Moody blues

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 10, 2020 Published on January 10, 2020

All the way down from the hills, I was sunk in gloom. One, the simple fact of leaving the hills. Two, on account of a guest who was returning to Delhi with Bins and me, I felt obliged to sit in the front seat of the cab. It was so that she could chat with Bins. But it meant that I and the driver sat in monastic silence all the way down.

Three, even though I no longer get car-sick, the fact that I had nothing to do aside from stare out the window revived childhood memories. Of earlier car journeys, slaloming down perilous mountain roads, when my throwing up was a regular part of the entertainment. We used to travel in large spacious vehicles. I was small enough to lie across the comfortable laps of whichever three ladies occupied the back seat. In this position, I would listen to my mother, sisters or aunties discussing how soon the fountain would begin to play. Needless to say, these wicked conversations guaranteed the likelihood of a “performance”.

Four, since I believe that my only natural asset is my sunny good humour, if ever my lights go dim I consider it a personal failing. This means that, in addition to the gloom, I’ve also got to fight off my own private team of whipsters. They scourge me for daring to let the clouds in, for lacking the Right Stuff, for being a Wet Blanket, a Spoilsport and all those other losers who can’t be perfectly cheery come Hell Fire or nuclear war.

By the time we reached Kathgodam and boarded the train, I was so far down in the dumps that I was starting to enjoy my interior twilight. We had three seats in the same row but two were together and one separate. So of course I took the separate one! Martyrdom is its own reward! I was practically hoping that the passenger in my neighbouring seat would be the kind of hairy oaf who listens to 10 channels of religious music while simultaneously hollering into his cell-phone!

As it turned out, however, the co-passenger was a small-built Manipuri military man who didn’t mind swapping his window seat with my aisle. He had the serene expression of someone whose face might have been a model for a Bodhisattva figurine. When I asked him where he was going, he said in Hindi, “Goa. Three days’ journey from Manipur”. He made it sound like intergalactic travel. When dinner was served, he closed his eyes and said a silent prayer before digging in. Then he plugged his Dell laptop to the Internet via dongle-magic and watched a ferocious war movie all the way from Haldwani to Moradabad.

His presence was so calming that, by the time we reached Delhi, I was sunlit once more. The city was clogged with traffic. Our normal 20-minute cab-ride took one hour. But no worries! I was glad, in more ways than one, to be home once more.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on January 10, 2020

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