I can never remember the way stories begin. I’ll remember the middle and the end of a novel but ask me what was its first line and I wouldn’t be able to tell you. That’s why I could amuse myself for hours, playing the game of ‘guess the beginning’.
As my bus trundled along to Nagpur, I gazed out of the window, wishing the landscape held some clue to the beginning of Kakfa on the Shore. I was pretty certain it began with something the boy named Crow said. But what was that something?
I had the seat all to myself – the biggest blessing I could have asked for. Perhaps, no one wanted to sit next to a young girl travelling all on her own. Chances were, it would have caused them more discomfort than it would have caused me. Whatever the reason, I was glad to be left alone. When you live in a city like Mumbai, you start to hold personal space as truly sacred.
Unlike Kafka, I hadn’t run away from home. I was merely following a whim that had possessed me as I held my graduation certificate in my hands. A whim to take all the money I’d earned thus far through my freelance writing and do a road trip across India – or wherever I pleased. Of course, I couldn’t drive or ride any vehicle; so my definition of ‘road trip’ was a series of bus rides.
I’d graduated in biology. Whenever I encountered that word, I had a vivid image of me plunging my hands into dense, wet soil, fragrant the way only soil can be. Everything has a fragrance. The dust swept up by my bus smelt of heat, sand and relentless labour. The wind smelt sweeter – carrying with it the aromas of frying potatoes, blooming frangipani and the smoke of incense sticks.
At home, I’d had to lie to get permission for this trip. I told them my best friend would be accompanying me. I didn’t feel guilty about it. I wanted to do this - before I got sucked into the inescapable monotony of adulthood. I needed this one last adventure.
We paused at a fairly large bus depot for new passengers to board the bus and I seized the opportunity to relieve myself at the little washroom that depots were wont to have. “Two minutes,” I told the bus driver and sprinted across the pebbly path. It wasn’t as dirty as I had feared. By the time I returned, the entire bus was gazing in the general direction of the washroom, awaiting my return. Mildly embarrassed, I mumbled my thanks to the driver and quickly made my way back to the seat. It was still unoccupied. What a stroke of luck.
I don’t know when exactly I dozed off but when I came to, the bus was nearly empty. “Madam, we’ve reached!” the ticket collector called out. Hurriedly collecting my rucksack from the overhead compartment, I jumped off the bus. It was six in the evening. Something wasn’t right. The signs at the depot were all in Kannada – not Marathi. Hesitantly, I approached what looked like a help desk. “Which place is this?” I asked, imagining how ridiculous my question sounded. “Gokarna,” the spectacled man in a khaki uniform replied, with a marked Kannadiga accent. I stared at him uncomprehendingly. Gokarna? That was a beach town in Karnataka. I had boarded a bus for Nagpur, the orange county of Maharashtra. Here, there were no orange vendors. I felt a comical sense of disappointment. A mental calculation told me that both Gokarna and Nagpur were around 12 hours away from Mumbai. Was it possible that I had boarded the wrong bus? ‘What else could it be?’ I wondered aloud. Just to be certain, I posed the same question to two other persons and received the same answer – Gokarna.
What the heck, I thought. It wasn’t like I had a planned itinerary anyway. I whatsapped my step-sister to tell her I was all right (she’d relay my message to the rest of the family) and took off for the sea. By the time I reached the beach, the sun had already retired for the day. Not that I minded. Darkness was comforting. It was a full moon night and the waves were quite boisterous. I had to be careful not get my jeans wet. There was no one else on my stretch of the beach. Solitude was really favouring me today. I found a rock to perch on, and dipped my toes into the sand. It was still warm. This part of India embraces heat like a long-lost friend in the sultry month of May. I thought it was a good time to travel though. I didn’t have to worry about getting caught in a downpour or lugging around woollens to shield myself from the cold. All I had to worry about were beads of sweat and a healthy tan – neither of which required any extra travel gear.
The waves lapped at my feet in a rhythmic pattern that soothed my nerves ruffled by the mix-up with my bus. I guess that’s what we all do – try to find our rhythm in life. And for two people to stay together happily, the pace of their rhythms must match, more or less.
When I spied a trio of shifty men approaching me from a few metres away, I knew it was my cue to leave. My thin steel watch (I had my odd touches of feminity) told me that it was almost 10 PM. No hotel would allow me to check in at this time of the night. I walked as fast as my feet would consent, making my way back to the bus depot. At 11 PM, I boarded the last bus to Bangalore. I was the last passenger to get in as well.
Read part II here
Read part II here