Drones

As the night vibrated with lost dreams and hidden desires, I saw something reddish drifting up in the sky.

It looked like a lonely lantern searching for someone in need of some light and solace.

The orange super moon was the only onlooker as the thing glided towards an unknown destination.

I closed the door as the cool night winds whispered that I may be intruding the private journey.

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Railway stations

I like travelling by train. I enjoy its rhythm; the slow start followed by the forward push, and then the slowing down, and then the locomotive coming to a stop.

I like silence when I travel and have found it difficult to tolerate noise, unless it is an interesting conversation by fellow passengers. Usually, a bored passenger begins a conversation and others join in. If the conversation topic is not my cup of tea, I look out of the dirty windows into the country side and try to decipher what exist in those places, moving away like uni-directional slides. There will be paddy fields, lakes, just lush green vegetation, eucalyptus plantations, small towns barred by the level crossing.

Among all these, I have regarded small railway stations with much curiosity. I never liked big railway stations because of their chaos, ugliness, strange-looking people, palpable tension, and the feeling that one has to be careful in these stations. But I have been curious, for some strange reason, about small railway stations, far away from the depraved metros and towns.

These small railway stations disappeared quickly when the train was running fast. I could see the station name boards, black text on yellow boards, twice at both ends of the station in a flash.

Everything moves quickly: the concrete windows, the station master dressed in a white uniform holding the green flag, tea stalls, people moving either towards the station or away from the train, dogs walking aimlessly on the platform with their tongues lashed out, a few staring at the fast moving bogies, shrubs swaying in the force piercing the air, nude kids from the nearby slums clapping their hands and others trying to run along with the train.

The decadence of the outer area of the station gave way to the low hills with reddish-brown laterite sand, white smoke drifting upwards from a low kitchen, someone closing the front door of the house, just thick greenery of various shades punctuated with invading darkness.

But when the train slows down and when it is dawn, these stations have a different look and feel. It may be my own feeling without much meaning or reason.

It was as if life was slow always and we could not comprehend the apparent reduction in our velocity. The speed was an illusion and the real speed was always a slow march to insignificance. It was only when things were slow the tendency to observe and reflect automatically grew in us. Just sit in a slow moving train, the frame of reference here, and as an object observe what passes by outside the window.

They all assume a different meaning.

The station master standing at the platform with colored flags was a different person compared to the white figure that swept past me in a flash in some other station. I looked at the man closely and tried to judge what his next action would be. I did this many times. I leaned my ear against the dirty iron windows to sense an approaching train. Nothing. I could see crows flying around the station. From somewhere I could hear bells ringing. The sound of a moving bus followed by silence ruptured by laughter from bored youth in the train. There was a different meaning to this stillness.

At night, this study of isolated, minor railways stations was more interesting. There would be very few visible, structural elements in these stations, and I could only see the start and end of the platform. There won’t be any shops in such stations and at times a woman used to stand with the red flag. A good part of the station would be in darkness and there would only be a bulb glowing at the center of the station. In a few autorickshaws lined up outside the station, a group of men were sitting together and talking. There would be roads in the distance, a river nearby before or after the station with a bridge at the middle of the river, a paper-and-pulp factory encircled by brownish, shrunken trees, or just plain land, someone’s cherished asset in these troubled times. The land around railway stations were a unique ecosystem, waiting to tell many different stories.

At times, the train just slowed down and did not stop. Like slow motion, a desolate station looked really grim, may be after a shower. The darkness engulfing the station meant that the power supply had been cut off because of the rain. A lone candle glowed in one of the empty offices filled with dirty files and books and stained walls. In another little room, stood an empty chair. In another room, through a half-open door, I saw a few sacks piled up. Small pools of water remained on the platform and one of them displayed the reflection of a streetlight outside the station. Shrubs formed the outer boundary of the station. The windows in most of the rooms remained closed for some reason. There would be a food warehouse behind with trucks standing still. There was stillness everywhere.

A drop of water fell on my face. Sadness was written all over such stations.

These stations and their people represented something mysterious. And when I observed them from a slow-moving train, they looked hideous, as if they were holding untold tales.

Fourth floor

The building sat on top of a mini-hill surrounded by high trees that looked green and similar. When I stood on the terrace and looked at the fading sun in the silent evenings, the trees still looked dense and mysterious. A green layer of rustling and silken presence living in undisturbed vitality. The trees belonged to the Eucalyptus species and on the upward slopes on the side of the road a few buildings stood in between. The trees sometimes created a silken, thin layer of dead, gray leaves that enveloped the hard earth. I had seen protruding rocks in between the very few shrubs that existed. Rocks that were black and sturdy, rugged and pointed at the edges hidden behind the woods of trees and concealed under the layer of leaves. Kind of camouflage.

Red laterite sand lay underneath the silken leaves and through which wooden branches of the trees emerged seeking something under the dead layer. I had to be careful while walking through this route instead of the curving road that went parallel to the trees. I had hoped that I would see a reptile somewhere concealed in those leaves or crossing the road: a silvery flash of throbbing, viscous skin wriggling across the road. I had seen lovers adjusting their positions in those bushes; I did not look back as I was not interested and my mission was much important than the momentary rush of blood. My friends said they were drug addicts.

The building to where I was walking to stood on a flat piece of land surrounded by labs and an auditorium shaped like the Sun. The auditorium was interesting because I had not seen any activity in that building. In the night, somebody did switch on the white lights, but it was a mystery why that building stood there without any activity.

I usually walked through the paths created by students, and used to imagine that I was a slowing train on the outer yards of its destination. As I approached the building, which was a library, the vegetation cleared and the place grew more brighter until I entered the building through the front door manned by an aged security guard. There was a small shed outside where people used to park their bicycles and bikes.

It was by accident that I discovered that there was a section in that library that did not interest many. On certain days, I could not find the book I wanted. On another day, there were so many that made selection difficult. The unexplored section stood on the fourth floor and it was much more cleaner than the other sections. The books here remained more or less well stacked and in order, untouched or undisturbed. There were new and old books, but the old ones did have a peculiar smell that indicated that they were still fresh. There was Thomas Mann, Samuel Beckett, Marquez, Soyinka, Kafka, Hrabal, Chekhov, Greene, Maugham, Canetti, and several others, free and undisturbed on those shelves. And I, with just two cards, used to stand looking at them, touching them, opening them, reading a few lines, and stretched to take another one with a couple on my other hand already. At times, I saw a bestseller in between, and I get enraged. I used to throw the bestseller to a vacant part of a shelf as a punishment: my punishment for that book being part of the esteemed group. By dislocation, I meant to teach the librarian a lesson. I was sure that the librarian would one day understand why a particular book deserved not to be on that shelf.

Tired and after spending some time there to make others suspicious, I used to take the road back, down from the fourth floor of that library, instead of the tree-covered slope. From the road, the trees now looked darker and lifeless, while a mysterious scent wafted in from a flower that bloomed late in the night, or something that I had failed to notice earlier. I could not remember whether I walked back slower or faster, but I do remember I walked back alone. Even if I saw someone, I did not speak besides the casual greetings.

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The Library

In a library, there are corners or areas that people frequent less. May be people are afraid to walk alone to dark or ill-lit corners or they don’t want to explore less comfortable territories. These less explored corners are not empty anyway; there will be books stacked in these areas, books untouched, tight against each other, as if they are children looking for some warmth. There may not be lights or glass windows letting in filtered natural light. You might see an empty chair.  Somebody must have sat on it and read a book.  There may be a table close to a window with books scattered on top of it.  Did the same lonely person use the table and the chair regularly?

If there is a window, you can stand near that window, hold a book, and look outside  – at a road busy with people and vehicles, or at the library backyard full of shrubs, or unkempt sheds made of sheets, or aluminum plates, or empty bottles. Sometimes, the windows may be dirty, dust-laden, and rusted. You might also see a few dogs sniffing the plates or leaves containing food leftovers, or just sleeping. There may be birds clinging to branches ready to fly down if the dogs lose interest.You might also see something stirring inside dry leaves. You see it only once.

You might see the evening sun depending upon which window you stand. You turn your head to see whether the sunlight caresses the books on the shelves. As you turn your head back, your gaze falls on the golden letters of a spine cover. Nobody seems to have taken or lifted that book from the shelf for a long time. May be that is the book you wanted to read. Looking at the spine cover, you know that it is an old book. But the golden letters look fresh and inviting. It is never a ploy.

You hear a sound, someone stepping closer but hidden from your view.  Or a reptile inching closer to bite or to feel the warmth of your body.  Slowly, the moisture of the corner and the books get into your head.  You step back and see whether you are late. You still want to remain there. You know that if you hide somewhere nobody will notice it.  If that is the case, you have the entire floor at your disposal for the entire night. You can then sing and dance like a madman throughout the dark floor of the library. You have hundreds of books, old and new, ancient and reprints, books with missing pages and torn pages, books with that refreshing smell. What will you read? If you decide to read only the first page, how many will you read without sleeping that night?

You decide to leave and go back. You know that the books also would love privacy. When the library is closed and all lights are switched off, the letters may start speaking.  The words may arrange themselves in paragraphs.  Who knows? They cannot remain silent forever confined to dusty and unclean shelves. You look back and feel the hushed tones from the end of the room.  Someone might have risen from those books and may be following you. Someone who likes you and want to see that you leave the floor safe. The books may be saying that you will be back before it is too late.

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