Around ten hours after the train left Mumbai, the train passed fields that were ready for rain. The skies were gray, and a darker shade in some parts. But there had been no rain yet and shrubs were dry and trees had a dusty, dull green colour. A village woman stood in one field by the tracks with her eyes closed and her hands together, praying. Several kilometers behind her was a particularly dark patch of cloud. Under it was the gray haze that signified rain. Nowhere else was there rain. Only behind her, near the hills in the distance.
The train compartment is empty, and there's no one to talk to on this 35 hour long journey. Because it is otherwise so quiet, one can hear conversations clearly: one voice complains to another, "Two poor guys have been running helter-skelter for a seat. And the ticket inspector is not helping them even though they have a reservation. He should do it for the sake of humanity."
At this point, an old man wobbles past my cubicle to join in the conversation: "If he does good," he says, "good will be done to him."
"Yes," the first man says, "but it's his duty to serve the people."
"If he does good," the old man repeats.
"But it's his duty."
"Good will be done to him."
The first man starts to say something and gives up.
"Yes, good will be done," the old man says again. "Bolo Hari Om, Hari Om."
The first man gives up. "Hari Om, Hari Om."
In Abna, by the rails, is a Muslim graveyard. It is at the edge of the village. In Kutch last year, at the edge of another village, stones were stacked in tiny mounds on the side of a dune. The guide said they were the graves of sweepers, who only other sweepers could bury. The untouchables and the dead share this: already lost to us, let us properly send them on their way. Somewhere out of sight, somewhere we'd rather not know, preferrably.
The train stops at Surgaon Banjari for two hours. It is past six and the sun has begun to set. For an hour before darkness sets in, most of the desolate landscape turns a shade of yellow: metal, stone, and cement. It is so far from anywhere. For two hours we shift from one seat to another, restless, trying to catch a better view. But how can that happen when everything looks the same? So who lives here? Why? I suppose we all live in places that offer us something. Whether it is wealth or a chance to dream our life away.
The train pulls into Allahabad Station. What a dump.