Travel is like Flirting with Life – Vivek Express

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‘Travel is like Flirting with life. Its like saying ‘I would stay and love you but this is my station.’

The cut when it came felt like death.

There are no announcements on Indian trains. No way of knowing which station you are arriving at or leaving from should you oversleep. No helpful information like that.

One priest carried a print out of the entire schedule of the Vivek Express that listed the ETA at every random station across 6 states, standing time at each station (should he wish to get off and buy us all a coffee or arrange for breakfast to be delivered by a friendly local priest). He checked each arrival against his watch to see if the train was running on time. This was important to him as he had only one hour between trains when he changed trains in Trissur. The train had varied in timings over the course of this journey – sometimes it was up to 2 hours late but by the time we had reached the state of Kerala it was miraculously on time.

The line spoke of the relationship between the good folk of the North East and the South. The movement and trade, missions and missionaries. Marriages, business, education and medication – all moving in time with the rail, the beat and sway of the train. The rock and roll of life. A Mallu father with his half Naga daughter, a Tibetan family traveling to Tamil Nadu for cancer treatment, the Nun for education purposes that she arranged down to the finest detail on her phone as we traveled, a priest en route to the Vatican. Everyone with a purpose, a reason for the rail.

The Priest had questioned me inside out and upside down. Life in New Zealand, life as a Maori, what we believe, think, practice and eat. Family life, social life, the last time I coloured my hair, what our houses look like, what we grow in our gardens, what my hand writing looked like, what is the significance of ta moko. He left no follicle unexamined.

We had spoken at length about the state of the world, the inevitable collapse of the capitalistt system, God and his many angels, the Church of Mortification, the  Rationalist movement, books we had read, books we should read, the tribes of the North East, funerals, caste system, Rahul Gandhi, black magic, poverty, corruption and whether we could possibly be related.

Our journey to the depths of each others psyche was complete. The Knowing was complete.

They would leave me with half a night and a sunrise to travel through alone. There were no fond farewells. The Nun’s face shone at midnight with the excitement of another journey, another step closer to home. Her freshly washed face like a sunrise. Their hurried movements denied me the luxury of a long Maori farewell. Just a simple goodbye, blessings given then gone!

Death should be like that I thought. The dearly departed shining with the lighthouse beam marking another shore glancing off their cheekbones.  Hair brushed, bags packed and off with a firm step only looking forward.

It felt lonely in the carriage. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night and still missed them in the morning.