I was sitting at the railway station with my eyes transfixed on the floor. I was going to take some time to come to terms with what had just happened. I knew I had to tell someone about it. But before that I had to find the words to say what I wanted to say.
In yet another pursuit of wanderlust, I had swung by backpack over my shoulder and decided to head out of the door on my own. I was beginning to be at ease with with these getaways. My feet would itch to be on the move once every couple of weeks. The antidote of wanderlust is wanderlust and if that meant hitting the road on my own, I wasn’t the least bit perturbed. Not any more at least. I had started to solo travel because I could. Period. This time though I had my heart set on India’s heartland and with that I was moving north of most of my previous solo sojourn destinations. I was going to Madhya Pradesh.
|Awestruck by Orchha’s Jahangir Mahal|
There’s something terrifying about doing something for the first time. But it’s a little more terrifying doing something you’re familiar with in an unknown territory. I had braved my anxieties before and I’d find a way around them this time too – or at least that what I heard myself say.
And I wasn’t off the mark either. I had been on the road for six days straight – from Mumbai to Orccha, then Khajuraho and now Pranpur – hoping off the sleeper coaches, passenger trains and hauling shared autos as I kept wading my way through the sea of humanity.
|Nothing defines ‘sea of humanity’ better than the Indian Railways|
|Zooming by at the speed of light in an auto-rickshaw|
I had been putting up at a guest-house in Pranpur and I was returning back home by train later that noon. The property manager and kitchen staff at the guest-house helped me figure out local transport i.e., bus to Lalitpur which was the nearest railway station.
I was at breakfast all packed up waiting to be harkened to board the bus once it got there when the cook stopped by and asked, “What about your lunch? What will you have?” I had just paid the property manager my dues and lunch for the day wasn’t included in. So I told the cook, “That won’t be any trouble since I am taking the train. We’re all too aware how constantly and readily available food is in the trains and at the railway station.” With the wave of his hand he brushed off what I’d just said and produced a packed lunch box. “Here is some food for you to have along the way. You can still pick up what you’d like in the train” and with that he disappeared into the kitchen. I was still registering what had just transpired when I heard my name being called out. The bus was here. I rounded my bags together, safely deposited my lunch in my sling bag and got on the bus.
Once at the station I learned the obvious – my train was delayed by an hour. A depraved soul who’d been denied access to civilization, I got busy thumb jabbing my Gorilla glass screen with that sense of joy that comes from finding internet on your phone after an entire week! I seemed to be distracted by very little – and these included a cow jaywalking on the platform (which was a first for me), the need to answer nature’s call and a bent with age beggar lady who seemed to be hovering around me.
|Of early mornings and train journeys|
I neither patronise nor shun beggars away because they’re both equally ineffective in achieving the desired result. For a change, however being indifferent wasn’t helping much either (another first for me)! She continued to hover around me and kept muttering. But I couldn’t decipher a word because I was busy pretending to be busy with my phone. It felt a lot like being Woodstock and Snoopy. I tried continuing not to pay her too much heed. I didn’t have to look up to know she was still near me. Her whiff lingered along with her. She wasn’t a bother though until my ears pricked to catch what she’d been muttering.
“Beti kuch khaane ke liye paise de na!”
Food. She was begging for money to buy food. I’d had food in my bag because of a Good Samaritan I’d left behind in Pranpur. I dove in and handed her the packed lunch. Her face lit up with a smile and in turn swept aside some of her wrinkles. The silver foil made her curious about what it contained. She looked at me in askance and I answered “Aloo ki sabzi”. It seemed to have met her approval. She sank back on the bench next to me and rummaged through the plastic bag she’d been hauling over her already arched back. Convinced she was going to keep the food, I let her be and went back to giving my phone my undivided attention. But I could sense her watching me. I looked up to find that her gaze was already meeting mine in askance again. This time her question was “Lekin beti ab tum kya khaaogi?”
I sank back into the bench with my eyes transfixed on the floor.
|Chanderi (near Pranpur) in panorama|