As I sat there intoxicated, the color play on the surface of Ganges looked like a part mirror and part mirage reflection of the sky and the lightbulbs. The city was breathing a sigh of relief at the retreat of the monsoons. Hundreds of people decorated the nooks and crannies of Assi Ghat. Each group more enraptured than the other. There was an air of uncertainty around the plans for the evening. Some suggested drinking and the rest appreciated the call. I too joined in. It was time for me to buy this round of cigarettes.
It was one of those evenings when you could get a looming sense of premonition that everything is going to change. Fiddling around with the filter of a Marlboro red, withdrawn from the ritual of visiting Maruadih¹ for paid sex I sat there waiting for my tea. At around half past seven, I switched on my phone. Other than my sister no other person had called me. There was a text message I would have deleted out of habit, but as I write these words, I do so because I decided otherwise.
After a year of bouncing off from one city to the other, looking for food, female company and select intoxicants, the time had come to part ways with my sundowner lifestyle. I had to pack everything up and board the train the next afternoon. It was going to be a long journey spanning slightly over nine and twenty hours. I sat down on the swing in the balcony and started rolling my cigarettes for the journey. I conveyed the news of my admission in the University of Hyderabad to my parents and they didn't react very well.
There was a commotion in the distance. A funeral procession was enroute Manikarnika Ghat. I could see flashbacks from my life leading up to this moment. As far back as my distorted memory allows me to look into my past, I can't think of a parallel to this star studded, celestial night sky. It was rather cold for a July evening.
By the time people decided to hitchhike their way to the brothel, I found myself disinterested in the idea of spending my night with someone else; and burdened under the sheer weight of similar emotions from the yesteryear. In the four months I spent in Varanasi, I had developed a connect with the way the people here. The city had interacted with me in languages I never knew existed. The language of arrivals and departure. The language of the river and the waves. The language of smiles exchanged over gifting her a mirror.
I scavenged for the cheapest pair of earphones at the railway station. Got myself a bottle of water and a dozen chewing gums. I had run out of money and could not afford to pay for a plate of food. I spent most of my time aboard, sitting at the doorway, smoking. There was an uncomfortable grain in the music because of the poor quality of the earphones.
Train journeys have always been really close to my heart. Flights take too little to reach the destination and voyages too long. Trains keep me interested. A continuous change of coordinates, the air too crisp at places, the water, soggy at some. I had started a journey to yet another city.
The realisation that I was broke, hopeful and intoxicated during the entire journey taught me a very valuable lesson. The lesson that nothing in life is too frighteningly monotonous or revoltingly difficult if you're broke hopeful and intoxicated.
The train was inching closer to Hyderabad. I thought of my mother and the first time I boarded a train to start off on a path away from where your heart belongs. The crossroad where I left my mother, marked the beginning of an everlasting chapter on the significance of distance.
Likewise, the journey in train number 12792, seat number 27 has become a chapter on the importance of courage. The courage to let go of the sun in the river in Varanasi only to find it coming out of the lake in Hyderabad.
Here, the cigarette leaves a strong aftertaste on your palate after sunset. There, you could taste the river in every cup of tea... The city had interacted with me in languages I never knew existed. The language of arrivals and departure, of the river and the waves, of life and impermanence. The city now lives inside me...