It was a cold day. The train was parked amidst some godforsaken jungle. The LTE sign on my notification toggle flickered like a dying candle. A mild morning light came seeping through the web of trees. And in front of me lay amorphous pieces of human turd which the last fellow passenger had probably forgotten to flush. That’s a regular scene in North Indian train toilets, so I did not make a fuss about it. I just peed, saving any possible collision of my stream with the last man’s debris, and then I tried to flush but there was no water, so I slipped out like a mouse.
The sleeping beauty on the side-upper berth had finally woken up. She fished in her fancy handbag and pulled out a fancy brush. It was one of those toothbrushes people with Swiss bank account buy – with counterclockwise 8000 revolutions per minute and all that hyper level shit; the ones so expensive that they don’t even advertise during daily soaps, so my mother has no idea about their existence.
I imagined telling my mother about such toothbrushes and about people owning them.
“We used powders and your Nanny rubbed ashes and sand on her teeth. Now I’m beginning to think we are cave people. “She’d say, and then add that toothbrush to her wish list.
The girl did not have a toothpaste though. Maybe it came with an in-built mint flavour, I thought.
Is there any cap to how rich you can get? I could have all the money in the world and still be poor as fuck. If I get rich enough to buy that kind of toothbrush, I’d rather buy one of Saturn’s moons and drill oil out of it to get even richer.
The girl went towards the wash basin. I was not sure if she could bear all that revolting shit. See, with richness there comes a whiff of intolerance. But she handled it pretty well.
A just-woken-up girl brushing her teeth in a train is not exactly how they show you in movies. I mean they look pretty wrecked up, but it’s kind of cute, nevertheless. Yeah, you won’t like to snog her but you could still make art out of her.
I thought I would, but then I gave up that thought. She was too rich and too far. And I had my own worries. So I turned around like a good boy and walked back to my berth, plugged in the earphones and played Kailash Kher on a loop.
The tall tower stands alone. The stories it has lived and the times it has seen – it won’t tell the shallow men down here. It talks to the birds, who have built their homes on its shoulders, for whom the imperativeness of it is much more than what it is to us, the humans. The tower isn’t dumb, it’s just not interested in talking…because we aren’t interested in listening…
We sat on the steps of the Sulabh Sauchalaya building, waiting for the torrent to fade out. Meanwhile, Shivam clicked us from four hundred and forty four different angles, the dedication level only matched by the Nat Geo people who go to the Congo Basin with their clunky DSLRs and die chasing primates. Mishra was getting bored, and so he decided he would rather take a leak.
“Can’t believe peeing is a taxed activity. “I remarked. They didn’t pay attention to my intellectual observation, and kept on posing for Shivam, who had probably gone crazy from so much rain. After an unending wait, we decided to take an auto.
I wasn’t made to sit on a lap, but the area occupied by my buttocks was smaller than what they deserved. Rohit wasn’t even visible – he was probably buried behind Amit. The auto raced down the flooded road and the cold wind hit our bodies, and it felt like this was going to be epic day. Just as I was done thinking about the epic day, Hemant’s dad called and before picking up, he asked us not to use profanity till the call was over. But midway though the conversation, a big SUV dashed by, splashing a Tsunami into the auto, wetting Mishra’s jeans and his hand and his phone and my jeans and my hands and my phone. Hemant hung up a century later, and then I broke into howls of profanity.
Fifiteen minutes later, we reached our destination.
Mishra was sent to buy tickets which costed Rs.15 each for the nationals. We pooled in and gave him the cash. He returned only a few seconds later, informing us that the price had doubled. Mishra is a jinx, I tell you.
We bought the tickets and went in. The ruins of the Sultante, the heritage left by the invaders of the west, who had made this place their home, was standing right in front of our eyes, a bit dull and a bit old. Before we could enter the place, Shivam started clicking selfies.
The first monument we went to was Alai Minar, which, had it been completed, would have measured double the height of Qutub Minar. It was constructed with massive stones, the edges rough and unpolished. The unfinished towers always tell a whole story.
“I don’t think the monument is talking to me. “Mishra pointed out, trying to contradict the words of our favorite history teacher who said, “the monuments talk when you go near them.” But it wasn’t Alai Minar’s fault at all – Mishra is so jinxed that even if a tower could talk, it won’t talk to him.
The monuments don’t talk like people. They have their own whispers, which can’t be heard but only listened to. I could see elephants and carts around, and labors and people, witnessing the gradual splendid construction of a monument, which would halt just after the death of Alauddin Khilji.
We clicked plenty of photos and then moved towards a tomb. The walls around had texts embossed in urdu. The people posed beneath an arch and clicked photos. I wondered if the monuments would ever talk to them.
Then we moved to a Madarsa. It was a group of dank, charred rooms that smelled of batshit. I visualized kids taking taaleems here, which was very difficult to visualize, and then my eyes caught “Brijesh loves Rinku” engraved in the poor wall in a crabby handwriting. If you do similar things in China, they will make soup out of you the next day. They’ll hang your skeleton in the museum and place a label outside the case that’d read – HomoHabilis.
Mishra sat on a stone outside and closed his eyes.
“I’m feeling the past guys. “He claimed. “Somebody sat on this stone. It was a sultan. ”
I was pretty sure the stone was cursed or something. If it wasn’t, it would be now.
We then walked into a small graveyard. There were sad old tombs, and the whole place was so melancholic. If you eliminated the crowd from your minds eye, it would even appear scary.
We went to a desolate garden after that.
We clicked photos and wondered which plants were replaced and which were still surviving from the era of Iltutmish. Then, we went on a sloped piece of land.
As I stood at the crest of the small plateau and looked around, the legacy of the Sultans spoke to me. The path I had travelled was travelled by a king centuries ago. In an era devoid of internet and bullet trains and hurry and pace, the Sultan would take a leisurely walk in the evening with his Begum. They’d talk about life and love and birds and trees. They’d appreciate nature. They’d kiss under that tree, they’d sit right here, and watch the birds flying back to their nests, they’d lean on each other’s shoulder and watch the dusk…..
I started feeling nostalgic for some weird reason.
We raced down and clicked a flurry of photos. Then we went towards the sundial. On the way, we saw a Chinese family of 5. Each of them wore a hat. There were two white girls, wearing skirts that were shorter than my underwear. They owned the most distracting pair of butts in the entire universe.
We then went to another tomb, before we got to the sundial. A white lady was looking for it, asking people about it. She seemed confused. I showed her the sundial. She thanked me.
At last, we reached the Qutub Minar.
A 73 meter high tower, built by two Sultans, was now a home to pigeons, but inaccessible to humans. There was some comfort in that realisation.
People looked so stupid. All they did was clicking photos. I was no different, I had to get a new DP.
It was over soon, the epic day. We jumped into the train and sat on the gangway floor and shared the pictures. Amit opened his lunchbox and most of them refused to eat because it was Sawan and the lunchbox was filled with scrambled eggs. So I ate full.
On the train, I could see myself, or a part of me that I’d left, in those gardens, walking down the paths with slow calm steps, free from the rush and the worries of the 21st century.
It had been pouring all morning. The rain pelted down like Spartan arrows, and as whatsapp texts swore, the lower half of Shyam Lal College was already drowned. Some of my friends though, despite the torrent, had travelled all the way from Rohini and Nangloi to Shahdra to attend college, but now they sat with sullen faces, playing Balloon Pop in their generous smartphones, waiting for the rain to go ebb away.
Rohit dropped in at around 10 am, followed by two more people. We set up the chessboard and played a few boring games. It was decided that we would take a day off, but sitting idle only wakes up the wanderlust inside Rohit, and so, he came up with this great idea,
“Let’s go somewhere. Qutub Minar? ”
It took me some time to make up my mind. Lazybones! After I prepared myself for a long drenched day, I started calling everyone. A few of them said it was pouring in buckets and they hated rain and everybody should hate rain because rain brings flood and that we should drop our plans. As you know, every adventure comes with a bout of hitches. There were plenty in this one too.
Two of them didn’t have a metro card, so, as we reached Welcome Metro station, we went upto this vending machine to get the tokens. They put the money in and waited for the tokens to drop. But the machine was a bit of a runt – it won’t take anything but fresh crisp notes. Some billion light years later, it took pity on us and accepted the note. But didn’t release the tokens.
“What the fuck! “They shouted together. The screen promised that it was processing the transaction, so we stood by, waiting patiently, wondering if it was Mishra that should be blamed for the ordeal. Mishra is a jinx – once he had accompanied us to the zoo and it turned out that they kept it closed on Fridays.
“That’s not fair. “Mishra protested. “You should have known zoos are closed on Friday. ”
Nobody believed him.
The crowd behind us was growing fretful with time.
We called the staff and he pretended to study the screen carefully.
“There’s a countdown. “He pointed at the upper right corner of the screen where infinitesimal numbers were decreasing every second. “Wait for it to finish. ”
And so, we waited. It was just a 90 second wait, but when you have a digital clock making you aware of the existence of every single second, the wait becomes a billion years long. The tokens dropped back, eventually. And we took the train and reached Kashmiri Gate at around 12:00pm.
There, we met Shivam, and as the train arrived, we jostled through the crowed to bag a seat. Three of us got the seats, one being Mishra. It was a long journey, so we spent it playing the game How-Jinxed-Mishra-Is? Everybody started throwing their ideas, and somebody said Mishra is such a jinx that when he visits a haunted house, the ghosts rush to the priests to get themselves cleansed with Holy Water.
On the way, it started raining again. The train stopped at a bridge, from where all we could see were wet lush green trees and a dense valley, and it seemed we had been teleported to a hillstation.
It was a beautiful stillness, and the only thing that budged was raindrops on the window pane.
The train started again, and the rain grew stronger by the time we stepped onto the platform. We clicked a few selfies on the metro, and then exited the station. We waited outside for some time,waiting for it to go slow, but it never did.
“Maybe we should take an auto. “Hemant suggested. I didn’t know of a way to fit 7 people in an auto, so I wondered if one of us will have to sit on the lap of one of us. When I was a kid, I sat in a jeep on the lap of this uncle of mine. A few seconds later, I felt something hard beneath my butts. (No I wasn’t raped). I hate to sit on men’s lap since that day, though.
We waited for some time, and when the rain slowed down, Mishra walked out and we followed him. It was a mistake, because seventeen steps later, it started sheeting down. We ran, completely deficient of a strategy. I was sure we were running for an auto, or some cover, but a minute later, I realised we had left behind all the autos and were still galloping aimlessly down the road for some heavenly reason.
“What are we doing? “I screamed.
“Following Mishra. “Shivam shrugged his shoulders.
A minute later, Mishra stopped beneath a small tree. Everybody else stopped as well. I peered out into the distance, wondering if we had reached the Qutub Minar. Was Mishra jinxed enough to displace Qutub Minar from its place? Mishra looked at us in utter confusion, we looked at each other in utter confusion.
“What the hell just happened? “I asked.
“Were you guys following me? “Mishra asked, baffled. “I was just looking for a shelter. “He explained. I was so apoplectic I felt like punching Mishra. I ran for cover, and everybody followed me this time. People are fool, they will follow you for anything.
We found a shelter, a roof above a flight of steps, and sat there, watching the rain come down like magic, dipping the world in lush green.