Apr 7, 2012

The Water Logs - Part One

                                                               The Invitation
It is a well known fact that all water bodies want to pull you in.  Whether it’s the spirits of the drowned and dead or man’s aquatic past beckoning him back to its watery fold nobody knows but we all have sometime or the other felt that seductive tug from which only the most horrible thoughts of a water logged death saved us. This is the story of my experience with that tug.

       My name is Vardhan Pradhan. I was working as an H.R. Manager at a call center in Mumbai, having the time of my life. I was 26, making money and living it up in my own bubble consisting of my call center buddies, pubs , nights out and what I delicately call my transient amorous entanglements. It was with great reluctance that I accepted the invitation (read orders, by mom) to attend a distant cousin’s wedding in Varanasi, U.P. Isn’t it strange that we all have relatives in U.P we haven’t heard about but who never forget to invite you to their weddings? So I took the train from V.T. station and settled in for a boring voyage across half of India to the land that boasts of The Ganges as its mother Goddess.

                                                                                There is something about traveling by train that sets my nerves on edge with the anticipated boredom but makes up for it in the vistas visible and alternative lives imagined in those unending plains, undulating hills and yawning caverns. And then there are the rivers; You are either a dead man or a blind one if you’ve never felt like peeking out of your window into a snaking blue water-body below the bridge your train is passing through and don’t feel a pang of loss when the river passes you by and you are left again to look at sun-baked land.

                                               The Ganges found me sitting on the doorstep of the bogey and smoking a cigarette. Well it is huge; a force of nature. One of the largest rivers in the world, it lives up to its reputation. If majesty were liquid, it would look like The Ganges; breathtaking, cigarette dropping. I saw my cigarette fall through the slats on the bridge into the river and become invisible before hitting water.

                                                                      Oh and it takes time to cross its breadth even on a high speed train. You have time to smile with indulgent amusement at the sounds of aarti emanating from the general boogie, like a city slicker must. You have time to light a new cigarette or die trying in the oncoming wind from the open door. You have time to peek outside while doing this and notice that the end of the bridge is in sight and the crisscross truss wall is missing for the last fifty meters or so.

                                      What you don’t get time for is to prepare when Ganges calls for you, when the voice of authority in the uniform of a ticket checker startles you into dropping your cigarette yet again and turning around in blind panic for the fear of a Rs.3000 fine for smoking in the train and holding the bogey door to steady yourself which promptly shuts itself in your face.

                                                                                         Take time off reading and imagine the picture: The door has closed on you. You are out of the human world of trains and ticket checkers and you’re falling out of the bridge across the missing crisscross walls straight into the ice blue world of a mythical river goddess. You think you’re falling straight down but you still have the forward momentum from the train and you’re also flying towards the rocks on the banks of the great river. Either you’ll suffocate in the depths of an ancient life force or you’ll splatter your entrails on the implacable façade of an equally ancient rock wall.

                                                                                                     It happened like a dream, it felt pleasant, almost. Like flying parallel to a train. The aarti was unhindered by my pleasant misfortune. Only the ticket checker knew the fate that had befallen me.
Fun fact#122: If you pull the chain, it won’t stop on a bridge.
Fun fact#123: Even if it did, fat lot of good it’d do me.

But I digress, after falling through the bridge I was feeling like Superman, perhaps because I was belly down with my arms extending in front of me as if my flight was entirely my own idea. The rock façade was moving like floors do when you’re on a transparent lift going downwards, albeit one unhooked from its motor. It was also coming dangerously close for comfort even for a guy feeling like Superman.  Then I was in a huge hole, and not just metaphorically.

                                           Thanks to industrialization I had landed up in a liquid waste canal just a little above water level. It must have been connected to a huge Industrial gutter in the production industry SEZ just outside of Varanasi. Not that these acute observations occurred to me then. I was nauseated, disoriented and vaguely relieved to be broken, dazed and dizzy instead of dead. Instead of taking stock I decided to turn over and rest awhile. I rather deserved it… and needed it. More than I ever knew.