Dear Mr. Wen Jiabao, (that’s how the book begins)
What is this book? I look down at the first page by Aravind Adiga and look up to stare outside the grilled window of the almost empty compartment of the Mandovi Express at 8.30am on 16 July. I feel more apprehensive about the book than of the 13 hour journey and what lay beyond. The only other person in the compartment is my dad, silently reading the newspaper. The train starts to pull of Margao station and I look back down at page number 1.
This was my second journey in less than two weeks, this time in train. Why do I make such a big deal about journeys like these? Well, I think I better explain that first.
I come from a family who doesn’t believe in traveling much. Ever since my childhood, all my journeys were restricted to going over to various relatives or trips to various temples to pray to a variety of gods. I, on the other hand, am a person who loves traveling for experience sake, to see different places and enjoy different weathers. So traveling anywhere is a big deal for me. So when I was packing my bags to go to the most hustling bustling city of the country for a course of 3 months, I couldn’t help but write about it.
I begin the journey with 3 heavy bags (courtesy the books), my dad and the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. I normally prefer traveling alone, or doing pretty much anything by my own – not just because it gives me the freedom, but also because I stand responsible. With my dad, I become a complacent 5 year old, oblivious and feigning deaf to everything, mostly because he takes care of everything and well, it avoids arguments.
But not always – a tip to those who don’t travel trains regularly, make sure you check your tickets thoroughly for every little detail. Our TC pointed out that our ticket showed two female passengers as opposed to one male and one female. For not being watchful, dad got an earful from the TC and I got an earful from Dad. What could I say? What can a complacent 5 year old say anyway?
We reach Sawantwadi and that’s when ‘The Talker’ walks in with his wife. ‘The Talker’ is a big, burly, almost albino fair guy in safari suit and big fat gold rings on his many fingers.
“Hya aajkalchya traininch kai khara nai. Tumhala saangto, magachya veli asach station var eka chorala pakadla me, an don kanpatat lagavli tyacha. Asa tirmirla, pani marlyavar shudhit aala”
I hide my grin, pretend I’m not interested, and edge towards the window, while he immediately starts talking to my dad. I think this is an appropriate time for me to mention that I’m enochlophobic (phobia of crowds), not literally so, but pretty much. Being comfortable in large social circles and striking conversations with strangers doesn’t come to me naturally. The more the space around me fills up with people, the more an unexplained loneliness presses down at my windpipe. But I don’t want to get into that right now.
I bury my head once again into the book. The white tiger has reached Fourth Morning, I flip through the pages and see that his story is spread through Seven days – his story about the transformation from being a half-baked son of a poor rickshaw driver to murderer to a Banglore entrepreneur.
Meanwhile, ‘The Talker’ is rattling off from across the seat. I can hear snatches of the conversation – about the 15 lakh bungalow he recently built in Sawantwadi – servant who stole 20 crates of mangoes from his farm – his business in Mumbai – and mentioning slyly that he is nephew of a famous Mumbai politician. On that last one, I try to catch his tone – bluff, boast or a subtle hint dropped to show who you’d be dealing with?
Suddenly I catch my name and realize that dad told him about my trip to Mumbai to attend CA classes.
“Baby,” I flinched as he addressed me thus, “Be careful in Mumbai… stay away from strangers… blah… blah…”
I wonder why it is that people who blurt out their ‘Janam kundali’ and financial history to complete strangers in the middle of a train compartment without even asking their name are the first ones to give advise about being safe in an unfamiliar place.
I just nod awkwardly at the end of the sermon to show I understood.
By 4, we had crossed Roha and I had reached the end of the book. My verdict of ‘The White Tiger’ – boring, the kind of book to be read by people studying literature… or those who have a 13 hour train journey with nothing else to do.
The rest of the journey passed pretty much uneventfully, with me staring out of the window this time, at the mountains decorated by streams and waterfalls, with occasional showers adding to the whole beauty; paused only by many ridiculously long, dimly lit tunnels. But if we were traveling by Konkan railways that connected Goa, Mumbai and other coastal areas, than why were we passing mostly through mountains and tunnels? I felt like a 5 year old again wondering that. Probably should catch hold of an atlas!
Anyway, fast forward to 9.45pm, Dadar station, Mumbai!
What happens next – keep reading!