There is a futility about the incessant comings and goings of trains every day at the railway stations. It horrifies me as do the chance encounters with strangers who, unlike trains, unravel deep secrets about themselves and, for no particular reasons, decide to abandon their journeys.
I have never enjoyed waiting for trains after my encounter with a young man on the half-deserted platform of a railway station. It was a cloudy evening and crows were swirling in the sky. The first time I saw him, his cheeks were cupped in his palms. His chin rested on his chest. Perhaps, he was trying to hide his youthful looks. His gaze was fixed at the ants feeding ravenously on bits of sweetened breadcrumbs near his feet.
He looked like one of those rookies in the army who spend a day in transit on the platform of a railway station, waiting for a train to take them to the war zone where they fight and die for the sake of peace, dignity and honour. Who would have thought that a fortuitous encounter with him that evening would change me forever?
I was living as a recluse in a hermitage, which was a two-day bus journey from the town. I had renounced all worldly enticements and was on my way to my hermitage to spend time in seclusion. I had found contentment and lived abstemiously in contemplation, devoting most of my time to teaching young monks at the monastery. I taught them literature produced by the wise masters who had preceded me at the school and were superior to me in rank and order. Years of rigorous training, I thought, had begun to bestow spiritual gains and I had started to experience, what the wise man, my Guru at the hermitage, called “inner bliss”.
Mine was a life devoid of any worldly adventure. But I must confess that despite enjoying my time at the hermitage, I never gave up exploring different places to gather and assimilate varied experiences, and to know different people and their lives. Such infrequent travels were not only spiritually rewarding but necessary for a person of my disposition because they helped me experiment with diverse methods of teaching and arrive at conclusions based on lived experiences and not just bookish knowledge. Besides, during these sojourns I met my old friends who, not to my surprise, invariably shared the sordid tales of their crisis-ridden lives with me, thinking that I would offer them unique solutions. In the course of our conversations, they would constantly tease me, saying that I was luckier than all of them and that they secretly wished for themselves a sequestered life, such as the one I was living. Little could I tell them how daunting it had been for me to renounce family and friends very early on in life and to shun everything and stay away from civilisation for months.
My friends would confide that, at times, they wished to run away from the humdrum of daily existence, their jobs, wives and children. I knew that their wishes were transitory, their desires fleeting, their ailments momentary. The lure of money and worldly enticements would bring them back to their realities. When I told them that I was as ordinary as they were, they thought I was being sarcastic. They accused me of vanity. “You are living a bachelor’s life. You can still have fun,” they taunted me. I knew they were struggling to come to terms with the fact that they weren’t young any longer and that it wasn’t possible for them to be adventurous and perform rakish acts. “Middle age is not as bad as people say it is,” I would always say to comfort them. Not convinced by my explanations, they blamed me for not being able to understand their problems. My teachings had no effect on them. I realised that I was no longer one of them. They branded me an outsider, an escapist.
Late that evening, when I walked into the railway station to board the train, I felt an uneasy desire to end my fast and silence.
The war-town was a night’s journey by train, and from that town I was to catch a bus to the village from where my hermitage was half-a-day’s pony ride. The hermitage sat atop a barren mountain overlooking vast terraces of uncultivated farmland.
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