So this was it. Leaving my best friends behind, I was traveling alone in a 3AC Tamil Nadu Express compartment, all the way to Delhi. It was a thirty-hour trip, and I was well stocked on books - Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist", Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons", Wells' "The First Men in the Moon". For food, I had bought a single big bag of Lays, and a two-litre bottle of water to last for the time being.
Seat no. 25 AS2 was a lower berth. "I am traveling alone. Anyone who wants to exchange an upper berth?" I looked at the varied multicoloured faces staring at me. I swear I heard a whisper saying - "If he has seat number 25, why is he putting his luggage under #26?" Thinking the remark to be a figment of my imagination, I smiled heartily and closely regarded my neighbours to-be of the next thiry hours.
There were four traders: two Tam Brahms, a Jat from Jallandhar, and a Sri Lankan. There was also a Gujju aunty. One of the Tam Brahms and the Jat had the upper berths - both refused to budge. Helplessly, I looked across to the side berths. No luck there either, as a seemingly newlywed couple sat there, hand-in-hand. It seemed like a love marriage for three reasons: 1) both the guy and girl were dressed from top to bottom in red - the woman in a red salwar kameez, the man in a red silk kurta pyjama (and btw, that is totally gay) 2) the guy was a little shorter than the woman 3) the woman had a sense of humour that involved a) shouting "soopi soopi soopi" in a southie accent after the soup-wallah passed by, and b)marrying such men shorter then herself as would dress completely in red silk if asked.
This menagerie apart, there was the inevitable faceless baby, the presence of which was inflicted upon everyone only by its merciless bawls. One wonders how a 3 kg instrument can produce 300 decibels of noise.
They could even have been good company, but at least three of them chose to open their mouths during the journey. The Sri Lankan kept quiet (or spoke in a mixture of Tam+Sinhalese that would bring shame even to the dialect of Madras autowallahs) and of course the Gujju Aunty, with her 5 kgs of luggage and 50 kgs of food, never had the chance to speak lest she accidentally choke herself on delicious home-made gujju grub.
"So, sir, what do you do?" began the Tam Brahm.
"Hello myself Rakesh. I am a trader." The Jaat said with odd contentment in his eyes.
"So are we!" exclaimed the other excited Tam Brahm and they shook hands. "What do deal in?"
"No, no, clothes" clarified Rakesh quickly, but then his underclocked brain decided that it was just a synonym. During this time, the others actually nodded. I guess their underclocked brains had decided that these were in fact not synonyms.
"Yes yes clothes and garments. I deal in both." Rakesh smiled. Then everyone shook hands and the Tam Brahms introduced themselves. Their names could have been included, but then the blog would be several pages longer.
"Crunch Crunch Slurp" said the Gujju Aunty.
"Soopi soopi soopi" began the fat woman in the red dress.
"Saapad-qzwtghy blethargqooey" went the guy from Sri Lanka
"Bwaaaaaaaa" bawled the faceless baby
"Oh my God. Oh my fucking God!!!" said the little voice, drowned in all the noise. It took an effort to realize that it was my mind reacting.
A while later, things were mostly settled. The traders talked like old friends (from a loony bin). Other noises continued. Paulo Coelho told me the importance of having faith in omens and realizing that "overshadowing all other human languages is the One Language of the Mind, which communicates with everyone regardless of any distinctions". Unfortunately, since it was already 11 o'clock, the Tam Brahms decided it was time to sleep. Midsentence, Paulo Coelho's book was clothed in dark as the light turned off. Right now the One language was telling me to go and throttle each and every one of these characters and make a bed out of their corpses. After successfully turning on the light twice for fifteen minutes each time, and being rudely interrupted each time, I decided that vengeance would be mine tomorrow morning.
I woke up just before Nagpur the next day. The Tam Brahms were perched narrowly against my feet, careful not to accidentally touch them.
The heat of Nagpur not only took over the atmosphere of the AC compartment but also the conversation. After having an ice cream each at the station, the traders started debating on why Nagpur was so hot this time around.
Several interesting observations were made:
1. A coal mine had just been discovered near Nagpur.
2. Some fart about rain causing less humidity and more temperature. [!]
3. Due to pollution, "global" warming was more here. [!!!]
4. We were getting closer to the equator. [!!!!!]
"The Alchemist" is an altogether nice and compelling story. Sadly, it tells of caravans with expert traders following stars and directions for weeks on end. I wondered if they sold garments too. Or perhaps only clothes. It was time to switch books. At such a time, the opening chapter of "Angels and Demons" makes one overcome with a desire to brand an ambigram of "Eat this, asshole" into the skin of the aforesaid, well, assholes.
The rest of the journey was also mindnumbingly dull. Dull, at most places, but completely mindnumbing where not dull. I made no attempts to speak at all, and as few tries as possible to catch their attention.
Finally, New Delhi Rly Stn approached. The traders got up and into their shoes. They shook hands again for the gazillionth time. Then they exchanged visiting cards. Oddly enough, the Tam Brahms (who seemed to be a group all this time) exchanged cards too. It appeared the Jaat was taking the Sri Lankan to Jallandhar and was due to catch another train.
Nice try, asshole. I should have told him. Does he really expect traders he knows from a train journey to visit him, when they can't even make out which side of the equator they are? Heck, they even do the same trade, doesn't that make them bloody competitors?
But I guess when the God of Logic was distributing brains, these four were shouting "Rs 150. SALE! SALE!" to the people standing in line.