ahista-se:

The Golden Temple - pulled in to Bombay Central Station

I have spent days at a time in this train. The trip to Surat feels like a brief reunion. I barely recognize the inside of the train, riding in a two-tier AC bogey, each of us with a seat to ourselves. Even the frequent interruptions of vendors selling CHAAIII MASALA CHAI CHAI, ICE CREAAAM BHAISAB ICE CREAM, GARAM NAASHTO LEYLO GARAM GARAM NAASHTOOO, COLD DRINK PANI BOTTLE, COFFEE NESCOFFEE
could not bring to the bogey the bustle and chaos of the three-tier sleeper bogeys I have taken from Amritsar to Mumbai. In a group of thirty students, two to a ticket, some of us would hide in the bathroom when a ticket collector came by. He knew. We knew he knew. It was merely an acknowledgment of his presence, a formality.

A few hours into the journey, in the calm after the insanity of getting everyone and their suitcase onto the train, people would start wandering around the bogey, find each other, start conversations or games. Ten at a time would gather around a single laptop to watch a movie - leaning off of all three tiers of seats.

Sleep was fitful in shared spaces. Amritsar was chill, the nights were harsh. Climbing down the ladder to use the bathroom could take half an hour, in finding one’s shoes, in picking one’s way through the crowded corridor, waiting in line.

But the physical discomfort of the journey was alway awash in a fierce spirit of community and adventure.

The train holds these memories, in the pattern of its old, dirt-covered frame. I will return again, one day, retrace my steps, and find them waiting in its bolts and seams.

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