Featured Image Art Courtesy: Reshmi Nair
I lied in office that I’m going to my university to take my certificates which apparently had just been issued. But fortunately, there was an itty bitty amount of truth in that lie. I was indeed heading to my alma mater, VIT University, Vellore, Tamil Nadu. Now living in cities without an airport is a real pain. I grew up in a small city called Chandigarh in the north of India. I lived there for 17 years before moving out for college and work and other things that grownups do. Now Chandigarh had this airport which was a little bigger than Shahrukh Khan’s house. Family trips to Kerala were through the nearest major airport which was New Delhi, which was five hours away. All those seventeen years from 1994 to 2011, Chandigarh airport had “plans” to upgrade to an international hub, but as it came through, the first international flight landed in 2016. When I lived for four years in Vellore, the nearest airport was Chennai which was three hours away. I live in Bharuch now, and the only major airport nearby is Mumbai, and again its six hours. So my trip from Bharuch to Vellore was a gigantic task as a whole. From booking train tickets to/from the airport at Chennai and Mumbai, to actually travelling for a day and a half through railway stations, airports and bus stations was extremely exhausting.
I had this plan since like a year, to go to VIT and get some necessary formalities done for the upcoming master’s degree plan (the details of which I’ll write about soon). After so many scrapped plans about how to go about it (one being landing in Bangalore, renting a bike, driving down to Vellore, taking a solo detour trip to a nearby hill station called Yelagiri and eventually get fired from my company) I chose the simplest and the least expensive one. The least complicated plan was I guess the best decision I could’ve ever taken: landing in Chennai, go to Vellore by local bus, and reverse.
I randomly called up my awesome friend Reshmi about my plan to come to Chennai and I intended to meet her the night I landed and go to Vellore the following morning. When I asked her if she would like to go a restaurant and eat and chill out till late night, she was like, “dude, its Tamil Nadu, not new York!”
“Let’s go to Mahab”, shouted Reshmi!
“What in the world is that?”
“Let’s go to Mahab! Mahab would be awesome, let’s go, let’s go”
“Is this place a restaurant?”
“Mahabalipuram! Sorry, its Chennai slang for Mahabalipuram. Sorry, I got carried away and forgot you’re not from here. Please let’s go to Mahabalipuram! (a town located an hour from Chennai opposite the direction of Vellore)”
“Let’s do it!”
Fast forward to the Sunday morning of August 14, 2016: a freight train passed by the deserted Bharuch railway station. My train was an hour late. Standing on the platform, tired waiting, I just couldn’t resist the picturesque view of the next train emerging out of the 100-year old steel bridge just at the entrance of the platform. As soon as I clicked on the shutter and took the picture, I looked back and saw some policemen waking towards me. I knew I was in trouble that very moment, because I realized that taking pictures in a public place in India a day before a high security alert national holiday was not a good idea. They started asking me questions as if I were a terrorist wanting to blow that steel bridge up. After numerous threats of arresting me, confiscating my camera and putting me in jail, they let me go that too surprisingly without a bribe though after making me delete that one picture. I somehow reached Mumbai airport at 3 for a flight at 7, just like my over-careful dad has trained me to do. But that wasn’t a problem, because I kinda enjoy long stays at the airport, because I find staring at people, getting amazed at how every individual stands out in his/her own way in a huge crowd and trying to make up assumptions about their real life just by observing the way they react to random stimuli, the way they walk, the kinda way they eat etc. Thousand different people, thousands different destinations and a thousand different stories: what is the harm, when I am never going to see them ever again in my life? But this time it was different because there was literally no place to stand in the very “grand” Mumbai domestic terminal. The scene resembled that of the Borivali local train platform just before the arrival a ‘fast’ local in peak hours. There was no place to sit, or sleep, or charge my phone. But somehow I reached Chennai after a sleepy two hour flight.
I landed at half past ten. I told Reshmi that I’ll pick up the car (the self-drive that I had previously booked) and I’ll pick her up from her place. I got out of the airport arrival gate, and I suddenly heard someone calling my name. It was Reshmi who had planned this entire idea of surprising me at the airport. As I jumped up in happiness, I was taken aback as well as deeply touched by this gesture of hers. I had seen her almost after an year. We walked down to the car, and we drove to her place amidst all the necessary catching up session. After dinner and a lot of gossip till three in the morning (we kinda slept off in between), we took off to this place “Mahab”.
Now picture this: straight road, no traffic, pre-dawn, cloudless sky, starry, a tank full of fuel and Coldplay playing in the stereo! It was amazing. It felt like driving into infinity. It felt like going away from everything I was going through in life. If I paused my being at one particular moment, I was on such a different high altogether, that it was deafening. I felt silent, and blind. I had forgotten where I was going, I had forgotten about my work, my boss, my project. I had forgotten Bharuch. For a moment I had also forgotten the fact that Reshmi, my navigator, DJ, planner, tour guide and the trip manager, was sitting there right beside me lip synching ecstatically with the song that was playing! I chose to forget the past year of working hopelessly towards something which is so futile! All my exhaustion, my lassituude in my endless sulking had dissolved away in all that bituminous mass of road on which we were driving on. Even though it was a small drive, lasted only for about an hour and a half, it was an insane experience: with that accelerator, the break and the gears.
I love beaches. As we neared the town of Mahab, I was hit by a stupendous gust of coastline aromas. I love the smell of beaches; I love the sand, the breeze. The feeling of being at the tip of a very large land mass and the beauty of the phenomenon of the endless vigor of waves is mesmerizing on a very personal level. Even though I don’t prefer getting wet, and swimming in the brine water which has made me ill on a lot of occasions, I look forward to “beach days”, especially the sun rise. Reshmi and I were not sure if we would get to reach in time for the sunrise, but we did. It was dark when we reached the parking lot, but by the time we reached the beach, I was engulfed by the silence amidst the roar of the waves and the chirping birds. I got my camera out, but by the time the sun started peeping out of the horizon, I was nervously fighting my uncontrollable emotions, and in the process, forgot about the clicking pictures. Amidst all my goosebumps, I was spellbound by the calm. I started thinking, that I was at the right place at the right time and that I would’ve missed out on a lot if I wasn’t there right then. All my decisions in my life, starting from taking the science stream in class 11, culminated to this moment in my life, where I was standing in a lonely beach with one of my favorite people in the world, enjoying the cold wind on my face with my eyes closed, thinking about how far I’ve come, though literally.
The sun came up, and we started walking back to our car. It was then, that we made a serendipitous discovery: the shore temple, a 1300 year old temple carved completely out of rock. So we just went to check it out. Even though the ticket person thought Reshmi was a foreigner, she convinced him by explaining to him ‘in Tamil’ that she is from Chennai and I was the real outsider in Tamil Nadu as of that moment. As we moved forward, we realized that the shore temple was absolute bliss. It was astonishingly beautiful. Every wall looked like a carving, and there was a different story on every wall, every stone and every sculpture. It was a perfect ending to an impressive six-hour trip. As I took a moment to “appreciate the architecture” of the place, clicking away random pictures, I thought of the millions of people who have come here throughout the centuries and have done the EXACT same thing! What have I done differently?
Isn’t it true? What have we done differently?
Why are our lives so vacuous?