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It’s my favourite part of the day - my “me” time when all I do is watch the world go by. There’s nothing quite like sitting by the window, in that bliss of solitude, feeling the wind on my face and letting my mind wander into its deepest recesses as the train meanders its way on the tracks. While my eyes behold the usual sights and notice the stations flash past, my mind travels back and forth, exploring through a maze of thoughts, recollecting events of the times past – both recent and distant, observing the myriad hues of daily life – humdrum yet fascinating, predictable yet surprising. This paradox never ceases to amaze me; maybe this is why I find myself looking forward to this daily ritual which fuels my thoughts, gives me glimpses of life at its most real and most of all, which lets me be me.
Among the first observations about my fellow commuters to have struck me was the fact that no sooner did young girls (as I travel in the ladies compartment) board the train than they put on earphones, plugged the wire into their mobiles and spent the entire commute listening to music. At first, I thought it would be a great way to pass the time and decided to try it out too. But then I realised that it interfered with the free flow of thoughts that I so enjoyed and diverted me from the wealth of experiences that I had got so accustomed to absorbing and hence abandoned the idea. It's probably a consequence of our hectic, modern lifestyles that young people have gotten so used to keeping occupied all the time that they cannot imagine sitting idle with only themselves for company.
I seldom get to see the same faces again on a different day but the only people who remain constant are the ladies pacing the aisle displaying their wares, attracting attention to it by announcing in long, loud tones, always as enthusiastic and hopeful, day after day. I never fail to admire their spirit, the enduring hope and optimism that reflect in their energetic voices, with neither any trace of disappointment at being turned down nor impatience at being pushed aside as the train begins to get crowded. Some of them carry their little babies in sari bundles tied across their torso, moving as sprightly as ever, their mood cheerful and body language positive, never giving away signs of any weariness that may be the natural outcome of their tough existence. Is it the predictability of their routine that gives them the strength to take life with such equanimity? Or is it because, they are oblivious of any other way of living? Can we learn a lesson from their stoicism or should they let a bit of discontent seep into their minds that will make them want more from life for themselves, for their children? The answer continues to elude me.
There are a few more “regular” commuters that I see every other day. They get on and off at fixed stations – a fact that would seem normal and ordinary for most – except that these women seem mentally unstable. Some of them mumble to themselves, others carry on an animated conversation with an imaginary companion, often recounting painful stories of betrayal, abandonment, bereavement and profound sorrow. This is by far the most moving of experiences from my daily commute and something that has shaken my very soul.
Then of course there is the lighter side too – young students cracking jokes that make you want to laugh loudly too. Women gossiping away, making the most of this opportunity, the security of being anonymous in a crowd of strangers, allowing them to give vent to their frustrations openly about a few of their favourite adversaries - their bosses, their husbands and their mothers in law. You cannot but also help overhear snippets of conversations about someone’s deepest secrets, their worst fears and the bitterest of truths. This has a strangely comforting effect as it connects me inextricably with those women who are complete strangers, yet share the common bond of being fellow travellers in the journey of life. It makes me realise that no one escapes the vagaries of life, that we all have our moments of despair and our moments in the sun to deal with in the way we choose to.
It’s indeed an eventful uneventful journey, – one that saddens, amuses, uplifts, teaches, inspires and comforts, - a mirror of the paradox that is life. But most of all, it is a time of silent contemplation, of peaceful introspection, of order amidst chaos, a time to charge my batteries to face the day with equanimity, as I revel in this chance to be me.