One of my friend said “Airports are the most emotional places on earth.” She had been in many places of the world, often travelling alone, and soaking in the sights and sounds of cities, towns, rivers, jungles – things man-made and natural. She writes very well, and reads a lot, and revels in old music, movies and opera. Lately, she’s seeing someone, and we had a discussion one day about the first paces of love being often wrapped in sloppy tenderness.
Airports and train stations and ferry ghats and bus stops – these are terminals. Nodes in an ever growing network that wraps us whole before we know it. Just think about it, our entire lives are the summation of sources and destinations. We’re always going somewhere, or thinking of going. But it isn’t the journey that enriches us, it’s the thought, it’s the difference between places A and B that really leaves a mark. After all, what good is endless clouds on the sky, a view that window seat passengers are graced to behold for umpteen hours in an aircraft? Or an abyss of water, turquoise and blue and gray and black – just calm water – that the decked voyagers have to endure? There’s a romanticism in that as well, an appreciation of vastness of mother earth, but for most of us, the calling remains unheard. We are too engrossed in ourselves to pay any heed. I remember being very excited about our two hour voyage from Havelock island from Port Blair, and for the first twenty minutes I was, looking at the disappearing port, the haphazardly popping up islands, the rows of coconut trees on them. But after some time, I got tired of the sights.
Train stations are a little different, at least for me. We haven’t yet gotten to a point in India where trains are too fast and the outside world is a blur,and I want at least some part of it to be that way. When you are travelling by a train, the sights and sounds are a lot more interesting, since our irrepressible juggernaut of a civilization has molded the scenery around us in so many ways that it is impossible for a single person to keep a track of them. Hence there are hidden surprises every time you board a train and travel somewhere. I had many memorable journeys on trains, on local trains and on express trains. I remember halting for hours in an unknown train station in Andra Pradesh. That little station had the most gorgeous of backdrops, with shadows of mountains seen at a distance dropping to a valley of lush green. Munching on an ooththappam which was neatly served in a lotus leaf, my young mind was running free. I remember my first trip to Krishnanagore to see Jagadhattri Pooja – a tradition that had seen its glory taken over by another city. I remember going to one of my grandmother’s place through a rail track that had no stations. The train simply stopped where people gathered, and the track ran through acres of bright yellow, orange and shades in between of marigold. It’s in the big, old house of my grandmother that I first heard the gekkering and howling of a fox, yet the memory of the journey has stayed with me forever. The wooden compartments, the people, the visuals, they have created their own little glass jars and stayed inside – unchanged.
Airports are emotional, yes. Heartbreaks and first loves, meeting someone after eons or parting ways forever, terminals have bore witness to all. We play the part, and our emotions stain the concrete and wooden buildings and stay there, forever, tugging your heartstrings. And then you arrive at them again, the same port, yet they are not the same anymore; the memories are forgotten, at least some of them. Like the old temple by the railway station in the suburban town I grew up in, or the shops that sold food beside it, or the little shacks that sold clothes and shoes and electronics. They stay the same, yet change every time I visit, like a reshuffling puzzle with the same blocks and different ending.
The journeys matter if it takes time, if it is slow. If it is too much of the same thing, it doesn’t really leave an impression. The slow moving, wooden compartmented trains should stay as a bearer of that very fact, at least in some places of our earth where people just want to reach somewhere, and not before everybody else. Not everything needs to be a rat race. Some things should remain for their pure romanticism.