Sunday, December 10, 2006

Shikandi - Prologue

The night was cool, even within the confines of the Rajdhani express. I was on a vacation but I was already beginning to feel restless. The train was nearing Delhi passing through the desolate wintry landscape of the plateau. The lights were dimmed inside the steel chugging monster, and the world was quiet. My mind was awake, and after failing attempts to lull it into slumber, I rose.

I walked in the direction of the compartment door. It was easier to pass time at the pleasant passing of life in general, as we stood on this chugging metal monstrosity. Air Cooled compartments with their dark tinted glasses provided no visual delights. I walked through the narrow train corridor lined on either side with berths adorned with families that occupied them. Opening the door at the end of the corridor and closing it behind me I found myself in a narrow passageway with exit doors parallel to each other, on either side.

There was a man crouched at the doorway to my left. He was swathed in a mass of shawls and donned a woolen monkey cap that covered most of his face. All that I could see was the grey wisps of hair on the nape of his neck. His head was scarcely visible under the wool of his warmers. It was a chilly night and I patted my woolen sweater aware of its comfort, almost of a sudden. I was slightly crestfallen at his presence but decided to select the doorway to my right and satisfy myself in the assumption of his non-existence.

I prodded the door open, which it did easily as it swung open on well oiled hinges. The wintry caress of the night embraced me as I steadied myself with my back against the doorway. As I looked out into a landscape of dark shadows of trees and mountains, I began to wonder about the existence of so many lives outside our own, as I passed them by. For me, it was just a fleeting glimpse of a land, some called their home.

I was jolted through my reverie by a voice. The voice was old, and racked with the rough rasps of a breathing ailment and prolonged illness.

“How old are you?” asked a wizened face, now visible as its tired dark eyes stared at me.

I paused for a second. I fought the urge to look around as if I expected the question to be answered by someone else.

“17”, I said.

He shuddered, as if, at my reply. “I thought you were younger”. “You look younger”.

I turned away. I was not in a mood to engage in conversation and at the moment, my rejoinder might not be too pleasant.

He seemed to stare in my direction though. I could still feel his gaze on the nape of my neck. I continued my gaze at the blur of grey, as the train proceeded and so did the steady mechanical monotone of wheel against rail.

“Do you like to travel?”

“Yes, pretty much”, I said, “Who doesn’t?”

“So are you traveling to Delhi?”

“Yes”, I said as I added, almost impulsively, “I have never been there, before”. I didn’t need to mention that, I thought to myself.

“How could you be certain that this is your first time”.

I gave him an incredulous look. I was beginning to wonder if he was in his senses and whether his mental faculties were intact. I was not sure if I wanted to continue answering inane questions, but I found it hard to don the air of cold aloofness.

“Because, I have not been there before”.

“But you could have been there, probably 18 years ago”.

“I am 17”, I said. “Not 18”.


For the first time, I turned to face the crouched mass of wool and flesh. My expression was a mixture of annoyance and the overbearing suspicion of his sanity. I turned away, with a shrug.

“You have not understood me”, said the voice, after a long uncomfortable pause. “I meant to say. You may have visited Delhi, but probably, in another life. In a previous ‘janam’”

“I don’t believe in rebirth”, I said emphatically.

“Are you a Hindu?”

Not a debate on religion, I thought to myself. “Yes, I am. But I still do not believe in rebirth.”

“Well, have you read the Mahabharata?”

The Mahabharata, the ancient Hindu epic of the Bharata dynasty was one I knew, like the back of my hand. When I was a child, my mother used to religiously buy us pictorial magazines of the epic and I had collected all 59 issues, which completed the series.

“Of course, I do”, I said, “Every little detail”.

“Then you shall know of Shikandi”.

“Yes, I do”.

“Then I shall tell you a story”.


Blogger DELICATE DIAMOND said...

At times I feel the urge to dissect your brain to understand where you get these imaginations from.. really creative!

Thu Jan 25, 04:54:00 PM  

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