A strange thing happened. Years ago, I met a girl on the train. I was travelling cross country, it was a longish journey. Over forty hours. I don't remember where I was headed or where she was headed. Usually I won't talk to people on a train. On general principle, I wouldn't talk to you. I wouldn't talk to anyone. I do not like talking. Or listening. Only listening sometimes a tiny bit, but never talking. That must be why I don't know any people. Like you know, the world. I think I know about twelve people, in the world. I never wonder why that is.

So my train journeys used to be extremely lonesome, and hence delicious. I would read, watch, observe. It was a natural caccoon. If trains didn't smell as much as they did, I would live on a train. But I met someone I knew on the station, not directly though, I knew someone who knew him. And he happened to be seeing her off. The girl. This girl. Our berths were adjacent and it was understood we were going to take this journey together, given we had our destinations in common.

The girl, she turned out to be quite vivacious. She was so lean and so young and so garrulous, she grew on me. Throughout the forty hours she talked, except when we slept. She guarded my luggage when I went to pee and vice versa. Somebody had told us that thieves would inject sedatives into water bottles of naive folks on train and later when they passed out, they would loot them inside out. Life is so precarious, so on the edge of the razor, like literally anything could happen. She said she had an eye on both our bottles and that that precariousness made everything so special, any sip, any morsel, any breath could be our last. Yet she didn't stop talking.

We got down at obscure stations and ate choiciest of snacks, filled our bottles from filters on the platform, chatted with random people, almost missed the train a couple of times. We stood at the door, felt the wind. Stared down bridges. Back on our berth, we imagined what the world looked like through the almost opaque glass window in the AC compartment. She told me about the doctorate thesis she was working on. Something in marine biology, I recall. How she wanted to study molluscs and snails and the like.

In the last four hours, I opened up too. Started talking. Like really talking. When I don't assess the impact of my words on my audience, I really talk. I talked for a few minutes perhaps. Then silence took over. Her station was two stops before mine. We bid an awkward goodbye. I would never know where that awkwardness stemmed from, we liked each other of course as co passengers, there was nothing else there. We exchanged numbers. But we were not going to stay in touch; perhaps we both were aware of the impending loss of touch; gradual falling away of an infatuation that wasn't even here, in whole. 

Impact Winter

The asteroid hit a couple dozen miles east of Japan. The stupid thing could have hit anywhere; in Siberia; in the Sahara; Himalayas; I don't know - Antarctica, for all I care. But it hit the sea, off the coast of Japan; in the shallow North Pacific. Where many wars had been fought, by brave men; mere decades ago. Where ships had been sunk, where many still stood guard. I am not saying had it hit Antarctica, we would have been saved. We were doomed anyway. If it hit anywhere on land, anything combustible would catch fire and vanish into ash in seconds or start a fire burning for half a year. If it hit the water, deep water bodies, covering three fourths of the surface, a tsunami would be inevitable. Either way, the atmosphere would be filled with dust, or particles larger than that; particles of all shapes and sizes, particles that aren't particles at all. We, the living, would breathe that dust and asphyxiate. It would take minutes to travel to all parts of the planet, this apocalyptic dust. But more than that, they would freeze out the sun, you know, the sun light would would be refracted back into space because the atmosphere would become so much thicker and opaque. So we would all freeze to death. Probably before, we could even begin the asphyxiate. Mass extinction in seconds. Everyone freezing, holding hands, breathing in ice air and jamming our lungs, blood vessels bursting, eyes popping out, strands of hair standing up in universal goosebumps and not thawing. Nothing would thaw; ever again. Within a few more minutes, most of all this, most of this all, would be under tides and tides of deep blue-green, deep turquoise water. The North Pacific, the Atlantic, very own Bay of Bengal and Arabian, who have been shyly touching beaches for decades, would rise together in a giant upheaval and take back the earth. Some would say, the water would recede. Some would say, let it stay. Either way, we, the dead and gone us, would be shrouded in Impact Winter for longer than an afternoon. 

As you know I

As you know me
Quaint woman I be,
Slightly aloof
Always hungry, perhaps
But mostly aloof, very

Lost, in a world within a world
With the fear of everyday
Every hour
Paralysed with mere shame, of being herself

When you focus on me
For a moment or half, inadvertently
You wonder
Why she be the way she be

She could be alright
What could be so massively wrong
With this woman
Why ain't she normal, just

Then you try to
Figure me out
One night when I am drunk
Or, when I am quipping literature, or
When I'm blurting about my favourite TV character

You lose interest
Look away
Find other things,
More engaging
Less outrightly taxing, unrewarding

Just about then
I look at you again
Return the look that is
It's not my first time
You know; I be who I be

The Egg-seller & other stories

When I was a child, and this I write from honest memory, my world was much smaller. Not that now, I live in a larger world. My world remains the same size, or perhaps, it has even shrunk to convenience me. But I know that there is something huger beyond my sight. Something vast and intractable. As a child, I had no idea.

I walked a few hundred meters to my aunt's place where my school bus picked me up. Spent the whole entire day at school, picking which battles to fight, and which to let go. Was dropped off exactly where I had been picked up. I stayed at the aunt's till my mother got back from work. In the evening, I sure ate some noodles and watched some cartoons. Did my homework and went to bed. I remember the orange grey light that filled the rooms. The papaya trees that grew just outside the window, beside the ones laden with drumstick, always tempted me to stretch my hand out and pluck one. We lived on the first floor. There was a thorny tree full of sweet berries just outside my parents' bedroom. I could stand on the bed and clutch a fistful of berries.

But the egg-seller broke the routine. I am not saying, there were no other sellers. There was the little girl, my age then, selling balloons and flutes and loudly playing them in the streets. There were mobile snack sellers in the afternoons, candyfloss, fruit cakes, ice-creams. There was a quiet grocery store man to whom I was sent with money to buy noodles.

On my trips to the grocery store, I noticed the egg seller next door. He sat in a cabin with an asbestos roof, with a face that gave away nothing. He looked neither happy, nor sad, neither content, nor dissatisfied, neither angry nor impatient. He looked like nothing. Just a middle aged man who sat at the edge of his cabin selling eggs in paper pouches to whoever came by. People said he was a wholesaler and had bought much land and property just by selling eggs. Perhaps, they were just stories, we would never know now, would we.

But what attracted me was the pungent smell of boiled eggs, emanating from his shop every evening. He had a helper of his own, who chopped onions and chillies back stage. The egg-seller neatly pealed the boiled eggs and split them into two with a thread strung out. Then he would place the egg on a small piece cut out of newspaper, sprinkle the onions and chillies and most importantly black salt. I think the black salt was the ingredient that made the customers come back.

Whenever I had extra money, I would go there and chomp a couple of eggs. Whenever guests came to our place and asked me to show them around, I took them to the egg seller. I would take my new acquaintances and introduce them to the egg-seller. His cabin became the cynosure of my tiny little word. The center of everything. 


I spent the weekend by myself. All by myself. I came home on Saturday morning, in the wee hours. I had been drinking till midnight, wherever I had been. After having passed out, suddenly my eyes split open in the sunrise. I made my way home. People were hardly up, though. Except for dogs in the street, some flower sellers, perhaps, with an early mound of chrysanthemums.

I got in and shut the door. I spent the entire day trying to get past my hangover. For some reason(s), I hadn't been sleeping well the past week. Like four to five hours a night. Usually, I would like to get at least six. Even having a glass of wine wasn't helping. The alcohol, coupled with insomnia, made me worse. Towards the afternoon, I got some broken sleep. I slept more in the evening and woke up at night. Ate something and slept again. Overate actually. Needed my body to cool down.

After so much sleep, my mind felt at rest. I didn't wake up until eight thirty on Sunday. When I woke up, I thought it was like five. And that I should go back to sleep some more. But then it was eight thirty already. My head wasn't hung over anymore. It felt light like a bird.

I changed into nicer clothes. I had been wearing my six year old torn frock since Saturday morning. I ate some poached eggs and ran out to get some plants. I surprised myself with how much I chatted with the man in the nursery. I asked about weird plants and ended up poking my fingertip in a dangerously disguised thorny flower. The nursery was by the lake. So I intermittently gazed at its black waters. A part of me wanted to take leap and never resurface. Then I distracted myself with the plants.

I bought a shrub of cream hydrangea. I had read a story with hydrangeas in it, when I was a child. Those hydrangeas were red. Mine were just cream. Such a mysterious little plant, I thought. The nursery man warned me that too much sun would kill it, it grew well in the shade. Also I got the pink small button rose. Back home, I rearranged my plants in the balcony, as per shape and proclivity for the sun. The soil got under my fingernails. I tied my creepers to sticks with threads. I also tried to contain my wildly outstretched bougainvillea tree with a string. I thought, this would give it some shape.

I ate lunch. Quietly, alone. Sometimes, I imagined I had a baby in my arms. But mostly, it was me alone. There was no space for hallucination. No time for spirits. Just us, mundane, loner human bodies. Loitering around on Sunday afternoons, binge-watching TV.

By nightfall, I knew I would tear apart. So I baked a cake. To gradually steam off my inner volcano. The cake was substandard. But the sugar did me good. At night, I reheated some of the leftover curd chicken. I didn't let anything clutch me. I stayed free.

Unencumbered, hence I slept at eleven.

Monday morning, I went to work. It stormed like crazy in the evening, because this day couldn't contain the summer anymore. I came home to see, my bougainvillea was broken in the wind. Perhaps because, I had tied it. Had it been free, it would have swayed and saved itself.

Ridden with shallow guilt, I untied it immediately. My heart bubbled  inside though, I had always loved its scarce white flowers. So I sat on the floor and waited.