Life can turn the tables on you. In a heartbeat. Even if it is a tiny little railway table. In a railway carriage. Attached to a train that is longer than the night. Longer than three nights. A train that is hurtling the length of Mother India. Barreling through sunstruck monsoon days, glancing at it’s reflection in rice paddies, groaning into stations, panting at rest stops and sighing impatiently in the night.
This (now) beloved train shouldered ‘s way into this travelers heart as the vehicle of an unrepeatable journey. Because of love. Because of first love and the impossibility of repeating that first delicious flutter of an innocent heart leaping in the heart of the virgin lover. I fell in love on this train. With the train, with the journey and all that is still possible in a journey.
First love is like a train journey. Death is also like a train journey. In between sliding by like the stations of the Cross, life takes place.
The lover draws no distinction, the train becomes a living thing. A sentient being that shuddered when we were assaulted by the chattering masses in the middle of an Andhra Pradesh night.
Writers take train journeys for the romance of the journey. Because we believe in the journey. We take train journeys for purposes of observation, we don’t plan to get involved except to pay the travelers toll. The toll is a story, a tithe of the story of your life. The true currency of any journey. A fair exchange is no robbery. A story for a story.
But somehow before we had even left the feet of the goddess of Assam, the tables got turned. The writer became the story teller, the carriage a confessional.
Catholics have this way of Knowing each other. Maori Catholics have this way of Knowing each other in such a way that we can blindly navigate all the intimate details of each others lives, homes, kitchens.
Other Catholics are easier to spot. Sister Lissa for instance. Her blue travel habit gave her away the instant she started stowing her bags in my compartment. A Nun for company! I clap my hands in excitement, surely a Nun would be the perfect companion for this 72 hour journey, her very presence would encourage good behavior from any men on the carriage and the two already resident in our compartment. These men assist Sister Lissa to stow her luggage and converse with her in Mallu, that incomprehensible language of Kerala. The tone and the lilt and the expression on their faces told me what the language could not, that there was a Knowing going on.
The way Maori know each other, even when we have faded to a paler shade of brown, even when we are far from home. We just Know each other. These travelers Know each other. Something more than the shared language, the homeland that we were all traveling towards. Something…..distant relative perhaps?
Whatever, there is a general feeling of shared delight in our compartment amongst these randomly assigned strangers traveling to the end of the earth. Gotta love The Fates.
We have hardly left the city, pause for a while at the Kamkhya station, the feet of the Tantric Goddess of Assam and the questioning begins.
A Rail Yatra I explain, a writers fancy. A finger on the pulse of India. And you Sister?
A Nun on Nun business. A school event in her hometown in North Kerala. Nuns of her persuasion are not allowed to fly, hence the train. One man who had questioned me like a Fed or a father confessor becomes coyly reticent under my questioning. He darts glances at the other two. Sister Lissa turns her gaze to the window, the men smile like children waiting for the grown up to discover the secret. Again that Knowing going on.
“You are Priests?” I guess. They laugh like the sun coming up but their eyes are assessing my reaction. “And the Bishop? Is he joining us?”
The Knowing game continues. The Priest re-asses me. “You are RC?”
It’s my turn to laugh. Our laughter falls like flowers at the feet of Kamakhya and the train departs the station.