This is an absurd kind of travel:
Metropolitans flung across the subcontinent,
made minutes apart.
Nautical miles chewed up by hungry birds with black noses and rumbling insides,
humbling travel to mere commute.
Veering over and beyond that fine line between wanderlust,
I witness the sprawling of Delhi, the compactness of Mumbai, the madness that is Bangalore, and internalize each city’s understanding of size, scale, money, distances, time. Monsoon, heat, humidity. Curfew, women, dress-codes, deadlines. The tolerance for new faces. Even sunrise and sunset.
Each city welcomes and bids me goodbye with sleepy eyes that manifest as empty under-passes and over-bridges, five lanes and bylanes, nooks and nakas. I recognize the cities by their closed shutters, deserted streets, stray dogs, pot holes and missing cobblestones. By flashes at the wings of aviation marvels, and pretty blue lights at the fringes of runways.
Not vada pav, Janpat or even bisi bele bath.
I steal from these cities, like someone who doesn’t belong, sights to treasure. Minarets with a few tiles left. The several prides of India. Pigeons that circle and search for lost friends. Giddy greens in soft sunrise. How the world, under an illusion of organization, arranges itself into neat little boxes of tilled land. The bright blue tarpaulin shanties. The throbbing veins of choking cities, teeming with exhaust.
All behind double-layers of glass. Foggy by AC. Unclear to the ear clogged by faltering air-pressure. The stench of humanness chloroformed by AmbiPurCar. The sting of fat raindrops, the irritation of grimy puddles, all extra sound effects to the Countdown #2 on Blaupunkt surround.
I’m vaguely protected by, and deprived of, the reality of these cities. Distant, like I’m watching an extremely crisp telecast on a TV show on a restless Sunday afternoon.
The people I bump into are a different breed of forgettable faces. Punk co-passengers that read Ayn Rand. Plastic air hostesses. Greasy production assistants. Hovering-for-a-tip bell-boys. Directionless drivers. Loud cell-phone abusers. Hustling waiters. The wo/man with the strangest, most confused accent, always being the one to announce boarding.
When time flies, it forgets its 24 hour straitjacket. Speeding up when I’m late. Slowing down when I’m in wait. It lapses as shadows through half-open windowshades, like half-open eyelids, filtered by cotton shreds for clouds.
This brand of travel.
Organized chaos held together by broadband, shorthand, post-it notes, rambling e-mails, PNR numbers, cell-phone currency, credit cards, service tax, departure, arrival.
Fool proof. Effective. Safe (mostly). Established. Squeaky clean.
Stamped and ratified, as the security tag, by the unsmiling policewoman.