Grandma and I diligently stepped away from sturdy thickets and straight, menacing lines of somber green as we made our way to where the great beast was expected to arrive. Down the stream of dust, I carried, and dragged across, a bag I was assigned with austere instructions to protect through the course of the insane journey we were to embark on.
“Do not let the coconuts roll off. They are little ones, and you can take care of them, can you not?”
A curt nod of his head signaling affirmation, and his teeth biting onto his lower lip with determination, were implications enough of strength for his grandmother.
The two had begun their journey at noon, and now, it was almost dusk. A few more steps, and they would arrive at the secret station.
“Do not fear the great beast, Ubi. The ground will tremble with its arrival, but do not frolic your feet about. The air will scream with alarm, but do not rip your ears off. People will plead from deep within the alcoves of its belly, but pay them no visual heed.”
They stumbled onto a clearing and his grandmother stood still. Ubi clawed tightly into her cotton sari and waited.
There it was, far in the distance, two luminous eye-globes anxiously taking in the darkness of the forest, charging forwards with terrifying purpose, carrying with it an urgency for life that even death would fail to garner. Trees arched in reverence and shed exotic leaves as offerings. Dust caved in upon itself to pave the most intricate path for the slithering beast. Animals hid their families and watched on with tranquil vapidity.
With its raging prowess, it came pulsing forth to the clearing where Grandma and Ubi stood trembling, bowing their heads as to not lose their minds to the mesmerizing energy of the beast. It slithered up sturdy oaks, leaving indelible marks of such violence in its wake that Ubi wondered, for the smallest fraction of a second, if he saw the barks cower in fright.
Shoots of the tallest trees were raked into an eloquent spectacle of wavering fractals as the beast wound its metal frames about creaking wood, eventually, from up above, opening its mouth, a rudimentary snare for beings of soft flesh, to let the two reluctant passengers in.
A ladder, hollering of its rambles of mighty battles lost to the empires of rust, extended itself out for the passengers to clamber on.
“Mind the gap!” shouted Grandma to Ubi as she jumped and pulled herself, rung by ludicrous rung, up to the gaping hole above. Ubi followed immediately, blowing away scents of the earth wafting about the feet of his grandmother.
The metal door slammed shut, Ubi remembered, with a heaviness much alike the one held by the door to his little locker at home. He wound himself closer to his grandmother as the two bodies were ushered, by the intangible ascendancy of one’s will by the incessant nature of collective stares, deeper into the stomach of this hungry locomotive.
The beast thundered forward and Ubi was thrown against a sweltering net of human hands and limbs, shielding him from the inevitable death awaiting anyone who dared to expunge himself out of the cradling tracts, harboured within the body of the beast, while it flew. He looked gratuitously around and acknowledged the myriad pairs of shimmering eyes vibrating with the motion. He stood up, raising much furore in the process, ducking whenever pickle jars and suitcases flew towards him in the gravity-defying cauldron he now found himself in, and held his bag close to his ribs.
As Ubi slowly crept towards a bench he thought had space to accommodate him, he suddenly realized that his grandmother was missing. He looked around frantically, but her familiar pair of kind eyes could not be spotted in the dark. But, he knew, in that moment, that there was no meaning to tears shed in darkness, that the beast had swallowed her whole, and that she was peacefully lost to the magnanimity of the journey.
Ubi sat on the softest patch of wood he could find, between a woman with a hat and her well-clothed cat. In what was a concoction of suppressed fury and rational clarity, he professed to himself of the concretes that held his identity together, of the inconsequential idea that, by merely being in the belly of a beast racing towards time future, one would dissolve the cohesiveness of the mortar that retained the monolithic beauty their ego.
He parted textured shutters from its furry base and pondered gaily over the streaks of metaphysics that he knew he would, one day, rise to command. He inched his head further out into the rippling wind, watching closely the head of the eccentric beast that he knew he would, one day, grow to tame. He let the air praise his hair as he closed his eyes against the night, and grasped the truth of what he knew he would, one day, live to be.
By Aravind Deepak
Legitimately, we have slept next to strangers. We have woken up to unknown eyes watching us resettle back into the conscious world. They have seen you adjust your bra, cover bare parts of your body, wipe the drool around your mouth. You have sensed their gaze.
You cannot stop a voyer, an admirer, a pervert from staring at you for thirty six hours. He is on his seat. They know when you go to shit. None of us have bathed. A queer smell of our bodies ferment.
You know that you are being watched, but pretend that everyone is minding their own business. Toothpaste has fallen on an awkward part on your T-shirt. You have made it more obvious, because you try to wash it off.
You return. Everyone is looking at the wet part of your T-shirt. You coil in. But you’re still visible.
The fans aren’t working, wafts of smells sway in the wind.
Sweat. Gas. Urine. Spit.
Everyone can see you eat, how you chew, how you swallow, how you lick your lips. They can sense your hunger and greed. They have seen that you could be conscious of your burps. Some others see you responding to someone else burping out loud. They have seen your ways of sitting, your ways of unpacking, of disposing. They have seen how you throw or preserve the banana peel. What you cannot control is consuming in accelerated motion. An act of balance is required, without making it too obvious. By human error, one can easily drop chai or Tomato Soup, and the reaction that follows too will attract attention. So one tries to be as graceful as a Tai Chi dancer, and does things slowly.
Your transactions are suddenly transparent and public. Everyone knows where you keep your wallet. Everyone has a sense of how much money you’re carrying.
They know when your lover has called. They see your shy smiles or hidden suspicions. They gauge the status of your relationship broadly. They know, if you’re flirting or settled. They know, if you are still available. They might resist approaching you, because they know they are being watched too.
We are always privy to another’s world. Sometimes, you’re not reading, you are watching the rest, from behind your book. We have all eavesdropped. We have all been lurkers. An unknown curiosity, inside us takes over. Proactive in nature, it lasts the whole journey.
You’re morality has no place here, unless you confront someone. It is an odd negotiation of being in your private world in the most public way.
Yet suddenly, there will be moment, around dusk, when everyone becomes quiet and looks out of the window, in silence. At this moment, I believe we are collectively lost. Lost, metaphysically and metaphorically, where we are suspended from our individual realities, as if this experience was now ours.
Like a newborn creature, we merge in liquidity, and we become naked. We collide and wonder about this wide landscape, what are we chasing? The past is as blue as the twilight of now. In this moment of suspension, we learn that we are part of nature, and how much can we battle that? Contained in us, is beauty and horror. We smile, in resignation.
The chai seller is back. I have my tenth cup of tea for the day. And we disperse from this moment.
Your best bet after you go to sleep. You sleep amidst the blazing corridors of wind, stretches of colliding light, a surreal experience of time, where you feel time physically moving around you. The weathercock is in constant motion. You Voices of people, sounds of the engine, other engines, horns, distant horns. The silence of someone at a distance. The stillness of trees that look like ballet dancers caught in a photograph. Smell of passing flavours. Memory of taste. You sleep to this lullaby. Oscillating with the rhythm of an everlasting cradle.
Private joys in public spaces.
by Ekta Mittal