In between places
This is a collaborative piece.
Text : Chayanika Priyam
Art : Kasturi Roy and Radhika Sivsankar
This time, I plucked some mellow, mustard tunes, some electric, gerbera grooves, some borrowed bits from my brother’s playlist and placed it in my phone’s music basket where old-school classics and the odd four-five unchanging artists sat waiting. Plugging in, I headed out to the bus station as contemplation in the voice of Anthony Kiedis accelerated the pace of the evening.
I like taking buses to places. Part-nostalgia, part-logistics, it has somehow seemed like an option that perennially exists. Perhaps it all began with the school trips taken twice a year, snaking around the hills of Himachal, singing in unison the lyrics committed to a now-suspect memory. From Eminem’s mighty raps breaking the spell of siestas to the last snow of a passing April netted by the warm blanketing hums of Rahman’s Saathiya tunes, journeys were ever more fulfilling with a song playing within earshot.
That was when we travelled in packs, roared like a herd, danced on every square tile, often to the chagrin of the teachers in-charge. We quickly learnt the ways of appeasing them as well, by including them in our singing marathons, of course.
In the present, as I take my bus to Uttarkashi, a small hill station in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, the musty smell of buses reminds me of those journeys undertaken several moons ago. These constants in life, familiar smells, sights, sounds, mapped of the mundane, seize our senses, almost unwittingly, in a powerful moment of remembrance. On this day in the waning hours of a lurching summer, the full-bellied roar of the engine in an instant, connected me to all the journeys I’d taken before and all that I would take thereafter. It was the anticipation it evoked that felt familiar, like a pattern revealed. A sense of companionship. And then there was the other, more pleasant, conversational companion that whizzed and sneezed as it played with the stained windows of the bus. To the sound of this conversational wind, I dozed off until awoken by a strong jab of blaring horns.
Bus rides come with its set of cons, intermittent sleep being one of them, but you will not hear me complain about it-- I probably get more sleep on the bus than on my bed. In any case, morning seems to roll out early while travelling. With it rose the surroundings; outlines of buildings and trees taking shape as the sun torches its way, clouds wistfully leaving a trail for the birds to follow, faraway smoke curling above last night’s forest fire, everything was itself as it has always been yet now uncloaked in the eyes of the traveller for the first time.
As if on cue from a falling pinecone, with a resounding brake, the bus halted next to a small stall selling hot maggi, anda-bhaji, bread, chai and cigarettes for the sleepy-eyed travellers. A defunct looking radio placed on a top shelf played Garhwali tunes. I caught a bit of the phrases being sung and it seemed to be evoking a whimsical city but of course I couldn’t be certain. At least not as certain as my fellow passenger who was translating the words with elaborate hand movements to another passenger. An accompanying PowerPoint presentation would have sealed the deal.
As the driver harked the passengers back with a few punches on the horn, I made my way back to the bus with a newly purchased bottle of water. Over the course of another few minutes, that bottle would be emptied of its contents while trying to heroically comfort a child fallen prey to motion sickness. In a sudden moment of self-realization, I figured I had finally prevailed over my old foe of motion sickness too that had me harbouring conflicting feelings towards bus rides as a child. Personal triumphs.
As I sat contented on the much-coveted window seat of the bus, listening to Mac DeMarco’s autumnal songs, I peered over the finger-thin forms of the river as it ebbed and flowed by the banks. There is something less to be said and more to be felt about watching one landscape glide over another as the music swells and settles from one note to another.
Perhaps this is why I travel despite the occasional speed bump.
Chayanika Priyam is a PhD candidate at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. It is only when she has to start writing her thesis, does poetry flow from the keys of her keyboard, unceasingly.
Kasturi Roy is a full-time content head at EatTreat and a part-time enthusiast of the 'Gram'. She writes as a social exercise, loves food and travel, illustrates with water colours and is a photographer. She documents most of this on her website.
Radhika Sivsankar is an illustrator and visual artist currently studying in Mumbai. She believes art is not just for the eyes, but for the soul too.