In a Bombay train.

Courtesy: Jorge Lascar (Licensed under Creative Commons)

 Loud, cackling women
Erratic. Not in sync
With the rhythm of the
Train’s wheels
Or the drums beating in my ear
Or the fine whirr of the words
Rising out of my book.

Harsh, raucous speech
Abuzz with tawdry, uncontained excitement
Mutating, no longer human.
A foreign tongue
Of a foreign species.
The drums beat harder
The words rise swifter
Their music interspersed with
A voice I know so intimately
A voice I could name in my sleep
The railway announcer’s voice!
Youthful, splendidly even-paced
Like she had been born for this purpose.
For answering that existential question
Of where we are headed
And where we will eventually go.

If my life is indeed a train journey
And I don’t get to choose
Who travels in my coach,
I’d at least like to choose
The colour of my train.

A woman peers at my book
A little longer than necessary.
Frightened, I wonder
If she can see the words rising up as well
If she might want to seize them
Before they inhabit my mind.

Drums have now become
The mellow ripple of a piano
A beggar sings of love, of unrequited passion
The cackling has quietened
Human again
But not yet sublime.
And here we are, at yet another station
New coach members
New scents of aspiration, desperation
Vacant bliss and noisy frustration
I must permit them
The familiarity of my skin
Of the vibrations of my thoughts
Which have now become confused,
Misdirected mass
Of cackles, croons and cloistered cacophony
Rainbow of sounds
Bouquet of annoyance.

There I see men clad in orange overalls
Weathered skin darkened
By the passage of time.
Peering into unexplained mysteries of the railway tracks
And if I peered along with them,
Would my skin become weather-worn and shadowy too?

Buildings struggle to wriggle out of their foundations
And coconut palms strain to kiss the clouds
As we pass
But not a single nod of greeting
Not a whit of acknowledgement
We’re strangers – them and me
But we see each other everyday.
We’re strangers – the world and I
Though we breathe each other everyday.