitude aggravated by the persistent drizzle adds to the discomfort of bus journey on that unending winding road and at one point of time almost makes me throw up. Nature's ploy amazes me as I keep thinking the previous day we were crossing the hottest belt of the country and now we are shivering on this mountain top.

We cross the quiet sleepy town of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland in the morning calm without disturbing anyone and approach on our course. The handy man pays the check-posts at the Nagaland - Manipur border at Zakhma and we merrily ride the broken roads and reach the small town of Mao which is in Manipur. "The road ahead is broken due to land slide.

We cannot proceed further" announces the driver. "Oh no!" it comes out in unison from the rest of the passengers. As we decide what to do next the hunger grows even more. "Pehele pet puja" says one and we could not agree more. So we sit down together again deciding over the menu with the dwindling common funds thinking what to have keeping in mind very well that the fag end of the journey is still left.

After food we walk with our luggage on our heads and cross the muddy expanse so slippery that we now walk barefoot in the cold. Two vehicles are trapped helplessly and the locals are rather enjoying the sight.

Every time a vehicle tries to cross everyone look with rapt attention with a lot of anticipation and when the vehicle's wheels helplessly spin to futility they smile with a deep sense of satisfaction and clap occasionally as if their wishes have come true. We walk past an army convoy truck and countless number of Lorries to reach the open road.

One of my pals walks up to a truck driver and he agrees to let us hitch a ride till Imphal, my hometown. Only he needs a few packs of cigarettes which we agree generously. By nightfall we reach Imphal and as we embark our various ways henceforth I board an auto saying bye to the rest of the gang and promising to meet up sometime.

Darkness lay everywhere with a few candles lit here and there near the vegetable market which is now almost deserted. "What happened to the electricity" I ask the auto driver. He laughs at my innocence and hope. "This is still fine. You know some places are even flooded" he tells me. He stops the auto half a kilometer from my house.

"The road ahead is flooded. I can't go or the vehicle will stop" he says. So I pay him and put my luggage on my head and wade through the knee deep murky waters alone in the darkness in an eerie starless night on the leirak of the leikai.

After it seemed like an endless ordeal I finally open the huge metallic green colored gates of my house.

"Ima Baba" I keep shouting. "Who is it at this hour?" I can hear my grandmother's familiar voice and I know at that moment I am indeed home after four days of traveling, home sweet home...!!!

* Takhellambam Anjan , a resident of Bangalore, writes regularly to
The writer can be contacted at [email protected]
This article was webcasted on January 7th 2006.

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