Ticker Tape, Rumbling Rails

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

"Pin drop silence", that's why we heard more, they said.  But we knew we were a species with an evolved sense of hearing. With our curious syndrome, we could even listen in to our disintegrating brain, it sounded like a flat tires final hiss. But then our ears were tuned into something worse - a dreaded chalk piece forcefully pinched between his fingertips which led to a highly pitched tiff with the blackboard. Adding to that, his broad shoulders could not lend a view to what was written on the blackboard. I was hoping that the bell would save us all, but I decided to play guessing games by tracing his hand movements. What looked like wiry lines gradually became symbols, and when he finally moved, in my mind I read, Speed equals distance over time. Formulas, not exactly a fan of them, in fact I wanted the law of acceleration to apply to one thing right that instant, my physics class.

I can promise you that this story isn't related to physics, past this paragraph the plot is bound to refract. But it does goes back all the way to my old science lab in high school.  One day, certainly not a revolutionary one, Mr. Clark, my physics teacher, placed a metallic car near an inclined wooden plank set against some hardbound books.  Dextrously built with metal scraps and hinged scrupulously, the car was attached to a long tape threaded through a ticker timer. I had no idea what was the point of this experiment, but the clocks loud ticks escalated my excitement. The car was set on the slope, and the wheels were ready to roll but his omnipotent pair of hands held it back. And when it was let go; there was a loud racket, the wheels glided along the plane. The ticker timer was furiously punching holes into the tape as the car cruised off into the ground. The line of dots gradually tapered, and finally there was nothing, just bland whiteness.

My rooms usually unaware of time; there isnt an old clock that persists. But I always feel settled in there, thats one of the few times I can feel the leather strap of my watch sink into my skin. Except during the ritual, the one where my suitcase comes out and enjoys being laid out on the bed. I always ponder whether I should twist the dial of my watch. Conclusively I nod my head, I dare not manifest with time again, thus I always leave my watch on my bed stand, watch the last set of afternoon rays cast on my wall and take off. The room has now become a solitude that embraces the thoughts on how life isn’t calculated anymore. The past few weeks have proved to be nomadic, enlightening and frightening. I found myself on unfamiliar couches and oblivious of the postcodes. There I was lost in six different cities among different people, currencies, and signage. I was stripped off my watch and suspended in time, and I thought best when I sat on something that ran on rumbling rails.  

Kochi, Kerala
Maharajas College to Edapally
January 11, 2018

It was all new, the city gave birth, and we felt like unfamiliar parents. It was refreshing to look across and see each others faces in a commute, I was so used to seeing the back of many heads. These days, men have started sporting different types of collars and apparently mens shirts have become quite fashionable sans the pocket. Even harder to embrace was when a man sat by a woman. It wasnt like then, he couldn't sit with her. I crossed my legs, and momentarily thought I must have disrespected someone. I was so used to having my knee pressed up against a seat, and having my elbow lean against the bus rail, but this was calm, music played in here. And no one seemed to care; this metro was a child who belonged to the next generation.

Growing up, a girl taking a bus was a monumental deal. Many were surprised when a thirteen year old me travelled on it alone. Tales of how women are leered at, how bus conductors are always chatty. There was this predominant divide in the bus, especially when you were sandwiched dangerously between the men and women. And horror stories were whispered to many daughters by scared mothers, how men were monsters who shadowed over you at the borderline of the bus. Their breath could burn your shoulders and how their eyes rove so wily towards necklines that gasped for some air. I thought this was preposterous. I remember when I let a man sit next to me in a bus, it was then I saw the dragon eyes fixated on me by a furious woman. But today it was simple, we all sat together, and I must say I still like mens shirts having a pocket.

As I was approaching the next station, Edapally, I could see St. George Church. It majestically stood out as a landmark. Freshly coated in cloudy white paint and boasting of its golden angels, a view from the train made the people look so ant-like. But I could see many women scuttling their way up, heads covered in veils. Unlike a few years ago, in the older and smaller church, you would see how women moved to one side of the church. An aisle separated men and women. But the St.George Church changed as well, people sat together now . It was something to embrace, when a woman sat by a man. The Church too no longer looked at divide.
It was all new.

Corniche , Doha
Date: January 14, 2018

Another city, another immigration counter,  Miss or Mrs.? , they asked,  Miss,  I replied. I looked into the camera and my eyes dilated; I dont remember the last time someone looked so intently into my eyes. I wheeled out my trolley bag, put on my sunglasses and landed among many people, I was just another woman with a ring on her middle finger. Pun intended.

I was told that you fall in love when your instincts tug your conscience and when someone strikes an indelible impression. There was something about tonight, it lingered with high hopes. In good spirits; I slipped into my new stilettoes that complimented my leather skirt. But there was an immediate sense of regret when I was walking towards the Museum of Islamic Art, I knew I couldn't breeze through the evening chills. The museum was palatial and deserted, which in effect made me feel like an explorer. The artifacts well lit and brilliantly spaced that one could enjoy a historic navigation. When I walked into the theatre to watch a documentary about swords, there was a hushed silence and I looked around, I was the only one. I could imagine being a curator here, one who had this place to feel displaced but also make a sense of space.

I was walking towards the weaponry wing, the glass doors showed off a courtyard that had compellingly stunning arches. The breeze held me back for only a moment and going against it I stumbled upon something wondrous. There I stood in awe, I met my match, she was beautiful. My instincts fluttered, she seemed to be promising, for she looked glorious tonight. The bejewelled Corniche Street looked remarkable with her newborn wealth. From where I stood, she was something beyond a waterfront promenade that glimmered with skyscrapers. There was a rush of blood to my toes, I swiftly dreamt of settling in, seldom desires. I pictured a life, where I would have a studio apartment, roast some asparagus and convert my dining room to an art studio.

That night with a fiery yearn; I rode into the heart of the illuminated city. The city fizzled with opulent desolation. Most buildings were inhabited; too many boastful and unnecessary malls and luxury cars just infested the cities. I looked to the sky for a flying train, but I found myself alone in a car. The city was caged and unglamorous to me. And as instant as the first time I laid my eyes on her, I knew I had to run away. I requested to turn the car back and never looked back at the promenade. I couldn’t feel the pulse of the city save mine. Ironical though, she left an impression and tugged my conscience.

Haggerston, London

January 18, 2018
Haggerston to Canary Wharf

A majority of my London year, I was a solo traveller. At first, I hated the way the announcer said, Mind the Gap. It sounded like he swallowed a few snails and after a very slow and fulfilling gulp, he let out, Gap. In time I decided to make a mockery of it, by getting of the train until he said, Gap. I aged I guess, for I became impervious to it. I grew awfully preoccupied with thoughts and constantly noted narrative curiosities in my long stemmed brain.

Travelling alone and mostly offline, I enjoyed learning the complex routes, studying the names of stops on the District line, Northern line, Bakerloo and sometimes the Circle line. I loved how I could sift myself through the stations without Citymapper. Thus when I got off at the right station, I felt vindictive, not bound by those addictive travelling apps. Every time the tubes door closed, I had a silly victory song playing in my mind. A year passed by, travel should have been monotonous but rather it was more fulfilling, all until my last week in London.

I found myself resisting to board on a train. I had company. Taking in all those last meaningful conversations, I grew conscious of each station and dreaded how we stopped for those five seconds, I could feel a once tethered string slowly tearing away. I did not want to dive into the last goodbyes in a train. I grew conscience of all the sounds around me, which were otherwise muted. And when Ridho got up, I imagined if we would meet up in a café at Jakarta talking about a charades battle. But the doors closed on him, and he whizzed away from my sight. Brutal. White Chapel came, my stop, I stepped out. Instead of hastily catching my next train, I stood there and refused to move. There was Mar muffled in huge sunflower yellow scarf, waving. It was a goodbye indeed, a 5000 mile long distance friendship now onwards. The divide at the door was a realisation, and then he said, Mind the Gap.

Dubai Mall, Dubai
February 13,2018
Jumeriah lake Towers to Dubai Mall

Theres a pink line drawn in the train. And more than the people who entered, I was curious to know who would encroach the border. Most mornings I caught my train from Jumeriah Lake Towers, always towards Rashidiya. There was a scuttle of office goers and then of course the other predominant half, the tourists. Most times I wished to sway towards one, but I was that duck sitting on the fence: the tourist looking for a job. One evening, through the trains window, I looked into Dubais sky with its tangerine hints. The fading sun was still able to set some silhouettes of the construction cranes that looked like stenciled sketches by architects. The more I traversed through this route, I just saw a strip of buildings rising from insurmountable layers of desert sand. Every time I arrived a stop, I was amazed how its names were dominated by businesses: superpowers like banks and companies. Theres something very controlled about the city as much as that pink line in the train.

I appreciate the fact that women get a separate compartment in the train, but the drastic fine a man has to pay if he was caught in the ladies compartment is what scared me. Such reinforcement in this city took away its essence of marveling me with its modernism. While heading to Dubai Mall, there was a massive set of people who flocked in. The general compartment was tight as a can of sardines, while ours had a few untaken seats. Men were sitting, looking over at our seats. A newly married couple pushed through the rush. The bride who wore her maroon choora* could have taken a seat, but she stood at the edge of the line, her fingers intertwined with his on the other side, the crowded one. They were divided by a line but bound by a touch. The Burj Khalifa was nearing; we finally arrived at Dubai Mall. The train compartment became half empty and many exited to the most fashionable destination. It started by crossing the very old-fashioned pink line.

Vashi, Mumbai
Date: February 18, 2018
Victoria Terminal to Kharghar 

I left this city seven years ago, very abruptly but fiercely. My mother said I was an earthquake when I came home, and then I learned to settle in. Until my soul quaked and it became flighty. I dreaded to make it back to Bombay; I looked at my fingers to see how much have I aged. I wondered if I could stand in those crowded trains and learn to jump off on time. And when I took my first local train in seven years, my back shot up, my calves could feel the burn and when the wind hit my face, I knew this was the city that defined me.

A lot has changed, many people have resorted to Ubers, but I loved the way I panted when I raced through the flight of stairs. During my college years, the trip from Victoria Terminal to Vashi was my weekend get away. It was always a hustle but after the flock of terror dissipated into the overcrowded Kurla station, I got up from my seat and relaxed by the open doors of the train. I closed my eyes when I reached Mankhurd, waiting to pass over the bridge and sense the calmness of the Arabian Sea. But one evening, I saw a woman hurl a plastic bag of food into the sea. She was very scrawny and a huge silver nose ring that contrasted with her dark skin. Her eyes look tired, and by her feet I saw an empty woven basket, and crumpled cloths. No sale today I assumed. I politely requested here not to throw waste, in return I got basketful of insults. I was quite crippled when it came to speaking Marathi, so I took a seat and imagined the plastic bag floating away somewhere.

But this time, I was heading to Khar Ghar, in an awfully compressed train. Seated by the window, three very curious children were looking at my leather-pleated skirt. One of them asked me, if she could touch it, I laughed, telling her, " Koee bat nahin*. She was indulging in some crisps, and when we were crossing the sea, the young girl tried to slip the plastic cover through the windows grill. I rolled my eyes, and said No. A few minutes later, her older sibling tried and my eyes became a little more commanding. The plastic covers were gradually passed on to her mother. I think I hit the last straw when the father asked the child to toss a wrapper, and the wife looked at him. No we should keep our city cleaner.* She looked at me and smiled. I got up to enjoy the breeze by the open carriage and enjoy the clear view of the sea. Seven years later, I was older and bolder.

March 19, 2018
Chennai to Ernakalum

Madras was an unexpected trip. It was a weekend where I felt the warmest hug of a library and consoled by books after a tragic funeral in my family. This time, I was seated next to a young mother with a curious set of twins. In our compartment there were so many teenagers heading home for the weekend. I secretly hoped she would ask me, if I was heading for an academic break. But she kept silent, maybe she was too engaged with her children or maybe I did not have a demeanour of a student. Honestly how much have I sped through the distance of my life? I regretted asking that question to myself, for my mind became quiet. I could hear the trundle of the wheels and view that quick whizz through the window that showed off a violent scatter of trees. It looked liked a violent lash of blunt crayons on paper. But I enjoyed how landscapes glided across my eyes, and how I was aligned to the trains rhythmic chugs. It was then I vividly remembered the ticker timer. When wheels of the train stopped and my imaginative mind came to a lull, I took out my laptop and started writing about all of my trifling anecdotal trinkets ,till time was suspended in pure whiteness. 

I would like to thank Dennis Antony for clicking my portraitures

Koee baat nahin*  - No problem in Hindi
choora*- These are set of ivory red and white bangles, that are worn by a bride on her wedding day, especially during Punjabi weddings

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