Saturday, October 30, 2010

Taking a train to India

After a prolonged absence of four years, I finally fixed my date with Indian Railways again. I work in Bangalore and have my home in Dehradun (they are more than 2500 km apart), so usually I fly to Delhi but this time around I thought it would be an adventure to spend 33 hours on a train to Delhi. (Actually, I didn't, truth is air-tickets were too expensive.)

And an adventure it was, not it terms of exciting, adrenaline rushing moments but feeling the pulse of the vast nation that I call my home. I think if you really want to see India, you have to travel by railroad. Flying just whisks you up above the clouds, suspends your consciousness and then drops you right at the destination. It just abstracts the road you take to the point you want to get. Much like everything else we like to call "convenience".

Travelling on a train, is quite another matter. The engine and its retinue rush along the land, linking the various nondescript villages, barely known stations and huge junctions and big cities. With the airlines, you just get to see the big, important cities; with railways, you see India. And its heartbreakingly beautiful. When you live in a big city long enough, you lose touch from the rest of the nation. Nothing quite brings you in contact with the forgotton hinterlands as a railroad.

I sat all day at the footsteps of my compartment staring out at the settlements that passed; the tiny huts with reddish-orange shingles on top or mud huts with rough fences made out of twisted, dried shrubs. There were large wastelands, too dry to produce anything but there were families still tilling and cultivating and hoping for a decent price for their labour. Almost everyone on the field was burnt deep-brown by the unforgiving tropical Sun. This was their price of labour. Sometimes they would look up and see rest of the world rushing by ahead of them. Did they ever think they were missing out on life?

The land changed when we got to Maharashtra, the soil was darker and thicker, plants were greener. This was a fertile land and you could tell by just looking at it. The people were again something very different from me and you, who still did penance once a year for the local deity and celebrated harvests. There were numerous temples dotting the land, all flying a single, somewhat triangular saffron flag. And as the train crossed the roads, I peered at all those faces waiting across the gates and wondered what their lives were like. I wondered if they were interested in mine.

Somewhere after Nagpur, the light started to fade and then I could see men cycling back to their unlit homes and the faint glow of the kitchen fires that must have welcomed them. The land suddenly started rising and the train was running in between a bed of rock, there were three tunnels that darkened the compartments and caused the lights to be switched on. There were a couple of smokers who came out to the door but I held on to my spot, after all these were the dying minutes of my train journey. Come tomorrow morning and I would be the city-dweller again.

Friday, October 22, 2010


A Friday is one great day to spend in the comfort of a completely deserted office floor and pretend that your living room has grown to a size you would ideally like it to be. I stretch and start typing the random tumble of letters and words, I realize that I quite like it here. There are no prying eyes or a boisterous group, and in the soft glow of the evening, the place seems cozy.

I can wander around aimlessly, and just stare at the clouds from my sixth floor station and the distant flashes of lightning that grumble and growl. Threats of rain, and it really seems like its going to break out pretty soon, but I don't mind. Not today, I 'm happy.

Sometimes, all that it takes to give you that nice, easy feeling is something as trivial as a phone call. Everything looks up and better when you get to talk to someone you have been waiting for, the ritualistic eight hours of office or the traffic marred ride back to the house. Everything is at peace. Everything is perfectly beautiful. And you have an inwards smile.

Something inspires you to be better than you really are, nothing competitive, just a man who wants to improve. You want to read poetry, and wish and hope that someday you could write as beautifully as Cohen. Someday. Yet all you can do is listen to him.

Ah! The world is beautiful today.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I got a call from an old friend tonight, and it was the most satisfying conversation that I had all week. Have you ever noticed that usually most conversations that we (guys) have with anyone, are impersonal and discreet? There are a very few people with whom we really open up and talk about ourselves, our lives and our fears.

Here's how a general conversation flows for guys:
1. You say hey to your buddy
2. Proceed with some usual, friendly expletives if you are close.
3. Ask him how's life.
4. He asks you the same.
5. Go on goofing about some irrelevant topic.
6. Hang up.

And that's standard guy talk anywhere. No one talks about himself unless he is in some kind of trouble. That's the rule. Its funny I'm writing about this, because this was pointed out by this same friend (who called me today) of mine. At that time I had thought that it was weird of her to make that observation. Nobody wants to know if you have problems, especially your guy friends. Emotions make us jittery and unsure, humour is the cure-all in our universe.

However, humour isn't working as it used to.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Jack Johnson: Surfer, poet, film-maker and a musician

I think I discovered Jack Hody Johnson around three years ago, he was there on FM. I had no idea who the guy was, singing "I can't always be waiting, waiting on you". To be fair, it sounded like another of those break-up songs, poetical remonstrances which would in any other way sound harsh but was rendered seductively melodious here.

But the germ had been planted, I went back and searched (please try it if you are a music freak, its AWESOME!) for Jack Johnson and found one gem after another. The quietly acoustic settings with Jack singing in his mellow voice paints a calm, blue Ocean. It was a very different dimension in contemporary music that I had discovered and have faithfully followed.

There's  no extravagance in terms of musical arrangement or lyrical poetry,  thats because I guess he wants his songs to be heard and the lyrics to be understood and digested. But above all, his songs are a reflection of the peace that he has within, a quiet place of Zen that he has discovered and from where his music flows to meet us wafting across the airwaves.

It,s weird that you can actually connect so deeply with another human being whom you have never met and probably never will, but it's his music that does all the talking to me. Of course, writing about it now is the only way that I can feebly try to reply.

I think he is an exceptional human-being in a lot of ways; he was a champion surfer by 18, a critically acclaimed documentary maker, a songwriter and a very successful musician. Finally its the fact that he is never into controversies or chasing that elusive byte of fame that completes his persona and makes him so likeable.

Album List:
Brushfire Fairytales
On and On
In Between Dreams
Sleep Through the Static
To the Sea

Some of my personal favourites:

Good People
If I had eyes
A pirate looks on 40  (cover for Jimmy Buffet's original)
Upside Down
Plastic Jesus/Fall line
Better Together
Holes to heaven

P.S. I have always had this weird idea that Jack must be a really good cook, will ask him sometime when we meet ;)