The undulating greens in paddy fields swaying gently with the rhythm of the breeze and the farm hands toiling amongst them or resting under the shade of trees growing along the irrigation channels had been a very familiar sight for me while gazing out of a train window or driving down the long winding road. I had traveled umpteen times in one train or the other plying on the tracks and motored up and down the roads bisecting those fields like the crisscrossing lines on the palm of one’s outstretched hand. Irrespective of the train or the coach or the seat occupied, the window would time and again open to an intensely absorbing display of colors. Gradually, over a period of time, the green would change to golden and then the farm hands would be seen reaping the harvest. The harvesting over fields would once again look like a canvas ready for more of the deft strokes to be made by the paint brush in the hands of an unseen yet a very much palpably present artist. It used to be a remarkable study of gradual evolution of patterns on the canvas of life - now emerging and now disappearing but yet remaining etched all the times in one shape or the other and in one part of the canvas or the other.
The trains on that route did not have many halts. But that particular day some mechanical problem brought the train to an abrupt stop at some place. I could not fathom the depths of memory to decipher the name of that station but the sight of the fields and the crops in its vicinity seemed very familiar. Even the cemented stretch of that nondescript railway platform too seemed not unvisited by me in some remote point of time which though receded in the alleys of memory yet appeared very fresh the moment a little attention got focused on to it. While waiting for the train to resume its onward journey the entire scene of my numerous earlier travels started unfolding. Though unidentified yet nothing appeared hitherto unseen, unfamiliar, unvisited or out of the ordinary. Admittedly the faces in that motley crowd with their quizzing looks, uncertainty filled eyes, furrowed foreheads and questioning whispers appeared very unfamiliar yet all of us did share a part of the travel, a bit of the destination and some of the milestones. Trying to sift the sessile past from the fleeting present I felt as if trapped in a time warp.
“Time pass, sir,” an imploring, beseeching and almost pleading voice interrupted my reverie. Who was this insolent intruder? The countenance was not strange at all. His disheveled, unkempt hair and tiny hands holding out a packet of roasted groundnuts made me once again live certain moments from my earlier travels. Those weather beaten hands bedecked with the etchings of time could have belonged to any hawker selling groundnuts to any of the travelers as means to pass their time while traveling or waiting. My past familiarity with that disarming demeanor, though displayed by some other persons, dispelled the distinction between past and present, if any.
How simplistically one could be steered back and forth between present and past with fleeting halts at some points recognized as future!
Have you also been ever compelled to stop and pause at some unscheduled or unintended point on the way to your destination? Has the progress of your marching feet ever been arrested for some apparently insignificant and incongruous reasons? Or has your vision focused on your goal ever been frozen into a fixed, trance like gaze engaged by some seemingly unfamiliar yet compelling sight or sound?
Such situations, when sometimes we have to make an unintended stopover and pause at a relatively trivial point, are not very uncommon. Although wanting to quickly cover that particular stretch of our path yet at times we do have to endure a compelling feeling as if the marching caravan of not only the thoughts but the symphony of heart throbs and rhythm of breath also halts awhile as if arrested by an unrecognizable yet faintly familiar sight, sound or any other sensory input. All these are liable to be labeled as undesirable distractions but yet it is a truism that all of them have a distinctly recognizable familiarity cloaked in a veil of chronological passage of time.
The so called chronological passage of time is a very peculiar phenomenon.
How do we come to realize that a bit of time has passed or more truthfully some measure of time has elapsed? When at some point in time persuasive yearning surfaces taking us back to the labyrinthine alleys of memory we tend to realize that there has been a gap between now and then. And we tend to label it as a time gap. Sometimes when we pause to reflect on the medley of footprints on the eternal sands that surround us some of the footprints of some moments of yore start appearing to haunt us. At that moment we tend to recognize that the caravan of time too has progressed from one milestone to another.
But does time really pass?
One of the most acceptable contemporary definitions of time has been enunciated as it being the measure of the interval between two events. Isn’t it an undeniable fact that the measure of the length of a road between two milestones is always static and unchanging? If it is so then how can the measure of interval between two events that are just like two milestones along the journey of one particular individual’s life be considered as having passed? Just as the existence of milestones along a road depends upon the existence of road itself so does the existence of events in one’s life depends upon memory for their sustenance. Whatever is experienced or perceived by an individual as an event or a happening in life is in reality only its reflection in the mirror of consciousness recognized by an observer who is itself manifest in and sustained by consciousness only just as a wave in an ocean. Once we recognize the existence of two different events we tend to measure the passage of time. But both the events like all others always remain engraved in the deep recesses of memory. A relatively trivial happening can again bring them forth and grant a plausible legitimacy of still being viable. But what happens once the confines of memory are transgressed? There are no recognizable events and hence existence of time as a physically measurable concept also gets dissipated.
The train started with a lurch and was soon speeding away from that platform leaving behind some other similar ones on way to its destination. The journey will never end at any destination because the destination for one is a milestone for another. Whenever there will be a traveler gazing pensively out of the window the fields and the farm hands, the co-travelers and the hawkers, their thoughts and the cacophony of speech, the platform and the train would reappear as they had done now and earlier. The hawker will keep on selling his ‘Time Pass’ providing sustenance to an enigma; what does really pass- time or the traveler?