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Long ears, flat feet

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kandy (Sri Lanka), 7.28 pm

Forgive her, if this sounds snobbish. Terribly supercilious. But she does not travel by train. She does not remember when she last took a train in India . Trains – those unending, maroon metal caterpillars – are her undoing. Honestly, it is not so much about the train. It is about the railway station. The crowd. The grime. People jostling. Pushing. Hurrying. Screaming. The whiff of fritters mingling with the scent of sweaty men. Iron benches tired, paintless with the countless bottoms that have rested on it. A clock ticking timelessly. Tracks sleeping languorously around pebbles, waiting for a train to run on them. (She wonders whether tracks hate trains. And their fate!). The hiss of the train engine. The raspy brogue of the woman making arrival/departure announcement.

Too much aching on the cement platform. Almost schizophrenic. Too many people going somewhere. Tourists. Travellers. Wanderers. Drifters. Random itineraries. Solitary vacationers. A gaggle of a family. Some with a purpose. Most without one. Some escaping from boredom. Others running away from their life. Or, what they have made of themselves. Some to meet their love. Others to find their moorings. Some pushed by destiny. Others making a choice. The schizophrenia of a train platform scrapes her peace. The train is not her.

But Buddha was beckoning. She had to be in Kandy. The road between Colombo and Kandy was in a shambles. There was no option. She had to take the train. She baulked. Thought of alibis. Pleaded. Invoked the Buddha, the one who was beckoning. Soon, she ran out of options. She had to take the train. She gulped a breath. Tied her hair into a tight pony. And took the street to Colombo railway station. So many people. Boy! All of Colombo seemed to be at the station. Or, were her eyes playing tricks, multiplying one human into a million kaleidoscopic forms? She flinched. She wanted to run away. Grow a wing. Get beamed. Hire a Scud missile. Do whatever. But not get into the train. But Buddha was beckoning. She had to go.

Inside the compartment, she looked at the dust-laden curtains. The frayed upholstery. It was her last chance to run away from a train journey. But Buddha was waiting. She closed her eyes. Gulped another breath. Muttered a prayer. Dusted the seat. And plonked herself for the journey. The hoot startled her. She gingerly opened the window. Every time the train changed tracks, she felt the bump. The train was noisy. Very noisy. She could hear nothing. Not even the rustle of the palm fronds. She peered at the world that was flitting by. Statuesque palm. Wells with mosquito nets hanging like veils. Jalopies waiting at junctions. Curious kids waving. At no one in particular. They were just waving. Like all boisterous kids do. The leaf dapple on clear ponds. A shanty with a tarp the colour of turmeric. A woman in green winnowing paddy. An old man staring blankly. A wanton hibiscus leaning on a dead trunk…

Three hours later she was in Kandy. The noise stopped. Finally. She sighed. She knew a guide was waiting. She had never seen him. Did not even know his name. She knew he’ll find her. It was his job. She struggled with her 30-inch soft-top bag. It was heavy. She looked around. There was a man. In skinny jeans. Red shirt. A denim cap. Must be the guide. She guessed. He walked towards her. Even before the mandatory hello, he dropped a statement: “You make a very good impression on me.” She was taken aback. Her jaw dropped. A compliment before a hello. She is chary of such men. She walked a few feet away from him. Politely.

The next stop: The Temple of Tooth Relic, the most sacred Buddhist site in Sri Lanka. She took off her ankle-length boots and covered her head with a scarf. She slung the Nikon D700 across and stuffed the passport in the pocket of her white linen shirt. The tooth relic is in the sanctum. No one sees it. But Buddha was there. Sculpted in marble. On his feet lay flowers. She closed her eyes and said a prayer for someone’s happiness. The priest smiled. Blessed. Gave her flowers from the Buddha’s feet. Buddha has long ears. A mop of curls. And a celestial silence around him.

She stepped out. With the silence borrowed from Buddha. However, it was interrupted. “You got long ears. Flat feet." The guide sped into a monologue. "You are on a journey. You are the chosen one. You are getting closer to God. Almost there. Aren’t you?” The guide again dropped a statement. She dropped a jaw. Again. Long ears? Does she have long ears? Really? She'll peer into the mirror to decipher that. Flat feet? It has a slight arch. Journey? She does not know where the journey will take her. She has tiny feet. She walks alone. She’ll not stop walking. That is all she knows.

Is she getting closer to God? She knows not. She has tiny feet. She walks alone. Often, she feels there's a God walking along with her. Unseen. Unknown. Formless. Intangible. Impalpable.

A God. With long ears. Flat feet.


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