Crossing the Mirage – Passing through Youth, Chapter - 3
Continued from “End of the Tether”
Aboard the Bombay Express, Chandra was impatient for the train to move out of Nampally Station. Sitting by the window, he downed the shutter to escape attention of the passers-by. Doubling his precaution to avoid detection, he covered his flanks as well with the centre spread of the day’s Deccan Chronicle. Thus, in his quarantine, he failed to notice the arrival into the compartment of a bulky youth with a big suitcase.
Panting for a while, the stranger surveyed the scene within, as one would, to gain a vantage seat. Zeroing on the space aside Chandra's, he began pushing his baggage beneath the seat during which he had inadvertently hurt Chandra’s feet. When Chandra reflexively lowered the newspaper, it got punctured as the newcomer got up to apologize. Having sat in embarrassment, yet feeling suffocated, the lad reached for the latch of the shutter over Chandra’s head. Lifting the same without bringing to bear his weight on Chandra, the fellow settled in his seat to the latter’s chagrin.
Though Chandra stared at him in irritation, the fellow who had by then regained his lost ground ignored him altogether. Experiencing a peculiar sense of satisfaction at the chap’s recuperation, Chandra, as though to buttress his own self-worth, patted him heartily. When the driver, as a prelude to the guard’s green signal, tooted the horn, Chandra’s spirits soared sky-high.
Soon, the Bombay Express set on its routine course that charted Chandra’s un-chartered sojourn in the metropolis. When the express train left the platform behind and went into the open, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply as if to signify his own break with the past. As the train picked up speed, even as the gushing winds dispelled his anxieties, the rollicking motion massaged his exhaustion. In time, resting his head on the window frame, Chandra sank into a deep sleep that even the chaai garam din of the tea vendors failed to impact him.
By then, everyone in the compartment had settled down as well. While the woman by the window side opposite to Chandra was knitting a sweater for the baby girl in her lap, her husband amused himself with the playful child. While the burly youth was leafing through the Film Fare, the lad seated next seemed to savor the pictures of the fair sex therein. Making the quorum, three middle-aged men, all uniformly bald, were mimicking their boss without any fear of being eavesdropped.
Right across the aisle, an eager couple joined their split seats in a bid to come closer to each other. The tentativeness of the man’s advances and the coyness of the woman’s responses indicated that they were just married. It seemed the radiance on his face stemmed from a sense of possessing her and the aura she developed was owing to the consciousness of his attentions.
When Chandra woke up, his eyes scanned the surroundings, before they rested on the couple lost in their sweet nothings. Struck by their mirth, he even felt mystified. The infectiousness of happiness is such that in the proximity of the fulfilled, the sense of dejection in the suffering would seem to evaporate. Looking at them with amusement, he envisaged the euphoria newness brings to a person’s love life and wondered whether the same couple would be half as eager towards each other after a couple of years. Maybe, later on, it could be their vested interests aided by habit and abetted by hope that constrain them to get glued together. That being the reality of marriage, he wondered, how all crave to tie the knot! The thought he was no exception to it also made him see the irony of it all.
As if to show Chandra the reality of life, the babe cried, making him turn to its mother in anticipation. When she pulled her blouse to let the babe suckle, Chandra got a glimpse of her marble breast. Even as the babe firmed up its grip on the daunting nipple, the mother veiled her ampleness with the pallu. Nevertheless, the momentary sight of that female form made Chandra reminisce the import of an earlier encounter.
During the summers, he was wont to sleep on the terrace in the open air. That night, as he sauntered there after dinner, what he sighted through the neighbor’s window stopped him in his tracks. A young girl in full bloom was undressing herself in front of a full-length mirror. He became breathless when he saw the reflections of her breasts as they were released from the confines of her brassiere. Soon, as he came to view both sides of her delectable frame, he was dumbstruck by the beauty of her nudity. After slipping into her lingerie, though she disappeared from his sight, he held on to his post energized by expectancy. As his legs cried foul in the end, he pulled himself to his bed in disappointment. Even before his hope goaded him back to the post, the light went off in her room as though to end his anxiety. Though the impact of her figure benumbed him for long, the excitement he felt in her imagery lent substance to his self-gratification that night.
‘Obviously, she is a guest,’ he thought, enamored of her. ‘If only she would host my love.’
Waking up early the next day, he became restless to see her and be seen as well. At last, when their eyes met, he found hers opaque though she saw desire in his. Disappointed though, he kept vigil for the rest of the day in the hope of catching a glimpse of her. Frustrated in the end, he waited for the moon to take over.
Much before the sun could oblige him to hand over the night vigil to its celestial cousin, Chandra was on the terrace to sight the moons down the window. When the clock struck seven, to his delight, she appeared in the room. Combing her luxuriant hair, she plaited it with her slender fingers. Then picking up a Turkish towel, she then went out of his sight, leaving him dampened with the thought that she might have gone only to wash her face. When she reappeared with the towel tucked over her breasts, he was expectant all again. As he waited with bated breath, she began applying some talcum on her body, her robust thighs bore the brunt of his darting looks. And when she dropped the towel to powder her breasts, he sighted the hair over her chink. The frontal nudity of the magnificent maiden made him mad with desire for her possession. Oblivious to his voyeurism, she slipped into her lingerie and disappeared from his view. And he, lost to himself, stood rooted.
Though he tried his best to attract her attention from dawn to dusk the next day, she took no note of him. That made him think of giving up on his vigil, but came evening, he found himself on the terrace and awaited her arrival. All the same, while his desire urged him to stay on, his decency counseled him to retreat. Though he felt it was demeaning to pry upon a disinterested dame, yet he reached the coign of vantage to ogle her compelling nudity. As if she got wind of his suffering from his qualms, and to put an end his moral dilemma, she left to her native, the next day. Nevertheless, her thoughts tickled as well as troubled him for long, well before her curvy figure all but became a contour in his memory.
When the chaai-wala came along chanting his mantra, Chandra came out of his reverie. Alive to the environs all again, he felt like having some chaai, even as the bulky chap ordered for both of them. Sipping from his cup, Chandra saw the woman opposite bring her other breast into play but that made no impact on him. In that lactation, the absence of eroticism was a revelation to him. Then, as the woman cuddled her kid, he sensed the essence of maternity.
‘By now mother would know,’ he contemplated. ‘She would be taken aback and feel cheated for sure. But then, won’t Vasavi make her see the reality? And it would all be different with father. He would be hurt and unforgiving too. Why he may even disown me. So be it. I am a free bird and that’s what matters to me now.’
When the vendors started distributing dinner thalis, the lower berths were converted into dining tables. As the bulky guy found it difficult to arrange himself, Chandra made room for him by squeezing himself.
“Thank you,” the guy said heartily.
“Are you going up to Bombay?”
“Yes,” said Chandra and added, “what about you?”
“Wherever we go,” said the other in reply, “we, the Bombayites go back to Bombay.”
“Maybe that’s how everyone feels about his native place,” said Chandra, however, feeling that Hyderabad had nothing to offer him.
As they ate in silence, Chandra wondered whether befriending the guy would be of any help. When they finished their meal, Chandra tried to prolong the talk.
“It is shame we haven’t introduced ourselves,” said Chandra stretching his hand, “I’m Chandra.”
“I’m Ashok,” said the other, taking Chandra’s hand, “Ashok Agrawal.”
“What do you do?”
“Day after tomorrow by this time,” said Ashok heartily, “I would be well on my way to the US for MS.”
“Perhaps, then,” said Chandra in smile, “Bombay might lose its hold on you.”
“Our garment industry is sure to pull me back,” said Ashok. “What about you?”
“My father is into pearls,” said Chandra resignedly, “but I don’t want to join him.”
“How strange,” said Ashok as he yawned, “the famed pearls of Hyderabad failed to entice you?”
“Oh, there is more to it,” said Chandra a little embarrassed. “Looks like you’re sleepy.”
“Anyway, we’ve a lot of talking to do tomorrow.”
“Why not take my lower berth?”
“Are you afraid,” said Ashok heartily, “the middle one would come down crashing on you?”
“Oh, no,” Chandra felt a little embarrassed.
“I’m only joking,” said Ashok, “Thank you. Good night.”
Ashok soon started snoring on the lower berth but Chandra lay crouched on the middle one. By then, though most have slept, the newly weds were still lost in themselves. Seeing they were immersed in their sweet nothings, Chandra couldn’t take his eyes off them.
‘They are really made for each other, aren’t they?’ He began to focus on them. ‘Surely she’s a rare beauty and he’s no less handsome. Why shouldn’t they be enamored of each other? And truly they cling to one another, don’t they? Seems happiness courts the beautiful couple for its own fulfillment. And for the average looking, marriage could be a matter of going through the motions, couldn’t it? Oh, for the ugly, well, it might be wifeless at the worst or an indifferent mate at the best. What a curse it is to lack looks!’
Seeing the bride doing most of the talking, Chandra wondered about the feminine propensity to blabber.
‘What a wonder woman is!’ he thought at length. ‘How they never cease talking! In spite of their limited awareness why are women ever eager to express their opinions? Maybe, it’s all hormonal. But then, why should men, for all their exposure, lend women their willing ears? Ever! Is it the sweetness of their tone or the charm of their manner that appeals? But then, why should men submit to horrid wives? How am I to know the mystery that is man-woman chemistry?’
One by one, as the main lights were switched off, the blue ones came to hold their own. In the dimness of the blueness, savoring the bride on the sly, Chandra felt she looked divine. And sensing the opportunity for privacy, the man reconnoitered the adjoining area only to find Chandra hold the solitary post. Getting wind of their heat, Chandra, hoping to voyeur their romance, feigned asleep to snare them into the act.
When he opened his eyes tentatively to espy the ecstasy of their togetherness, he got a mocking stare from the man who seemingly read him well. Ashamed, Chandra desisted from venturing again. Soon enough, his resolve not to open his eyes for the rest of the night, insensibly sent him into a deep sleep.
Chandra woke up in the morning to find Ashok in slumber and their baggage in place. By then, most of the passengers had had their breakfast at the previous stop itself. The babe, still half asleep, was at her mother’s breast while its father was immersed in The Times of India. However, as the honeymooners were ‘as is where is’, he wondered whether they had had a wink at all the night.
When he tried to reach the toilet, he found the vestibule swarmed with beggars and other ticket-less lot. However, with the agility of an acrobat, he entered the toilet only to find it dirty. Recoiling, he came out to gain access into the one opposite. And finding it occupied, he waited in irritation.
“Oh, what characters!” he thought nauseatingly. ‘Don’t know how to shit even!’
With his own urgency increasing, and as the occupant of the other one taking his own time, Chandra thought it fit to do the flushing himself in the unoccupied one.
When he returned after going through his ablutions, Ashok was lowering the middle berth with bleary eyes. Offering him the seat by the window, Chandra called for coffee.
“Oh, shit,” Chandra complained, having sipped the lukewarm beverage that the vendor advertised as steaming hot.
“Well, the railway fare could become a farce at times,” said Ashok. “Better we gulp it before it gets worse.”
As the vendor came to collect the fare, the friends indulged in one-upmanship for footing the bill. In the jostling that followed, the dregs of Chandra’s cup fell on Ashok’s trousers.
“It’s time I washed myself,” Ashok pre-empted an apology from Chandra. “Let’s treat it as a reminder.”
As the friends resumed their tête-à-tête, the topic turned to Chandra’s upkeep in Bombay.
“Do you have someone in Bombay?” Ashok said.
“Not anyone remotely related even.”
“Where are you planning to put up then?”
“I've no idea whatsoever,” said Chandra seizing the opening. “Can you suggest a place for me?”
“Don’t worry, I'll show you a way,” said Ashok assuredly. “Once you get a foothold, the rest is up to Bombay.”
“How can I thank you?” said Chandra clasping Ashok’s hand.
Being assured thus, Chandra began to relax.
When the man opposite had finished with The Times of India, Ashok borrowed it. As his newfound friend got immersed in the metro news, Chandra began contemplating about him.
‘What a helping nature he has,’ he thought, looking at Ashok. ‘How lucky, I’ve met him. And doesn’t he appear handsome in spite of his bulk! Looks like, it’s when we see the soul of a man only then we discern the man in him. Oh, how even our outlook changes then towards him! It’s as if his inner beauty acquires a bodily charm before our very eyes.’
Struck by his discovery, Chandra saw a ray of hope for himself.
‘Am I not getting bogged down with my physicality?’ he thought. ‘Can one improve his looks anyway? And how silly it is to go to lengths to seem better cosmetically! Why not I strive to excel at something to seem handsome? Then, who knows, I might find a dame who would see me for what I am worth.’
When the train halted at Kalyan, the honeymooners alighted to an overwhelming welcome of their relatives.
‘How mystifying is marriage, even to the family!’ felt Chandra, seeing the way the couple was fussed about by their folk. ‘If only Vasavi got married! Oh, what all we miss for her being still a miss.’
‘Has he chickened out after all?’ Ashok thought, misreading the change in Chandra’s demeanor. ‘Why, it’s tough venturing out alone into the unknown. It’s as if freedom places burden on the soul. But once he gets his moorings in Bombay, he will find life exhilarating. Doesn’t it seem he has some inner force? And Rashid would be the right foil for him.’
Continued to “Onto the Turf”