Jia looked around at the mute crowd in that Metro train’s compartment. Few had their eyes closed, rest chose to stare into the cellphone screens in their hands. Metro ran smoothly over the tracks towards Huda city center. Other than the occasional sound of breaks kissing the tracks, there was no noise.
“Please stand clear of the yellow line. Doors will open on the right”
Jia zipped her jacket up again and got down at Saket metro station.
After few rounds of negotiations with the auto guy which she won almost every day, she was on her way to meet the Publisher of her recently published book ‘A beautiful lie’. She had previously gotten published two of her novels from the same firm and was therefore rather confident about this one as well. This meeting was a way to thank him for the same. And for him, it was a date.
Thousands of kilometers away from there, I was trying to peep outside the train’s window to check if the station was Matunga Road or Mahim. “It’s Mahim. Where do you want to go?” asked a fellow face in the crowded compartment. “Dadar” I replied and he returned a complimentary smile. I retreated back into my thoughts. Somewhere between fighting for a place to sit and an air to breathe, I had already made some friends. One could never feel lonely here. That was the magic of Mumbai local trains.
Raindrops were bungee jumping from the top of the window to its bottom and then diving inside. Sitting beside the window, I wondered if it really matters whether the train seat you got is facing the direction that the train is moving in or opposite to it? To come to think of it, it does make you feel like you are going to a new place or on the other hand like you are saying goodbye to the old one.
Nevertheless which one you call home is the real question. Places are faces you meet there. The ones you came across while you took yourself out to orient with the place.
Traveling from one place to another, my mind was battling an army of mixed feelings. The nostalgia of things and few pieces of my heart that I had left behind on one side and an array of emotions from hope to fear of going to a new place on the other. It was then I realized that Home was somewhere in between. It was the journey. Over the years, I hadn’t loved anything as much as creating stories about the world that passed by outside my train bogey. They had so much to tell you in so little of time. The trees that waved with their hands full of leaves, vast plains of farmlands satiating a family staying in a tiny hut far behind, Scarecrows looking clumsily at you with birds sitting on their heads, a river bed, a small town fallen into an oblivion. They all struggled to strike a conversation in those flying seconds of time. I could have always settled for one place. One town. Do my daily errands of the house to office and back. The social life was always waiting for me to go and drown in its flow of five-years and ten-years career plans. A flood I was sure I did not want to flow along with. I did not want that. Not forever. Because the simplicity and nakedness of mind could only be found while sitting besides the train window.
Anyway, let me take you back to Delhi.
So here in Saket, Jia was saying Hi to some Arora guy. Sahil I guess, his name was. Good looking as per her friend, but just fair as per Jia. And he liked Jia. Jia wasn’t sure if she did like him back, but she knew for sure that he had helped her market her last two novels really well. She needed him to do the same for the third one as well. So she met him.
George Restaurant at Select city-walk was the venue. She saw him from far, as he waved his hand. While having lunch, Jia spoke to him about the book. About the guy she wrote about. But that guy being real was kept as a secret. She recalled her conversation with her flatmate, about me. About my photography. How she could sense a story behind each photo that I had clicked. She wondered if she would see me again. The lunch or the meeting lasted for an hour or so. They decided to launch the book in Mumbai followed by Delhi.
And they did. Just a week later.
That week started in its most usual way it could have. Monday blues, Tuesday, Wednes-the middle fucking day of the week, Thirsty for beer Fridays…just the usual set of mornings with a cup of strong caffeine to convince you into believing that this day is going to be a different one.
Until there actually came a day when…
A day when the ground drops out from beneath your feet. The day when hour hand forgets to run around and time makes no sense to you.
Sunday it was for me.
I was smiling happily looking at myself in the mirror. “Write now”, “Blogging is not writing”, “Publish me!” sticky posts on the wall finally seem to make some sense today.
An email from Caravan magazine was the reason behind it.
I was chosen to represent India among 20 other young writers at Literature festival in Paris. A dream it was. I had already shared it with everyone I could think of.
But today I had to take on another challenge. My first day as a staff writer for the magazine. I wanted to pray but then realised that I’m an atheist, so just took a deep breath.
It was a happy moment and I was waiting for it from a long, long time.
Coming outside my apartment in Andheri, I managed to get an auto after several futile attempts.
Auto driver tried to engage me in a conversation over rains and poor state of roads, while I thought about how much this was going to change my life.
Several turns and swinging from side to side finally let us reach the office and I jumped out.
World just seemed different that day. I looked at sky & the Sun almost winked at me as it sat on a pillow of clouds. Doorman said Good morning like he really meant it & I entered the office.
Playing nervously with the leather belt of my shoulder bag, I waited near the reception.
“This way, Neil,” said a girl who appeared like an apparition and I simply followed her to the cabin on far end.
“Do you have any prior experience in interviewing?” she asked me without turning behind.
Following her I said with a raised eyebrow, “I guess you are mistaken. It is my first day at the job.”
“No, am not” she turned and continued to speak. “You may want to refer to this. It has a profile of celebrity you are going to interview.
“Celebrity? In how much time?” I flipped through the pages & lifted my head up to see her gone already.
I pulled a chair for myself in that oval shaped cabin, surrounded by glass doors. The other chair revolved as soon as I dropped my bag on it.
“A celebrity. My first writing assignment. This couldn’t get any better” I thought to myself and was lost in my own world.
The cloud of thoughts was pricked suddenly by a gentle knock on the door.
“Hi, meet our staff writer Neil. He shall be interviewing you. Please feel free to start with the interview as per your convenience” said the receptionist who then turned her face towards me.
“Neil, I’m sure you already know about our interviewee. Meet…”
“Jia. Jia Shah!” I completed her sentence as I almost dropped the file in my hand.
“Hi!” She replied with the equally surprised face.
“Hi!” I said and we both smiled through our eyes.
“You are famous. And you’re the same girl from the train, right? Just confirming” I said laughing.
“Yes I am,” she said. “And you are not just a photographer, are you?”
“Well, I do interview famous people sometimes,” I said and we shared a smile.
Suddenly all the wait seemed worthwhile.