The single compartment comes rolling through the opaque darkness as we wait on the platform in the early hours of dawn, before the faintest rays of sunshine can stain the blue-black velvet of the sky, ripped apart occasionally by streaks of lightning that only flatter to deceive. The heat builds up, humid and sticky heat, the limp, lifeless apology for a breeze sticking to every pore of exposed skin. Huffing masses of people, bodies empty of spirits; expressionless students dressed in shades of brown and green, eyes concentrated on an invisible distant spot; middle-aged, rotund, bespectacled, balding men with drooping eyelids; women with thinning hair, trying to hide the greying strands under the braver, darker ones standing up to age; bored and enthusiastic people, thoughts meeting in the air, a close brotherhood for the duration of the short journey. Eyes meet, a hesitant smile flickers on the lips, a warm knowing look of understanding and friendliness passes. Only a mere moment, but oh, how a kind word from a stranger or a small gesture of appreciation can make your day!
Two more days, and I shall be back in the wilderness for a week. The charm of chaos will be upon me again, as I head back for the wild, raving mad streets of India. Hyderabad, Vizag. Home. Hypocrite I am if I say I love Hyderabad, but I don’t dislike it either. Crowds are exasperating, but there is something about the return of summer and the remeberance of long-gone summer vacations and childhood that makes my associations with this veteran city rather strong. In the confused mingling of cultures and people is to be found an inexplicable solace, a balm for all the hurt of adulthood, the one constant factor among all the changes that irrepressibly roll on through life as it rapidly charts a course even before you realise it.
For the first time since I turned three, I shall not know a summer vacation. When I told people I’d be going home in April, they said, “During summer?” Why not. Summer has the best memories possible. The month of April, heat mounting, spent in an agonising wait for the vacations, school and classes a sham, teacher and taught equally delighted with the ultimate, albeit short, reprieve, starting in the first week of May. Holiday homework was delegated to the deepest, darkest recesses of the brain, the occasional nudges and hints of memory suppressed and suffocated by the wonderful days spent under trees or wriggled into convenient little crooks in the branches, fanned by the warm breeze carrying the fragrance of mango and chikoo. We’d sit on the edge of the little tank in a courtyard that could have been called an orchard but for its size, feet ankle-deep in water that was deliciously sun-warmed and treeshade-cooled at once, sending thrills through weary bodies. Games of hide and seek, sulking and making up, traipsing through the city. Perhaps the biggest paradox I can think of is the urge to grow up when you are young, and the wish to be a child again, when you are where you wanted to be. That is how your own innocence deceives you.
Things change. You grow up, grow out of school, enter college, go to work, a new world entirely alien sweeps you into its fold, like it or not. Unrealised dreams nudge and prod, as is their habit. To what use, though?
Home again. What takes away from the excitement slightly, though, is a fear of change, of finding something as it wasn’t. Seven months isn’t a very long time, is it? Being in the midst of a life you know and going with the drift doesn’t make you cognisant of change, really. Once you’re away, you know what you cherish and miss, and when you go back to it, you want it all just as it was, everything in its place, untouched and unmoved. The meeting, the parting. Blink and it’s over. What more could you expect from a ‘vacation’ that is only a week long?
Perhaps that is how life is, in retrospect. Short, swift, indecipherable.