Such was Kutch

B – “This is it. Stay on your toes, stay steady, stay focused. Our target is the upper-berth seat, and our aim is to score two for us. We are going to rush our way in, find ourselves two decent seats, and set our assets on them before anyone else does. This is the general compartment, here money buys us tickets only. Rest, we have to work for. This place has its own rules which change depending on the people and the situation. So don’t forget to be respectful in the heat of competition. At least until we score ourselves a seat. Alright, here it comes, come on!”

 

As they stumble through the doors, trip between the partitions, and spin about the seats, they see themselves being aced by other commuters. They couldn’t help but fall to the forceful chaos unleashed by belligerent women, hyperactive kids, annoyed elderly, and anxious husbands. Running on an unyielding proportion of inhibition, etiquette, and not enough desperation, Bunny and Ape win a standing position.

 

B – “So much for that plan. But no worries, we’ll find some seats soon enough.

Hey, behind you.. excuse me, uncle. Hi, you mind squeezing in so my friend could sit? Thank you. Here, sit for now.”

A – “I can see you’ve done this before. Tell me, the last time you visited Kutch, did you travel like you lost a bet to misery then too?

B – “Hahaha. No man, that was my first solo trip, I had a seat booked weeks ahead.”

A – “Then why subject ourselves to such struggles this time?

B – “Patience, my friend.

“It is easy to travel in comfort with a reserved berth. Anyone can do that. I wanted us to have an irregular experience. Putting ourselves in unfamiliar environments and learning to negotiate is a useful skill. A little suffering is a good thing, it develops patience and consideration. And what better place to practice.

 

 

A – “I see this is going to be a long ride.

B – “Yup! You know, the other time I was travelling to Kutch from Bandra Terminus, I was all comfortable in my seat, I wrote some, I read some, then I chilled to some music. I thought we had crossed the Maharashtra border by then, but I fell on my head when I saw that we were just crossing Nallasopara!

A – “Hahaha, talk about long rides, damn.

B – “Tell me about it. Makes me wonder how comfort-discomfort affects our perception of time.

A – “That’s a fascinating question. So what did you do next, look for an answer?

B – “Nope. I started preparing to alter time by smashing some herb to smoke

A – Lol. “Good job!

B – “Speaking of which, later that evening I was all smoked-up when I received a call from my uncle who had lined up some job prospects for me. He was grilling me for choosing a trip instead of a job. He was acting out love and concern, but damn did I have a hard time trying not to crack up laughing.

A – “The old ones, they mean well, but they don’t seem to understand our conflict. THe world was different when they were our age. Their quest was to find security through a stable income and a respectable job. Whereas our quest is for fulfillment and meaning, I believe. Our parents have provided us with what they struggled for, so we’ve developed an alternate perspective and thus different goals and aspirations; while being grateful for what they do for us.“

B – “True, I suppose. I believe there’s more to this career thing than what meets the eye, or erodes the ear in my case.

Hey look they are leaving, let’s move up. See, I told you, just a matter of patience.

 

From their upper berths, Bunny and Ape watch the compartment from a top view. They see how people, despite their prejudices, co-operate to develop a comfortable atmosphere. No one tries to hustle out a seat for themselves, everyone honours the system – once scored is scored, so people can travel without stress from fellow passengers. Everyone gets a fighting chance during the initial chaos, and then everyone accepts the resulting order in all fairness. Everyone follows such guidelines as per need of the situation. Good for them that our duo got two entire berths to themselves.

 

A – “What about accommodations? Have you made any bookings?

B – “You think?

A – “I thought so. It’s Navratri time. It could get difficult to get a room.

B – “I know. Don’t worry, we’ll manage. I’m hoping we could stay at Bhuj, at the Jain Dharmashala I stayed at last time. It had a wide spacious dorm, comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, and more up-tight warden than I cared for. All for less than a pack of cigarettes.

A – “Was this the dharmashala where you got locked out and had to spend the night on the streets?

B – “Oh no, that was in Delhi. What a fun night that was!

A – “You sure know how to pick em’.

B – “Hahaha. The one in Kutch was suggested by a girl I met on Couchsurfing. She lived close to this place. After freshening up at the dorm, I went to meet her at her office. We talked for more than an hour, after which I went out to explore some regional sites and places she suggested. Then at night we again got together. She introduced me to her friends, and over a round of Dunhills they fondly shared their stories.”

“Youngsters who don’t hail from metropolitan cities like Mumbai are more relaxed, it seems. They are less worried about things, they make time to enjoy day to day social and personal life, some even have afternoon naps, which is a luxury in itself.”

“What?.. oh.. did the girl and I hook-up? No, we didn’t.

A – “Fat or ugly?

B – “Bit of both! *both laugh*

A – “You’d be burning at a stake had a feminist heard you say this.

B – “Hahaha. I think I’d be fine, I’ve heard feminists have a great sense of humor. But jokes aside, she was beautiful, smart, sweet, and friendly. It amazed me to see her be so comfortable; at no point did it feel like we were internet acquaintances. She even invited me to her home to celebrate the Kite Flying festival the next morning. The hook-up thought didn’t even cross my mind while I was with her. We became good friends. We will probably see her this time too.”

“I need to pee now, come let’s check out the view from the doors.

The train leaves behind the urban stations and treads on tracks passing through the rural backyard of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Exchanging chilling by the water cooler for getting some wind in the hair standing by the train’s doors, they watch the office hours pass along with swaying vegetation fields, fragrant rural lands dotted with old and modern settlements, all tinted amber by the setting sun.

 

B – “I remember a similar sunset greeting me in a remote village of Kutch. Of the two buses required to get to the village closest to the white desert, the second bus made me wait for 3 hours on account of the festival. The mini bus that arrived was brimming with people. I asked if I could ride on the roof of the bus and the conductor obliged. A fun it was, away from the mainstream, into arid wilderness dotted with dry shrubs, thorny bushes, and lean tress, into a color palette stretched across a canvas lit by the late afternoon light. The sun was circling the horizon when the bus dropped me at the last village. To get an offbeat experience of the Rann of Kutch, I had chosen a spot known as Ekkal Mata’s temple. This temple was a 4km walk from where the bus had dropped me. The idea was to reach the desert before sunset so I could set up my tent and get a fire started while I still had light. But soon it grew clear that the night was going to win that race.

 

As the evening sets a relaxed mood on either side of the speedy doors of the train, two middle-aged men join Bunny and Ape in the lobby to enjoy the ride into the evening dark with a smoky light between their lips.

 

B – “Hey Ape, you want to smoke a bidi?”

“Hi guys. Beautiful evening, isn’t it? You guys mind sparing two of those? Thanks. I love how people readily share bidis.”

“On my way to Ekkal Mata’s temple, a local villager offered me a bidi. That was the first bidi I had ever smoked. Since then, I’ve always preferred bidi over cigarettes when I’m travelling. And I don’t know why, but I’ve made it a point to never buy a bidi, only borrow one.”

“As I walked towards the desert, I heard a faint beat which grew louder with decreasing distance. I imagined it to be a tribal ritual, but I couldn’t see anything but the shrubs along the route. The beating grew more distinguished as I walked towards the temple. As I walked the percussions resonated with something in me. A rhythm set in, but instead of felling groovy, it seemed spooky. It reminded me of the fabled mermaid’s song, which lures lonely sailors into the sea. As darkness draped down, the rural walk brought me in front of a fortress-like stone wall clasping a large wooden door adorned in red and saffron. The drums and cymbals baying through the half-open door drowned whatever thoughts I had. It was a prayer for Makar Sankranti, to receive the blessings of the sun as it enters the Capricorn constellation. This event is celebrated by flying kites, I couldn’t figure out why. Inside the wall, the temple’s campus was spacious. The manager, who was a priest at the temple, had maintained the property well. The temple premises comprised the main shrine of Ekkal Mata neighbored by a few other shrines. There was an eerily quiet cattle yard at a distance to the right, to the left there was a lodging facility for guests. There was a cow dung plastered humble kitchen cum dining area beside the administration office. All garnished with a good number of trees and plants.”

“As the loud beating ended, a Baba rose to a height of 7 feet. Wide in breadth, quiet in presence, and with long hair and beard, he silently walked towards me and presented a pale of fire as a blessing from the deity. The too nice of a manager, the sinister looking giant for a Baba, the silent lambs made the place seem unnerving. Nonetheless, I accepted their kind hospitality”

“I told the priest I intend to camp the night in the white desert behind the temple. After insisting me to stay in the rooms, he obliged and directed me on how I could go about camping. An old lady who was a resident of the temple had just prepared dinner. Irrespective of the spooky vibe, I loved the meal. It was simple sabzi- roti-rice which satiated hunger and soul. I thanked the lady, drank the hardest drinking water I’ve ever swallowed, packed my bags with some borrowed supplies, informed the manager who again insisted on me taking a room, and started walking into the Rann.

A – “Lets go to our seats man, it’s been a while, people might think we’ve left.

B – “You’re right, let’s go.

A – “See, I told you!

B – “Hi guys, those are our seats, you need to get off. No no, I’m sorry, that won’t do. There’s decent space for you’ll to sit on lower berths. C’mon Ape, climb up, and you guys get moving, please. Thank you.

A – “So much for your compassion, Bunny. “

B – “Lol. Compassion doesn’t mean I let them take advantage of our extra space. And currently, it does not fit the guidelines. Sometimes we have to keep what we have to maintain a balance.

Besides, I’ve shared my broken berth with three strangers for a 55 hour-long journey, without complaining. So I allow myself to be an asshole sometimes.

A – “I can’t imagine how that ride must’ve been!

B – “Wasn’t that bad. As I said, develops patience.

A “It is weird how you went from sounding elitist in one sentence to super-adjusting in the next.

B – “Hahaha. Sometimes it becomes super-offensive in the third. *both laughs*

 

Their station is to arrive at 3.30 am so to catch a decent sleep before alighting, they settle down for the night by unfoiling a home-packed dinner. Bunny and Ape have a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to littering and polluting the surrounding. They use garbage bags for their trash and distribute a few to everyone else in their partition to use them to collect their trash. Passengers stretching the night out on the floor couldn’t be happier with the idea and its results.

 

A – “Good dinner, man! Shall we get started with the dessert?

B – “You don’t even need to ask, get rolling!

A – “So what happened to the camping?

B – “Oh yes! I took the trail from behind the temple and started walking towards the Rann of Kutch that lay after Ekkal Mata’s temple. A slice of moon was overlooking my march into the white desert. The trail was soft, sandy, white, and lined with shrubs on either side. Carrying a 20 kg backpack, two wooden logs, and some sticks to make a campfire, I had to walk a kilometer and I would reach the white desert expanse. Strolling along the night trail, I had left the temple behind and out of sight. The torchlight occasionally spotted some animal bones and skulls along the way. I was observing the surroundings and thinking out loud when it interrupted me.

A – “What?

B – “Silence. Absolute silence. Despite the shrubs, there was no sound or presence of insects, no whooshing of the wind, gushing of a stream, no sound of any movement but my own. I had never experienced a silence of such magnitude. The sheer stillness of the environment was overwhelming. I felt all the attention focus on me for a moment, then I was insignificant in the next instance. The difference between inner and external world grew more clear than ever before. Closing my eyes, I could hear my heartbeat louder than ever before, I could feel the blood rushing through my vessels, I could feel the friction in my muscles. Every sense was heightened, and every feeling was intense. It was fascinating to observing the mind and body with no distractions. After reflecting on the silence for a moment, I calmed myself, reconfirmed my bearing and continued with the newfound companion, silence.”

“My mind began compensating for the lack of background static with overthinking, and it was gaining volume. I worried for my sanity as I grew a bit concerned to stay an entire night in a soundless void alone with my mind. The giant baba’s warning about people losing their minds in the desert started looping in my head. The tension was almost palpable. There’s something about psychosis that scares me more than any ghastly being. Our mind could be our best friend and our worst enemy.

But I knew I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to camp in the white desert since I had known about it, I had looked forward to this for so long, I could not let it go.”

“Moments later, my torch ran out of batteries. It seemed fate didn’t want me to go through with my plan. But I didn’t stop, maybe out of stubbornness, out of defiance, out of the fear of failure to accomplish my goal. As I kept walking, I realized I had been walking for a good while but still haven’t reached the salt expanse. I had crossed a kilometer minutes ago. I couldn’t have lost the route, as there was no other route. This aggravated my paranoia, I lost a footing, a hint of reluctance set in and I started considering a retreat. I was feeling lost, confused and out of place. But I mustered up some will and continued walking. A few unconfident steps later I suddenly stopped, dropped the log of woods, and started searching my backpack. It was nowhere to be found, neither in my bag nor in my cargo’s pockets. I remember the last time I saw it was while lighting a joint on the roof of the bus I rode earlier. Now the lighter was nowhere to be found, which meant there would be no campfire. Which meant that I would be alone with myself in the void without a fire to keep me company. Fire has been a source of warmth, security and hope for mankind, and there between the cold, silent and mysterious expanse, I relied on it for all three. Without a campfire, I couldn’t see myself spending a night in the desolate desert. At that point, all the hesitation pulled up into a wave and washed me over; without a second thought, I started walking the other way, back to the temple.

A – “Damn man! That must have been tough, to go back after coming so close to your goal.

B – “Well, it wasn’t. Quitting was easy, but continuing with my intention, to persevere and remain true to the goal despite failure, that was tough.

A – “I feel it is wise to follow one’s gut feeling in such situations of dilemma.

B – “Yes, I suppose. Mysteries of the mind and matter. Are you done with the joint or what?

A – “Here. Let’s light up. The toilet?

B – “Yes, to the smoking zone.


After carefully puffing in and out of the window of the washroom, they walk out and stand for a few moments in the foyer soaking in the starry night above.


B
– “Back at the temple, the priest again offered the room, but desperate for some sort of an outdoor experience, I insisted on sleeping on the terrace. I spread out my mat, pulled out my sleeping bag, and with some reading material I settled myself in it. Straying from the text in the book, I gazed at the ceiling of my open air bedroom and lost myself in the spectra of stars brushed across the black sky. The seamless cosmos seemed to seep within me, and I felt my spirit dissolve into the universe. I could feel a calm settle inside me. As I awed at the infinite, all my apprehension, frustration, paranoia diminished into nothing under the stellar glow of the universe. I was free of any form of regret I held and was filled with gratitude and appreciation for the moment, for the journey that had brought me to that moment, and the people who had blessed me with their kindness.”

“The night is at its darkest just before dawn, and the dawn is coming. At a freezing 4am, I woke up and left for the salt desert, this time without any form of baggage. There, amidst the white void, I witnessed one of the most ecstatic morning-scape of my life. I was all alone in the desert watching the fleeting mystics of the dawn, the lights playing across the black and white canvas stretched as far as the eyes could see. I started running around here and there with joy, mimicking Rocky by yelling, “Yo Adrian, I did it! This was the first time I was so taken that I had tears brimming my eyes. It was the beauty of the sight coupled with the fruition of an effort started almost a year before that made the moment sweet. I returned to the temple, thanked everyone for their kindness, and left for the next adventure.

A – “Wow, must have been something. I didn’t think you could well up.

B – “Neither did I.

 

Having spent together a day nothing like their usual routine, sharing fun stories and thoughts in the general compartment of a Kutch bound train, the duo retire to their slumbers looking forward to their oncoming journey.

 

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