Journey Into the Night — CHAPTER 1

It had happened in a flash, right in front of his eyes. It had been impossible for him to physically stop it; to holler and raise an alarm, even. For one second he had seen those eyes, filled with pain and confusion; the next — he had seen life being brutally ripped out of their darkest depths; flesh and bones getting irreparably mangled. He was bound to forget the face and form of the young man standing on that platform that day, but never would he be able to rid himself of those eyes, the pain, that moment. In a single moment, all had been lost. In a single moment, a light had been extinguished, making the world one pitch darker. Was life as fleeting as that? Was it as meaningless? If he were to accept that death was as whimsical an animal as that, he would not be able to take a single step forward; it would be impossible to entrust the responsibility of his worldly purpose to something as fragile and delicate as life. If he couldn’t entrust his worldly purpose to his own life — the one he had the greatest control over — who could he entrust it with?

With this thought swirling through his mind, poking at long dormant memories, Jeet sat on his local train home from work. He had told the police that it was a suicide in his statement and had agreed to be called upon as an eye witness — it was the least he could do, he had felt. He had a nagging suspicion, however, that he would not be hearing from them again. On a daily basis, more people died in the local train circuit, accidentally and intentionally, than the number of people who were caught for travelling without a ticket. A death on the tracks was nothing new to the police. They would have to close this case up, as soon as possible, and proceed to identify and retrieve yet another body mangled by the deadly locomotives.

It was late evening, early night; the day had come to a close and the night was beginning to charge up the city’s batteries. The city that never slept; one of the many cities that simply refused to. Bombay of yore, which had been forced against its will to take on the avatar of Mumbai; all to satisfy the fractured ego of a people. The city that had the distinction of being the foremost example of disparity of all kinds — economic, social, political, religious, sexual, racial. The city which displayed the extremes of every situation; it even gave a glimpse of everything in between. The city that housed varied worlds within it. There was no ONE Bombay; there were a million Bombays — the deplorably poor, the sickeningly rich, the bohemians, the middle class, the megalomaniacs, the artists, the aspirants, the underworld, the celebrities — all delusional, all inspired to attain greatness.

Jeet was just the same. He worked a solid day job, while dreaming of becoming a revered artist someday. Whether he would be a writer, an actor, a singer, a painter, a photographer, a dancer — he had no clue. He just knew that he wanted to achieve greatness; and that in the vast world of “art”. The only talent he really had was to make up stories. He was amazing at it. Jeet could create a highly believable, detailed story in a jiffy. They were not necessarily imaginative or dramatic; they were just credible, legitimate.

Jeet broke out of the existential rut the young man’s death had pushed him into and looked around the train. What he saw shocked him. It was the sight that greeted him every day, but the marked difference from what he regularly saw left him amazed. The train compartment, usually listless at nine thirty at night, was alight with life; the passengers shone like sparkling diamonds, a striking vigor in their very demeanor. Whether they slumped, sat, stood or slept, they were alive and in possession of their faculties; vitality flooding the space around them. They had the ability — no, the power to make their choices, to analyze and decide what path was to be taken. They were the writers of their own stories, building up each page of their book with the minutes they listlessly whiled away — reveling in undying complacence. No matter how complacent, though, they got to knit their own fabric. The fabric may be a startling beauty or an absolute travesty — it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they had the power to. Who, in their right mind, would want to give up such power; the power to forge in the smithy within and without one’s soul a world of experiences?

Experiences. The eternal value of each life seemed to be evaluated merely by experiences — a collection of experiences. No. It was merely an agonizing series of unfortunate events; each event handpicked by our own choices. How many lives, identities, people, creations do each one of us kill with every binary choice that is made? How many universes do we sacrifice to build one of our own? Who, in their right mind, would want so terrible and destructive a power?

As it most often happens, when the mind is overwhelmed by the bleakness of existence and the dilemma of dualities, Jeet’s thoughts came fluttering back to his present; to draw comfort from the mundane and monotonous nature of everyday life; to revel in the constancy of routine; to defeat the finitude of life with the illusion of eternal vitality. Thinking of his routine life, however, didn’t provide him with catharsis of any sort. In fact, it irked him to review his life from a bird’s eye view. It was so unremarkable in it’s unbroken routine, that it was almost a nonentity; devoid of that glorious spark of life. “Is that all my life will be worth at the end of my time? An accumulation of routine, similar days, differentiated only by my choice of clothes and food?” he thought to himself, morosely.

No, he decided. He would not let it be. He would break the monotony of his existence and venture forth to create a life, an aggregate of experiences, which would leave him fulfilled when the time came to take one last breath. Yes, he would break away from the dudgeon of the uninspired life he currently lived and catch, by the tail, the adventures, which lurked in the corners, cracks and crevices of the world. He would live his life to the fullest, making every breath count and every thought matter. When his light was extinguished, it would have to leave an indelible shadow upon the world; a shadow which constantly reminded the world of the light of it’s origin. Jeet refused to die as that hapless young man on the train platform had. He had chosen to die, yes, but he had chosen to die because he couldn’t juice out of his own being the glory of living. He had lost himself to that wily temptress — despair; so easy to dive into, next to impossible to climb out of.

Jeet decided he would not let himself go that way. Neither would he be content with living a life of neutered emotions. He wanted to feel; the joy when the smell of rain assaulted his nostrils, the comfort when a mild chill touched him on a sunny day, the breathless excitement after climbing a mountain, the peace after swimming in the sea.

As these thoughts filled his mind, Jeet seemed to regain his old self. The man who had existed before the harsh realities of society had bogged him down; before he had adopted servility and obedience so as to procure creature comforts and certainty of the future; before he had lost his individual spirit and spontaneity to the pressures of everyday life. Jeet looked out of the window and saw that they were about to pull into Lower Parel station. As all mind’s have a penchant to do, his unconsciously recalled the amazing time he had had in a pub in Lower Parel. The night was unforgettable; most of it, anyway. It had been his flat mate — now, ex-flat mate — Vinay’s last night in Mumbai.

Ten hours before his flight, Vinay had impulsively given a shout out on Facebook for his friends to join him for one last night of debauchery in the city. Jeet, of course, was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring Vinay got on to his flight. It had been a wild party; Jeet had gotten absolutely hammered with Vinay, made friends with the manager and half the staff of the pub and had, finally, ended up going home with one of Vinay’s friend’s friends. After dropping Vinay at the airport, he had taken her home and shown her the best time of her life — or so he liked to believe, seeing that the alcohol had blurred his memory. The next morning had greeted him with a banging hangover and an incredibly awkward conversation.

Thinking back to that night brought a smile to his face. When Vinay had been around, he had made Jeet do a great many things Jeet had never dreamed of doing. Since Vinay had left, though, Jeet’s life had become as dry as a dead leaf. His lethargy coupled with his shy nature didn’t exactly make him an adventurer. Hell, he thought, it’s been seven months since I made out with a girl even, forget getting laid. Had his life really become constrained to work, books, movies, alcohol and conversations about business? What had happened to all those titillating plans of nomadic travel and impulsive adventures? Had he given up on them or had they abandoned him? Jeet felt something press against his chest, painfully. He had felt it quite often over the past year, but it was particularly tight today. He had wondered what that feeling was and today he finally understood. It was restlessness, impatience, frustration. It was his passion trying to burst out of his chest and consume him, once again. It was his passion he was waging a battle with. Only, now, he didn’t understand why there was any need to wage a battle at all. He wanted his passion to consume him; he wanted to be crazy, wild, impulsive; he wanted to lose the person he was and find himself all over again; he wanted to be reborn in his mind and, thus, the world.

A sudden thought struck Jeet. Should I get off here and go to the pub tonight? he thought. It was a crazy idea, considering it was almost 10 PM, he lived 25 KMs away by road and the fact that it was a Tuesday evening. Going to a pub to get drunk, right now, was a bad enough idea; going to a pub halfway across town to get drunk at this time was the worst idea conceivable. He also remembered the presentation he had tomorrow. It was only the monthly review presentation, which nearly everyone slept through, but he still had to do it. It was his job. “Get a hold of yourself, fucker” he told himself, “Suck it up and stop dealing with life like a twenty year old. Life is tough, unfair, harsh and boring. It isn’t what you see in the movies; it isn’t what you read in books. It’s not all fun, excitement, action and romance. Those things happen very rarely. Mostly, life is just a line of routine activities. Accept it. Live it.” Telling himself this, he tried to placate his restlessness. The restlessness, however, only grew.

As the train slowed down to come to a halt at Lower Parel station, Jeet was being torn apart on the inside. Should he be spontaneous and go with the ‘crazy’ plan or should he be sensible and plan this drinking trip for a weekend? A part of him ached to be spontaneous even as another part did it’s best to quash the plan. He felt tormented with the confusion born of indecision. His mind was racing as fast as his heart was beating. What should he do? Get off or stay on? Which life should he choose; which universe should he give birth to and which one should he kill?

Torn with uncertainty, he did the only thing any rational man would do. He turned to god. “Give me one sign”, he said “just one sign to tell me what I should do and I swear on you I will go through with it, no matter what the consequences.” The train was slowing down. In a few seconds, it would have come to a complete halt. “Come on, god. Do me this one favor and I swear I’ll never ask you for anything again. Just tell me what to do.” Commuters were jumping out of the train and on to the platform as the train came to a stand still position. “Anything, god, anything” Jeet thought, desperately. The train was stationary.

Jeet took the lack of a sign as a sign to stay on. Racked with dejection and relief, in equal measure, he looked out of the window once again and there she was; looking as radiant as she did in his memory. Walking right past his window at that precise moment, she looked at him and their eyes met, for an instance. He could see a glint of recognition in her eyes, but not remembering exactly how she knew him she walked past. Jeet ran up to the door and stared after her, as she walked away. The way she walked away truly was a sight to see — he had seen it once before. Jeet kept his eyes on her, despite the crowd that surrounded her. The train slowly began pulling out of the station. As she reached the stairs, she turned and cast a doubtful glance towards the train. In a second, her eyes saw Jeet, hanging out of the door. Her gaze met his, their eyes locked again and she flashed him a playful, knowing smile. She remembered. In the next instant, she was carried away to the exit by the massive crowd. He had lost her, again.

The train was, gradually, beginning to gather speed. “If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. I love you, god.” thought Jeet. Without giving it a second thought, he jumped off the train and ran alongside it till he found his balance. He came to a halt, breathing deeply, due to the excitement he was feeling. He stood still, laptop bag dangling off one shoulder, and watched the train, as it disappeared into the distance. When he could see it no longer, he turned and ran towards the stairs. He couldn’t believe he had seen her like this — at this time, at this place, in this situation — after so many years. “What the hell is happening today?”, he thought as he bounded up the stairs with a broad smile planted on his face.

When he reached the streets he scanned the crowd for her. He couldn’t find her after a few seconds of scanning; his heart sank. He couldn’t believe he had jumped out of the train on such a flimsy whim. Thinking back to it, he wasn’t even sure if that had been her or someone who looked deceptively similar. Maybe she had flashed the smile because she found his undisguised admiration adorable. Adorable. Hmph.

Feeling like a complete idiot he tuned to go; he saw her again. Standing in a cigarette shop, she was picking up a packet. Did she still smoke the same brand? He turned, abruptly, in her direction and began to move towards her. Having got her cigarettes, she began moving away from him. The crowded street didn’t allow him to run after her. So, he had to be content with keeping her in his line of vision and doing his best to catch up with her before he lost her — again.

Brimming with confidence and cheer, a love struck Jeet followed the girl, devotedly. For a second, he hesitated following her as it seemed incredibly desperate. The next instant, however, he brushed away the thought. Somehow, he felt this time would be different for the both of them. He felt this time was special; this was just meant to be. “I will follow her to the ends of the earth” Jeet thought romantically, as his eyes watched her swaying hips walk ahead of him.

Unknown to either of them, another set of eyes watched them; hiding in the open and stalking subtly. The owner of the eyes cursed on noticing the extra party who was now involved. It was supposed to be one person, not two. It was of no consequence, though; the extra person was merely an inconvenience. It could be handled very easily. The plan was still on track.

To be continued……