Kerala to Bangalore
This piece was never meant to be about India; just a train journey. But then I couldn't get the word "Kerala" out of my head. Do you ever get that? When one word just keeps spinning and spinning on the tip of your tongue, threatening to topple out of your mouth and make no sense to anyone? Anyway.
A child's face appears beside me. Dark eyes peer from between pressed palms, and through the dirt caked onto the train window I can make out a pink, poking tongue. It streaks the glass, gleeful and quick, and then the train pulls away, juddering and heaving like an old dog. The child falls from view. We send up storms of dust in our wake, and I can no longer see anything from the window.
I only notice how hot I am after a few minutes have passed, and precede to dispose of layers, wishing I could shed my skin. Sweat is a glistening film upon my whole body and it makes me slippery and irrritable. To stop myself from sticking to the seat, I decide to sit on my thin cardigan. I feel the fabric drench in seconds. Even after five years, I find I am still not used to India, with its incessant heat and urgency and chaos. I feel I can never come to know it; it eludes me, a mythical beast seen fully only in dreams.
On this train with no view, I could be anywhere. going anywhere. Not from Kerala to Bangalore, but London to York. Only then it would also be twenty years ago, my hair would be blonde and not grey, and my head would be full of hopes and not stories.
For half a second, I let myself believe that I'm nowhere. That life exists both before and after this journey, but not during. For now, I'm suspended in a blank space, in the pause between sentences. I can feel myself getting lighter, and I seem to exist everywhere else in the train carriage but my own body. I look at myself, this strange, skinny woman sitting on her cardigan, her stringy hair and bone-deep tan, from the outside. I want to ask her things. Where have you been? What have you done? Who are you?
I'm not sure she could answer, not now. I thought I knew these things five years ago, but then the bottom fell out of everything and I came to India to seal the hole. But it's only made it wider. I thought I knew everything, in London. But how could I have, because I have only ever been myself, and all I have seen is spied out of these narrow confines of middle class Western white woman. So I know everything; but what do I know, really?
Soon, we will pull into Banglore and my life will restart again with a choke and a tired splutter, much like this train. I'll ride the days and pull myself along, trying to rediscover the things I've lost along the way. Maybe I'll remember what it is I've forgotten, the secret pieces of knowledge that used to make me feel so sure of everything. Or maybe I'll just keep skipping from place to place, Kerala to Bangalore, Auckland to Wellington, Toronto to Vancouver, until I find new pieces. New pieces with which to build myself and make a whole.