Aloneness is an inviting thing.
Especially to essentially small-town people, driven to the big cities. People who have learnt to seek silence in too-much-noise, solitude in too-much-crowd, simplicity in the relatively-sparse, familiarity in the old-abandoned-rundown.
We are those who had to teach themselves to look for richness in women's figures, excess in overflowing monsoon-streets, lushness in embroidered floor-rugs and companionship on barsati-terraces.
Aloneness is a inviting thing to us.
Even at 3.15 am, breathing deep in Delhi's dew-grey 3.15 am aura.
Even at 3.45 am, on New Delhi railway station, it is a special thing.
Even when I step onto the stillness of platform no. 1, and find it lined with bodies - so terribly asleep, they could be dead. So covered are the faces, so careless these exhausted bodies, that the sharp whistles, and the cries of the 4 am-shift sweepers - "Up! Up all!" - are a relief.
In a minute and a half, these faux-dead, these refugees from nowhere, are stretching. As I see them sleepily move their baggage, I shoulder mine, and move to the tea-stall to drink machine-coffee in a clay kullad.
Even when I cross the bridge to look for my train and am followed by the freshly-awakened louts who whisper "where, madam? All alone?"... even so, the aloneness is welcome.
There is relief in the fact that I alone am irritated. Not a brother, father or male companion who will feel duty-bound to beat up the louts. Not a mother, sister or female friend who will take offence and look fearfully over her shoulder, or whisper angrily about the insolence of it all.
Even when I am the only woman in sight and every service available is simply passing me by. The newspaper-wala doesn't offer me any newspapers. The chai-wala doesn't offer me any tea. The lock-chain-wala, the book-wala, the polish-wala, the biscuit-chips-wala, the anda-bhurji-wala - they all ignore me, as if I did't exist.
Under my breath, I whisper 'patriarchal so-n-so's!', but I do not mind so much.
In cities, being ignored is a luxury. Somebody NOT trying to sell something is a luxury.
I check my weight.
Two men who look like they've been here forever and are in no mood to go anywhere, tell me that the weighing machine doesn't work. They are sitting on the machine. I ignore them and fumble for a coin, while they vacate their haunt; the red-n-white wheel stops spinning; I drop the coin.
The cardboard ticket stumbling out tells me I've put on 1.5 kilos; it also tells me, on it's reverse face, that happiness is waiting for me, after a long journey. I amusedly think that at least one part of the machine works. I know where these new 1.5 kilos come from, where they will settle, refugee-like... in relief camps of the stomach, for a month, in abandoned mills of the hips, for a year... nobody knows what will happen to them afterwards. Who wants to think beyond a year?
And I think, stupidly, of the weight of happiness. And whether there's some scientific principle at work - weighted means? Laws of averages dictate that chocolate is directly proportion to... subcutaneous depression is inversely proportional to.... other factors - like money, social network and anorex-quotient - being constant....
And, in the train, I think about a question I've thought about for ages: Why do small towns have talented sexologists, above all othe fields of specialisation? And why do they advertise so aggressively on walls and fences that border the railway line?
In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, Dr Prabhakar Jain, it seems, is the new toast of those challenged in the bedroom. His name is plastered across three districts -Gwalior, Bhind and Morena.
He welcomes all sorts of problems that I try to translate, out of sheer boredom: namard (impotent, I think?), niyogi(?), nakaam (useless? failure?), niraash (hopeless), charm-rogi(what does this mean?), gupt-rogi (sexually-diseased... but gupt is actually 'sexret' or hidden. strange, isn't it, that anything sexual is also secret?), sheeghrapaat (sheeghra meaning quick, paat meaning falling...? Yes, I know; I do not have an immediate career in translation)
And across all these advertisements, the word SEX keeps guard, like a large, blue-uniformed watchman.