the long search

When you have nowhere to go, go back to yourself.

The Sleeper Class

The overhead light was in its full glory, showering golden illumination on a crowded platform where she stood with an army of family members and friends, chatting with them incessantly unaware of any attention that she drew.

She looked pretty excited. She was very fair, beautiful and appeared pampered to me at the first look. Guess what! She was traveling with her parents. Duh! She was married. Newly married! Damn! I came across a familiar face in the group who turned out to be her father-in-law. Oh! I knew him darn well. Jeez!

My idea of a clichéd nice journey suddenly appeared screwed up. I was taking a mini-break from work and on my way to attend an old boys’ meet.

My biggest problem was something else - the timing of travel. The train departs at 9.35 pm from my City which meant I would have to sleep as soon as I got on board. Not that many – why many, not any – co-passengers would have disagreed to such a proposition. But every time, I took this train, I was annoyed to see 70 percent of my co-travellers asleep. How could they?

For record’s sake, I am a near insomniac. By the time, I hit the sack, half the world, at least those in my neighborhood, is awake.

I got into the train. So did they, after an elongated session of farewell embraces and blessing dispensation.

Berth no 16!!! What the @##@??? Was that not the uppermost seat? I hated that place up there since it meant unusually cold air from the AC blower caressing me all night and every time, I got up my head would hit the cold roof of the coach. God!

“You are on 16? We have 13, 14 and 15,” said the elderly man. He appeared a nice person, pretty talkative. There he was with his wife and daughter, our Lady in Maroon.

The luggage was soon tucked away below the seats, above the head. Water bottles placed on the side grids. They had made themselves comfortable by the time the train moved away from the station. She shared the seat with her mother and I, with the father.

At least four hours earlier, when I was beginning to pack my bag, I received a text message from my friend M who was on his way for the meet. It said: On board. I have the side lower berth and a beautiful woman for company. As we sit face to face now, our legs come in contact sometimes. AHEM...

“You guys are headed for Chennai?” I shot the first volley of the conversation though I am not much of a talker.

“Yes. Her husband works there. She was home for her exams and we thought we will drop her back,” the father replied. Cool.

“What about you? You work there too?” His turn now. “Ah! No. I am meeting some old friends after a long gap. Plan to relive some good ol’ days.” I said.

I looked sideways. Most of them were merrily asleep. It was just 10 in the night, maaan!!!

“These guys sleep so early.” I looked up hearing the Lady in Maroon saying her first words. God! I finally have company, I told myself. I won’t have to pat myself to sleep now.

A mobile phone rang. I heard the “Hi.” The Hi was pretty whisperingly soft. Must have been the husband at the other end. I never understood how people managed to whispertalk over the cell phone. I almost shout.

I brought out Burnt Shadows, Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie’s latest novel and tried to get back to the page where I had left. The train had settled into a nice speed, moving in a serpentine motion through the cloudy dense night outside.

Fifteen minutes later, I could sense the urgency. The sleep-iness was apparently getting contagious. My co-passengers were beginning to catch the virus.

I picked up my book, my head phone and climbed to the uneasy seat. I had a cold, now the AC and the cold ceiling so threateningly close. And I had to sleep since the lights are going to be off soon. Huh!

The father took the upper berth opposite me, the women took the lower ones. The Lady in Maroon right below.

I tried to read a little but it was getting difficult under the conditions. I pulled out the blanket and decided to get myself some sleep, some early night sleep. And I slept like a dog.

It was 6. I sneaked out of my bed, headed for the toilet. While traveling in trains, I always got up early to brush and refresh. That’s mostly because no one knocked the toilet doors. That also meant the toilets were mostly clean during early hours.

I returned. Everyone was still asleep. I went back to my seat. I'd lie for an hour by which time, everyone would be up, I told myself.

7.20 am. No change in scenario. I wanted tea. I wanted to spread my legs. I wanted to look what the morning looked like. But.....I pulled the blanket again.

8.30 am. The attendant came calling for tea. Finally. No one else was awake to be interested. I think the father was up but still lying on his berth. The women, still in slumber.

9.30 am. I was hungry. “Idli or bread and omelet?” I heard the attendant a few feet away. Sitting like a student in his dorm, I ate my breakfast. Still no one cared to wake up. No, I guess, the father was downstairs. And the mother was up. Lady in Maroon still in bed.

10 am. She lazed out of her seat. “What time is it?” the first salvo of the morning. Lunch time, I wanted to yell.

The cell phone rang. “Gooooood morning,” the husband again and the whispertalk started. I finally got to come downstairs and sit. Dammm, my legs were aching..

The family had breakfast and I read a little more of Burnt Shadows. "I slept a little late, did not I?" she asked her mother. I wanted to answer that question but I read on. I, at least, acted like reading and they talked on. The sequence was sometimes broken by phone calls and whispertalks.

Lunch time and we, finally, were doing something together. Fifteen minutes, and I saw people hitting the sack again and the bug did bite my immediate co-passengers too. Will sleep again? That means I will have to sleep again? Gawwd!!! But I did. I had to. The next three hours were siesta time again but when the mother shared the lower berth seat with her daughter, I got to sit with the father and read on.

At 5.30 pm when the train finally reached Chennai, I was happy the sleep-traveling had ended.

As the friends reached one after another and we began to leave for the City, one of them announced: “This re-union is happening after a decade. So no one will sleep for the next five days. This is final.” And no one was actually allowed to.

(If you think the post is very long, you are right. My apologies.)


moi 1 August 2009 at 19:07  

hey nice write up, i liked the whispered conversation part,even i cant seem to do that, each time i think i am talking softly instead it turns out that i am too ;)

Agnes 1 August 2009 at 19:45  

Too long?! You know how much I love to travel.

I loved reading this, Soul. Even though it's crazy hot down there, I really like Madras.....

Hope your reunion went well...:-)

REG 2 August 2009 at 00:26  

Reads like a novel and makes me want to keep on reading. You are a good story teller.

Sneo 2 August 2009 at 01:09  

good one... train travel makes me incredibly sleepy. wonder how people can be up when you can be comfortably rocked to sleep :-)

Talking To My Soul 2 August 2009 at 03:29  


Heyy, I too am in your club - the Shouting-Into-The-Cellphone one.

Thanks for reading, Moi. Welcome back.


Talking To My Soul 2 August 2009 at 03:32  


Heyy, Agnes. Hi.

Of course, I know your love for travel. Traveller Extraordinaire.

Yes, Madras is so hot and sultry. But I too like that City.

The re-union went well. Thanks for asking. It was great. We just roamed aimlessly.

Thanks for reading.


Talking To My Soul 2 August 2009 at 03:33  


Thank you so much for the nice words. I am honoured. Really. I have just tried to keep the story simple. Hope I managed.

Thanks for remembering to drop by every time.


Talking To My Soul 2 August 2009 at 03:35  


Heyy. Long time, no see. Welcome back again. I read about and saw pictures of your Europe trip. That was great, I say.

Yes, you are right. People feel sleepy in train. But my problem is the night time. Trust me.

Thanks for arriving, dear.


Kasturi 3 August 2009 at 17:27  

You make simple things so interesting Siba. And of course, as I have always said, you are brilliant at writing - be it a story or a news story. But honestly, I wanted to continue reading it when it ended.

Talking To My Soul 3 August 2009 at 22:53  


Heyy, thanks, Kasty. Me feeling so like a writer. Your son wont agree though. Will he?

By the way, many happy returns of the day.


mystic rose 4 August 2009 at 02:14  

It was actually a good read. there's the sense of something imminent. And then.. :)

Talking To My Soul 4 August 2009 at 03:23  


Hi, Rose. Thank you so much.

May be I need to catch the train one more time to find out what happened next...

Thanks you dropped by.


Keshi 4 August 2009 at 06:02  

A very interesting post here Soul. I love reading real-life excerpts from ur many travels :)

I guess u had a wonderful reunion then. Sounds like it.

Abt that married girl, well what wud u hv done if she wasnt? :)


Rick 4 August 2009 at 10:13  

REG is right- it reads just like a novel- and a damned interesting one at that!

Talking To My Soul 4 August 2009 at 17:26  


Heyyy, hi. The reunion was good. Some kind of Hangover-isque. It was great.

About the "what would I have done if she was unmarried," I would have woken her up in the morning by pouring water on her.. :)))

Thanks deary for remembering to drop by.


Talking To My Soul 4 August 2009 at 17:29  


Hey thanks Rick. You are a tremendous writer yourself and the comment coming from you is just great. Thanks again.


!Teq-uila Del Zapata 5 August 2009 at 11:16  

first of all, looks like one of my my kinds write-up
these women in trains are always like "things-not-meant" for you.
not really long, but nothing happpened till end.

Keshi 5 August 2009 at 11:57  

**I would have woken her up in the morning by pouring water on her

yeah that wud make her sue ya lol!


Talking To My Soul 5 August 2009 at 16:50  


Heyy Teq,

I guess you are right. Nothing happened till the end. Nothing was probably meant to...LOL.

Thanks, you could relate to it. And thanks for dropping by. Do return.


Talking To My Soul 5 August 2009 at 16:51  


But that would have been fun, right!!!! Just picture the scenarion, eh!


WarmSunshine 6 August 2009 at 12:02  

I'm late... I'm so darn late. Sorry about that.

Loved reading this one. This was definitely worth the wait.

By the way, is this post about the road trip you recently took?

Anonymous 8 August 2009 at 14:12  

all good comments..
strange.. u need some criticism on this... just a rambling thought that didnt make sense.. even as a conversation piece to friends..

wish you could post comments like this that said that it was a waste of time reading...

mystic rose 8 August 2009 at 22:29  

You know, all those protests were too much, they lead elsewhere ( in the story) :)

Talking To My Soul 9 August 2009 at 17:28  


Heyy, welcome, dear. That you are here matters.

Yes, it was the trip I told you about.

Thanks for reading.


Talking To My Soul 9 August 2009 at 17:40  


Heyy Anonymous,

Thanks for choosing to be critical. I'm sorry the post wasted your time. But you chose to do that. It was your call, not mine.

I am sure you would be surprised to see that I have published your comment which you, obviously did not expect me to.

Having said all this, let me tell you one more thing. You could have earned my respect if you had disclosed your identity. Why did not you? Then, it's a free world. To each, his own.


Talking To My Soul 9 August 2009 at 17:45  


Hi. I certainly agree with you. But do tell me where do these lead? May be it will be of help in future...

Thanks again.


Rick 9 August 2009 at 20:07  

Just a quick note to tell you that your handling of the anonymous comment was well and gentlemanly done.

Talking To My Soul 10 August 2009 at 14:22  


Thanks, Rick. I am so glad you said this. Thanks indeed.


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Keshi 14 August 2009 at 08:03  

yeah that wud hv made a pretty funny movie scene lol!


Talking To My Soul 15 August 2009 at 12:54  


Thank you, mate. Welcome here.


Talking To My Soul 15 August 2009 at 12:57  


Yes. A comedy. Lots of romance and comedy. What say!


mystic rose 16 August 2009 at 02:12  

Perhaps if your name is Prakash? :D

Keshi 16 August 2009 at 06:41  

Like SRK n Kajol in DDLJ? Im pretty sure! :)


Talking To My Soul 16 August 2009 at 15:19  


Then I will have to wait for the peace I am longing for because my name is not Prakash. :D

Thanks for arriving again.


Talking To My Soul 16 August 2009 at 15:21  


Ah! That's out and out romantic stuff. Not my cup of tea. I am game for dark themes, eh!

How have you been? Weekend treating you good, K?


About this blog

If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed