The long sleep
I pack up my stuff, borrowing things I don’t have from my mates. Went around to get munchies for the Kashmiri mates I’d be meeting. I get Kadala burfi (peanut candy), banana chips and then kara boondi ( perfect touchings) for Muzi and Hilal Ikka. Hilal Ikka also asked for some dry fish and after searching in and around IITM campus for hours, I finally found the last two packets within the 4-mile radius of IITM. (I feel like a winner now)
I started packing, charging all my electronics and I also borrowed a DSLR camera from a friend. I check my list and I am kind of set.
I say goodbye to all my mates and I make my mate Mikey a promise – “I will make the Kashmiri fans chant for Alaknanda.” Alaknanda (my hostel) had this really important game against Jamuna (another hostel) where we were in the last chance saloon. If we didn’t win, we were out.
With the symbolic last supper of chicken Ankara kebab and 3 Kerala porattas from Zaitoon, I am off to Decathlon to say goodbye to my mates there. I collect the jacket and my mate Madhoo drops me off in Central station. The last goodbye in Chennai and I am sitting on the floor of platform number 1. Waiting for the PSG game to start.
Then a dastardly attack by heavily armed aerial forces left me stunned. They dropped the payload in one fine stealthy swoop, completely catching me unaware. The payload fell on my camera bag, exploding into this slushy, stinky ooze which went inside the honeycomb of the bag’s support. I can’t get the shit out from there. A pigeon targeting me with an ordinance like a laser guided bomb might not have seemed like a coincidence then, but it was a sign of things to come.
( This was written before the dogfights between the Indian and Pakistani airforces, And no, I am not a psychic)
United lost two important players in the first half and lost the game 2 nil. The trip was not off to a great start.
The train comes, S7 21. I put my head down and I am gone.
I woke up some time past noon with a bad taste in my mouth (no it was not the pigeon shit). This was United’s first defeat under Ole Gunnar Solksjar and I didn’t like that feeling at all. But it was inevitable.
The train ride was very mundane, to be honest. I slept, I read, I brushed (on some days) and the people near me kept changing. Over and over again. Only I was constant. I suppressed the urge to shit for 2 days. The thought of a railway compartment toilet makes my bowls go on indefinite strike. No matter how long it takes. (When I say I don’t give a shit, I mean it.)
Then the odd Hijra comes in every state. I always carry change for them. One episode of indecent exposure and another of touching without consent had left emotional scars in me and so, I always pay Rs 10 to have a nice interaction and receive a blessing. They are good people, if you give respect, trust me, you will get it back. Plus they always have a lot of change. If you want to break a 100, they are more than happy to help.
This cycle of reading to sleep and sleeping to kill time and finally not being able to sleep at night culminated in me deciding never to travel such a long distance by train again. Like many people who have travelled the Trans-Siberian rail says, it loses it’s romanticism fast and turns into an ordeal which you try to get over as soon as you can. And I being in the top berth for 80% of the time, didn’t see any “sights”.
“Some people just like to watch the world burn”
The internet connection on the phone was good. I was listening to music throughout. Then my browser pops up with a news alert.
Remember that feeling in school when you don’t know the answer to a question the teacher asks, and she is scanning the class to see who she should ask it. You are there, with your eyes moving all over the place, but never making contact with hers. Your tongue feels these spikes of bitterness from the adrenaline assaulting your bloodstream and you start sweating as your hands become red. Then you feel like throwing up that day’s breakfast and you are holding in a fart through the sheer force of will, the likes of Shaolin monks balancing a stone between their legs. Then there is a chill running through you which makes your nipples get hard and your hairs stand up. The fight or flight response mode has been initiated by the reptilian part of your brain.
And then, of all the 42 students in class, she asks you the question. You stand up, trembling, without the courage to make eye contact. You are dead inside.Yeah, that’s called a panic attack.
I haven’t had one in a very long time. But when I saw that headline. It was Mary miss’s English class in 2nd standard all over again.
“Suicide bomber targets convoy of CRPF jawans in Jammu-Sri Nagar highway. 23 killed. More casualties expected.”
This was past Bhopal. The news came around 5 pm. At least no one lost their lives in Mary miss’s class. Now I was literally heading right towards the epicentre of the worst terror attack in recent memory at a speed of 90 km/h. Remember the bad omen I was talking about. It was leading up to this.
Slowly the news permeates across the train. People start talking, and with my limited Hindi, I could understand that everyone was talking about this. I was getting more and more restless. I started receiving messages.
“Bro, did you hear the news?”
Everyone was concerned. I messaged Hilal Ikka. For the first time, he sounded incomprehensible. Not knowing what to express, I asked him for news. His being in the department of communication for the J&K government meant that he received news faster than the rest of us. He forwarded to me the pictures from the site.
Convoluted mass of metals. Dismembered bodies. Splatters of blood and the burns from the blast. I haven’t seen a more gory image in a very long time. I instantly deleted it as I didn’t have the stomach to look at it again. That was the nadir. I pulled up my blanket over my head and went into limbo.
What an unfortunate event. What a shame.
I concluded a few things.
- My safety was in danger if I go forward with the trip.
- It’s not going to be status quo in Kashmir.
- The chances of the game getting cancelled were exponentially high.
- I should call Amma.
And just like that, the call comes.
To be continued…..