The Man on the Shatabdi
I saw him on the train to Amritsar. I remember him because it was a 3 seater, with him and a fat guy already seated in the middle and aisle seat. Took a bit of time for me to get in, if you know what I mean. The fat guy sleeping didn’t help either. This guy, the guy in the middle, he was wearing this worn out brown cargo pants that looked like it had survived 3 fires and a flood. And these Nike shoes, basketball ones. I knew from his turban that he was foreigner, despite his attempts at sounding like a local. It was round and black, with a triangle cut on his forehead exposing the inner white turban. You don’t get turbans like that here. We didn’t really talk during the journey. I assumed he was getting off at Amritsar, and I was getting off at Ludhiana, and plus, I hadn’t seen Casino Royale yet, so had brought my Ipod along for the journey. And he kept writing at random times into this red book he kept in his backpack. I tried peeking, but could only catch words like ‘Home’, ‘5 days’, and ‘Search’. The only times we ever spoke were when I would fall asleep, and he’d wake me up, telling me that the meal cart was here, and I’d tell him that I didn’t want any breakfast. But he didn’t know the number of times they would end up serving, so he just kept waking me up. Got a bit annoying. And he carried a Gutka in his backpack! Definitely a foreigner. It looked like he was doing the 5 morning Baanis whenever he felt the time was right. Whenever he felt like it. He gave me the impression of someone who’s looking for something in the golden city. That which would give him peace.
Delhi. Look. Flyovers as far as the eye can see. New terminal being added to the airport and renovations everywhere, 24 hour operations. 3 lane roads with new layers of tar, not a pothole in sight. A journey smooth, no matter where you go. 50 km speed limit in town, because of the number of cars. 1400 new cars on the road everyday. Trucks only allowed into town from 11 – 4. Afternoon and night. The Delhi Metro Rail. Their Putra LRT service. With a station designed like KL Central, for trains going straight to the airport. 20 minute journey from the center of town. Toyotas and BMWs replacing the Ambassador on the road. Billboards of the latest thing in India, the ownership of cricket teams by Bollywood. Akshay Kumar and the Delhi Devils, top of the league. Shah Rukh Khan and the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Delhi. Look Closer. Adults and children alike, bathing on the side of the street from small pails. Throwing water at each other. Putting the same clothes back on their backs. Crossing ‘no-pothole’ roads with their bare feet. Dogs, the stray kind, sleeping on dividers. The ones that don’t bother anyone. The ones who have been surviving for years. Nothing is lifeless in the streets. Not even road kill. Cows walking around in the middle of roundabouts. Munching on government grass. Cows in the middle of streets, holding up traffic. Cows, India’s real superpower. Look even closer. Everyone is smiling. No matter what is tucked under their arms, safety helmets, school books, baggage, daily supplies, newspapers. No matter what they’re dragging behind them, rickshaws with passengers on them, 2 wheeled goods transporters, bags of rice on their backs. There couldn’t be a more pleasant atmosphere first thing in the morning.
Uncle Surrendar Nath Ji
Oh my god. Look at him. A nice turban, flowing beard, and a strong aura of faith. Has it only been 7 years? I don’t recall him ever being 14. My last memory of him was as a child. That 5 year old boy, trying to buy up every shastar he could get his hands on in the bazaar. And then wearing them on his person, as though they were apart of him. Maybe they were. There’s not much time today to talk. What a shame. He’s definitely tired from the long flight, and he has another journey ahead of him tomorrow. We’ll talk more when he gets back. This should be interesting. I see traces of him. That boy who was never afraid to speak his mind, who strutted like his last hour on stage. The boy with blessed parents. Where did he go?
Rock n roll has no place in India. It doesn’t fit in the soundtrack, or do you get the urge to play it at all. That’s just the way it is. Driving around with Sounil, the local stations playing radio friendly hits, the high tempos, the costume changes, the bright colours, the male and female solos in turn, that’s India. That’s her sound. No matter where I was, even on board the train, with that huge CD pack I carry with me everywhere, I’d flip past Nirvana, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, System of A Down, and settle on the Rang De Basanti soundtrack. The only thing in there that’s close to home. You’d listen to the title track by Daler Mahendi, and stare out into the countryside, and then you’d get it. That moment where everything just fit into place. The sights and sounds. That smile on your lips, like you’re watching a movie. Life with a soundtrack. You’d close your eyes and see it. You’d open them and hear it. Occasionally I’d listen to Snow Patrol. They have a song for everything. ‘You’re all I have’ was ringing in my ears on the way to the holy city. Pictures have words. Words have moments, and moments have soundtracks. I’d look out into the fields of sunflowers, they go on for miles, the golden landscape, and I’d think of ‘Desh Mere’ from The Legend of Bhagat Singh. The flowing rivers with tiny boats on them, the farmers sitting on Punjabi Menjey(beds) in the shade of wise trees, taking an afternoon breather and discussing current events. Every time I’d take out and look at that photo again, the one in the red bible’s jacket cover, ‘Roobaroo’ from Rang De Basanti would play in my headphones. And you’ll never notice that ear to ear smile, thinking of tomorrow. Never.
I get off at Amritsar. I must be out of my mind. What the hell am I doing? How did I end up here? Real great idea, waking up one morning and deciding to go to India. I can’t believe I talked myself into this. I have never been here before on my own, last known trip was 7 years back, where mummy handled everything, all I did was tag along. I don’t know if I’ll find that free shuttle bus to Darbar Sahib, if I’ll find accommodation, where I can eat, how do I find my way around, what do I do here for the next 4 days. You try answering these questions in my shoes. I should have just put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger upon the visa collection from Leo Travels. This has got to be the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I hate Epiphanies. Next time I’ll just wave at them as they pass by.
2 hours later, I am where I should be. Checked into the Guru Arjan Dev Ji Nivas(residence), room 16, having langgar for lunch later, standing on the Parkarma, with only the Sarovar(holy water tank) between us. There she is. My knees buckle. My hands tremble as I put them together in salutation. And there’s only one score playing through my mind. Gladiator Soundtrack track 15. Elysium. Download it, and call me a liar.