It was 10:47 PM. Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago. It was zooming past city streets, then slowing down, making turns and then speeding up again. Except for the orange tint of the street lights scattered in arrays, there wasn’t much light which shone upon the objects inside the comfortable domain of the vehicle. Like a filter, the windows separated the cozy, air-conditioned interiors of the bus with the outside world, the scorching city heat, the dust scraping off the skin and the air not-so-breathable from the day’s happenings, only allowing parts of the sound and light to affect the people inside the vehicle. The bus was headed towards Bhuntar, making its way through the night.

Except we weren’t inside the bus.

Our bus had left the ISBT about fifteen minutes ago and we were still at home, Googling ‘natural tourist destinations around Delhi’ which are doable in a short time. We were late, our bus had left us behind and after almost a week’s thorough planning of visiting Kasol, we were finally settling down on Kasauli or Ranikhet or Lansdowne or something like that. The reality wasn’t very satisfying, because once you’ve made your mind about something, you can only compromise with something else.

We all have our own reasons to escape from our daily lives and every once in awhile, we end up doing so. Only the places differ. Some find their safe haven in music, some find it in literature, some find it in nature. For me, it’s subjective. I have lived far too long with my own contradictions to be unable to accept them, now. I might not appear to you as a sorted-out person, because sometimes, I have varying views for the same thing or event hanging between the relative and the absolute, even if the basic intent remains the same. So I wanted a trip to Kasol. My brother-in-law (and apparently a great friend, that I only recently found in him) wanted it, too, to escape from the hectic work load at his office.

We had decided on the trip to start from 1st October, 2016 and end on 5th October, 2016. Because the first week started with a weekend and he could obtain a few days’ leave from his office, so we decided we will do it. I borrowed a Nikon D5100 (and an 18-115 mm lens) from a friend and we were packed and all set to leave at 10:30 PM on 1st October.

But we didn’t.

So with heavy hearts, we settled on Kasauli.

We took a cab early morning the next day and reached Kashmiri Gate ISBT. After inquiring a bit, we boarded a Himsuta Volvo of HPRTC, headed towards Chandigarh. 2×2 air-conditioned, semi-sleeper. Nice bus, I must say, all shiny green. Our bus left for Chandigarh at 7 AM. After an hour, we were whizzing past eucalyptus trees and paddy fields on the Delhi-Karnal by-pass. That indescribable view of the northern rural plains that most of us are familiar with, was in sight. Evenly green till the horizon, spotted by a few small buildings every now and then. I observed a lot of things in the 3 hours that it took to reach that dhaba and I can go on describing it in microscopic details, but that wasn’t the whole trip. It had only just begun.

dsc_0574The bus stopped at a dhaba named ‘Haveli’ outside Karnal, sometime before 11. The dhaba was beautifully built, very scenic, but the food was overpriced. We took two veg sandwiches and two cups of tea and it costed around three hundred rupees. We got back on the bus and it started back again. I was carrying with me a notepad, few pens, few Social Science books and Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. I took it out and its flow took me with it. Next thing I remember, we were closing in on Chandigarh bus stand.
While in the bus, I had noticed three guys sitting nearby. One of them was looking for buses to Bhuntar from Chandigarh on his phone. Here, I would like to mention a few things for people who haven’t been to Kasol, or those who don’t have much idea about it. There is no direct bus from Delhi to Kasol. The best way to reach there is to take a bus to either Bhuntar or Kullu and then take a different bus or taxi to Kasol. Railways and airways are scarce.

So the guy, who was checking buses to Bhuntar on his phone, was sitting right in front of me and I got to sneak at his phone screen and what I saw startled me. These guys were also headed towards Kasol. Funnily enough, I told it to my brother-in-law (I will mention him as ‘Jimmy’ from now, on) and suddenly we were there discussing it all over again, reconsidering our decision of visiting Kasauli instead of Kasol. This led to the first great and good decision of our trip.

We got down at Chandigarh and instead of Kasauli, diverted our trip back to Kasol. Earlier that morning, when we were in the cab headed towards the ISBT, it had occurred to me that this trip is going in vain. Neither of us was happy because we both knew that we had made our minds for Kasol, so even if any other place has a great many things to offer, we won’t be able to cherish or enjoy them. So the first decision in a series of good decisions on this trip was, to visit Kasol instead of any other place.

The bus from Chandigarh to Bhuntar wasn’t as shiny and nice as the previous one. A variety of people got onboard, old couples, beautiful women, young solo travelers, few with trekking equipment and cameras clearly suggesting they were headed for the mountains. It started around 12 o’clock and the journey was going to be long. The bus began grunting and hissing when the driver changed gears, zooming past buildings scattered evenly around the city. All this time while we were in this city, I couldn’t help but ponder over its beauty, the enormity of its planning and the order and organization of the people. For once, I even ended up comparing it to Greater Noida. There was not even a bit of trash that I saw either on or around the main roads. Not even the bus depot, one of the most common public places generally considered the filthiest throughout the country. There was a strange unnoticeable thing about the people there. They were all ordinary people like us, getting ready for their daily drills, catching buses to work, opening shops and buying groceries. But unlike Delhi, no one seemed to be in any sort of hurry. It appeared to me that this was a secluded town, hidden from the rest of the world, unaffected by the malicious stings of urbanization and thriving along its own set of rules which helped its inhabitants to get rid of the ordinary evolutionary human dysfunctions.dsc_0579

In simple words, these people still cared about their city. They strive to keep it clean, all of them operating together as a community, working to let the city grow, so they could grow along with it. It was like, they had these little virtues deeply instilled inside them, those primitive values that most of us humans have forgotten a long time ago. The straight roads, the squares, the pavements and dividers, the offices and schools, the greenery and the air – everything about Chandigarh was mesmerizing.

The bus kept moving as the thoughts kept playing soccer with my mind, kicking it from time to-time from one thought to another. The bus stopped around 1:30 at another beautifully built ‘Haveli’ restaurant by the highway outside Ambala, and it was only then that I realized this ‘Haveli’ is actually a chain of dhabas across north India, mostly in Punjab & Haryana. We had eaten sufficient in the morning, so we only got bread cutlets packed for the way.

The bus began again. Now we had around eight more hours to travel, so I would sometimes either pick up my book and read, or I would take out the camera and click the scenes outside the window for practice. But mostly I was thinking, planning about the things I would do when we reach Kasol.

There were a lot of beautiful bachelor women around my seat travelling alone who, I know, were noticing me and every now and then, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of them stealing a glance at me. You see, this thing about youth is as innocent as childhood. We are automatically attracted towards a person we find a potential partner in (or the vice-versa of this statement would be more precise). It’s like, we approve of each other’s presence and we agree of each other’s awareness, but we are held back by a strange force which asks us not to approach the person, because if the ciphers were all wrong, you might end up in trouble. This strange force is our culture.

Picture this – a girl approaches a guy in an almost empty compartment of a public transport. They both chat for a while, get to know about each other, have amazing conversations about atoms and space, about philosophy and life, about love and desire, about books and road trips and then, by choice and consent, they exchange contact details so they could enjoy these conversations longer. Because, you see, it’s that urge in all of us, the desire to communicate our feelings and thoughts to others. And if we have a romantic attraction towards the other person, the conversations automatically come alive because then, we’re enjoying the tiniest of sounds, the chuckle, the clap, the gestures and expressions the other person is making. Interesting, isn’t it?

Now picture the same scene in our ‘cultured’ society (which apparently hates western values). In 7 out of 10 cases, the attempts will be discarded at the very first step. Because even though both might accept it subconsciously that they are attracted towards each other, the mere fact that the other person was daring enough to approach them is too rapid a change in their survival conditions. We might die if that person stays near us for a little longer, now. They feel infected and the infection spreads until OH MY GOD, QUARANTIIIIINEE!

And in all other cases, either the girl is too arrogant, or the guy is an asshole. So the point is, I liked that girl sitting a row behind me on the opposite window seat of the 2×2 bus. I saw her looking at me a lot of times. Me, a 24 year-old guy with (I think) a nice beard and handlebars. My appearance wasn’t so alarming to her maybe, so I guess she decided to notice my activities as I moved from one to another spot to click pictures. She was beautiful and she was traveling alone.

When I noticed her, we were way beyond Chandigarh and clouds had already started appearing. Soon, the bus was floating above the serpents of hills, the dangerously narrow and twisting & turning roads through the beating rain and it was getting dark, partly because of the dusk coming down on us and partly because of the shade of the hills which were constantly growing in size and then, like an invisible wave it hit me. For over an year, I had waited for this and now it was there, subtle but the reason behind the smile that had just lit my face. I had put my camera on the seat beside me and I was stretching my ears and making awkward faces to clear it off-the change in air pressure which had hit me due to increase in altitude. I saw her leaning on the window, her shape a silhouette against the dark green background of the hill slopes beyond the glass. And she was looking at me for split seconds or even several seconds at a time, sometimes through the corners of her eyes, observing my actions and smiling at all the silly things I was doing. When I saw her, I dropped everything out of embarrassment. Then I started again and she smiled again, so on and on it went.

I don’t remember when did I doze off. The bus stopped at a rather dry and bright Bilaspur bus depot for about ten minutes. I told Jimmy about a cousin brother of mine who had spent 7 years in Bilaspur working for NTPC as a civil engineer at the Koldam thermal project. Then we chatted for a while and got up when got chased by a bull and the bus began again. You see, how inescapable it is for men to not get down whenever a vehicle stops? Here, I didn’t even mention that we got down from the bus, because I know everyone would understand that we did, once the bus stopped.

So the bus started from Bilaspur and I picked up the book Jimmy was reading just to have a look at it. The book was ‘A Train To Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh. Right from the beginning, the book speaks volumes about the things we have been kept unaware of about the partition of India. The lies we’ve been told, the truth erased or kept hidden. I didn’t read it beyond a few pages, but I have asked Jimmy for it, once he’s done.

We were passing through Mandi and Sundernagar when it was almost dark. These two major cities and centers of commerce, located on a large flat ground in the hills, have streams and lakes and dams and schools and surprisingly enough, a lot of four-wheeler showrooms. Volkswagen, Nissan, Nexa, Renault, you name it and it was there. The bus stopped for a while outside Sundernagar and a lot of people got down. Jimmy and I got in the front rows because our stop, Bhuntar, was about a couple hours away.

My crush for the journey had got down at Mandi, so my little love story was only upto that place. Later in the front rows, I met Nisarg, one of the equipped solo travelers who got on the bus at Chandigarh. He was coming from Bangalore and was headed towards Spiti.
Spiti! I can’t tell you how much I love that place and I badly I want to visit it.

We chatted for about an hour and he turned out to be a nice person. He was going there for a week. He told me various things and we talked about traveling and the Himalayas, politics and modern education system and our cultural differences which influence our everyday actions. He told me about the Buddhists of Myanmar and I told him about the twin Buddhas of Bamiyan.

We reached the dark, stranded-looking town of Bhuntar around 9:30 PM. Apart from a few security guard manning properties or ATMs, and a few men probably waiting for transportation to neighboring towns, there were only stray dogs and dimly-lit alleys. We checked-in to one of the nearest decent-looking hotel ‘Amit’. We ate a nice dinner in the empty restaurant ‘Havemore’ downstairs and came back to our room on the first floor. I went to sleep watching an episode of The Kapil Sharma Show featuring Anna Hazare.

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A child is the best specimen of human curiosity. Give him a crayon and see

how he starts with the walls – the first canvas of his life.

Gets a slap before he figures it out, though.

So he does it when no one’s watching. Then one more and he stops.

The crayon is snatched

and the slaps of reality 

later enroll him into a school,

so he could go to college,

so he could have a job,

so he could get married and have children whom he could send to school.

Amidst it all, do you ever stop

and look at that sweating kid

scribbling all over the wall in confusion,

thinking why his hands don’t cooperate

and why can’t he draw what he sees?

And how the idea of being able

to recreate his visual memory

is so fascinating to him, he still draws on

tirelessly?

That kid is how life first meets us – to

teach us to live for the art,

for the music,

for the travels and adventures.

But we somehow still live only for the routines, the jobs, the unending loops and the uninvited deadweight of existence.

If you ever miss that kid,

recall the masterpieces on that wall.

And if you ever happen to have self-doubt,

start by asking yourself

why’d you snatch the crayon in the first place?


Somewhere close to me, Guthrie Govan is playing one of his best guitar solos at a hundred and twenty four bpm. It’s drizzling and I have taken shelter under a huge rock. I don’t remember how I got here or what place is this, because since long I have begun to forget a lot of things. I think my memory is getting weaker by the day. I remember only in bits and pieces, like that one time when you were teasing me when I forgot something important.

The sky is overcast and there’s a cold evening breeze blowing as I gaze at the pebbles at my feet. One of them is perfectly oval and looks like a zero. I take a handful of tiny ones and with my frail fingers, I arrange them near the zero to make a ‘one’. Then another handful to make an ‘up-on’ sign.

I look at it. 1/0.

This is where we began, I remember this. Infinity, I told you. Then we kept on going. Two by zero, three by zero and so on. I remember telling you once that no matter how big the numerator is, all of it means only one thing – infinity. And I remember our conversation where for the first time we promised each other that we’ll grow old together.

We kept our promise, we sure did. But now, all I am left with, is your apparition. And my eyes, the ones you believed could fit in the biggest dreams the world could ever see, are now tired and need some sleep. The kind of sleep I got when after all the battles I had fought my whole life, you had asked me to promise you that I won’t cry at your departure. It had seemed absurd back then, and then I had slept so peacefully with my head on your lap.

A solitary bird flies by, disturbing my state of trance and my broken memory castle. I gather some strength and stand up, turn around and walk a few steps before my knee gives up and I fall on the gravel floor. I gather some more strength, put my fist, my knuckles on the ground and push myself up again with a lot of effort, my whole body shaking, the droplets hanging by the strands of my hair jumping to be rescued. I stand up, look ahead at the white giants in front of me and scream your name. It comes back to me.

I’ve finally made it to the mountains, love. The view is so beautiful, I would trade my soul to bring you back, here. But I will keep my promise. The dark may eventually absorb me, but I won’t let out a single tear.

I will let the guitar cry for me tonight. All I need is some sleep.

(9/0)


Two empty champagne glasses stand on the windowsill. I proceed to fill them, pick them up and return to you.

There’s a mild warm light in the room. A pile of hundreds of neatly stacked books lies in one corner, a carton of art supplies and dozens of half-painted and blank canvases resting on each-other’s shoulders in another. The third corner is occupied by a lamp and your favorite couch, the one you bought when we went furniture shopping together for the first time ever, the one we’ve spent numerous winter nights on.

The room smells a bit of lavender and a bit of lilies as we dance in slow motion, the necks of those champagne glasses in our grasp, and there’s a soft delay in our voices, like the opening of a popular Phil Collins song.

We dance, as I tuck a strand of hair behind your ears and look at you.

You smile.

I would die for that smile, you know.

The smile which hasn’t faded a bit after all these years of driving men crazy. The smile which pulled me out of my self-induced madness when I got into too much Nietzsche. The smile which dragged me out of my self-destructive instincts when I got into too much drugs. The smile which fills up this room with so much warmth even when there’s a short circuit or a power failure on those winter nights when we lay on the couch under a thin blanket.

I don’t think any language or any dictionary in this world has enough adjectives to praise this beautiful smile of yours. And whatever adjectives are still left, they are either too insignificant, or have already lost their value.

But the most wonderful thing about tonight’s celebration is that we’ve made it through all the turmoils, all the thick and thin of life. We’ve held each-other’s hands through all the storms and all the droughts and watched all sunsets and beaches and drove on all the beautiful highways with the roof down and kissed in all the majestic libraries and museums and now, we’re finally here.

We’re finally here and we’re closer to each other than ever.

We keep dancing as the image of the glasses resting on the windowsill flashes in my mind. I know that without you, I am nothing more than an empty glass, ready to fall and break with the slightest gush of wind.

You give me a purpose. You are the champagne that fills me up and makes me glitter.

(8/0)


“Tell me, before you fall asleep, what goes on inside your head?”

“I like dark. I keep the lights in my room turned off, mostly, because it helps me to focus. To think.”

“And what is it that you think about?”

“About my life. Regrets,” I reply to you, a cigarette hanging loosely between my index and middle finger.

“Did you smoke last night?” I ask you. You tell me that you did. Just one. We let it pass, don’t speak any further.

The seagulls are screaming above the sun near the crimson horizon and the waves are washing our feet periodically. The water is warm, but the sand beneath is cold. We both look straight ahead in the distance, but from the corner of my eye I can see your long beautiful hair flowing with the ocean breeze.

‘La Isla Bonita’ – the song I am reminded of, the one sung by Tasha. It plays in my head and I get a feeling it plays in your head, too, as if we are telepathically connected. And so we don’t say a word, just keep on looking in the distance.

‘I always liked your hair long’ I had scribbled on my letterhead, torn it and kept it inside my diary, about a couple of years ago. You had found it one night when I was sleeping. Since that day, you had never kept your hair short. I wonder why is it that you always stayed awake after me? You always asked me to not stay awake for long and to not keep thinking about my past, while you would do that yourself. And then you would watch me sleeping.

I wish I could transform into a spirit, get inside you and absorb all your grief.

We watch the sun dip half in the ocean when I feel your fingers touch mine and then you slowly proceed to grab my hand. Then we both get up, shoes in hands as we walk back barefeet on the wooden sidewalk lined with rows of Allium and African Lilly. The lights in our tiny house are visible through the sliding glass doors.

We stop at the main door and drop our shoes. I turn towards you and grab you by the waist as your palms wrap my head.

And we kiss.

“I love you,” I say.

“One by zero,” you smile.

(7/0)


Do you remember that silly game we used to play when we were little? Making a tiny guy with our fingers and walking it on each-other’s arm until that Lilliputian reached the ticklish area above our elbows? Then we would giggle and run around chasing each other. You never played it with anyone else but me. You said you never felt so ticklish with anyone the way you did with me.

Then suddenly we were grown ups.

I began thinking about your words and the way you had said it. “Naah, never anyone. You.”

I wonder why is it that some of us feel the safest, most comfortable, most easy around a selected few in the whole world? Why is it that we feel someone particular is made for us? I had thought a lot about it.

Then you had come to me when I got tired of thinking, let me rest my head on your lap and told me why the world worked that way. The mysterious way.

You had told me it’s because of those microscopic things hidden beneath the layers of our skin, in the spaces between our protruding bones, in the air in our lungs, the chemical in our brains and the blood in our hearts. The things science will never be able to discover – the gaps and bulges in the structure of our beings, which align perfectly with only those few people among all in the world. The flaws and the perfections. 

Like the extreme details in our fingerprints and eyes and the fact that no two people in the world can ever have the same fingerprints and the exact same eyes. Like the complexities of combinations of that particular fragrance in our nose, that particular taste on our tongue, that particular color registered on our retina and that particular set of chords playing nearby – all of these stimulants for our senses subconsciously building up beautiful poetry in our mind. The way no one else can feel, the uniqueness. So that whenever we find someone who aligns perfectly, even closely with the flaws in our being, we let them in the deepest vaults of our lives.

We let them in.

Then I remember, when I woke up from the peaceful sleep on your lap, I had put a blanket on us and we had gone back to relive our childhood days inside it. And to make a few more.

(6/0)


A neon sign glows on the dark brick wall. A muffled bass of an upbeat song in the basement, the lyrics not clear. The clinking of clay cups and glasses on wood, the fragrance of the post-midnight hours and your spectacles on tabletop.

Your mesmerizing eyes look at me. You say I think too much.

And we’re talking about life.

I say we all need a set of reasons to live, to make purposes to our life, things to do to keep ourselves, our minds away from thinking too much about why we are here. That’s because I think the weight of existence is the heaviest in the whole universe.

I wonder how life would be without all the little decisions that we make all the time. The train you didn’t board, the one I didn’t deboard when your station came, the poem I never finished, the letter you never wrote – how different the course of our entire lives could have been if only we had made these decisions differently.

The differences – the things which make us humans, give us our individualities.

You sip your tea and say that you get an urge to kiss me every time I take a pause after a long sentence to catch my breath. And that you lose track of what I am saying every time I clear my throat.

So I begin again, saying how the same way that we need reasons to live, we don’t need any to love. Because the reasons to live keep changing – from social welfare to consuming jobs, from traveling to see the world to making one in the attic of an old cottage in the wilderness of Scandinavia, from making love on abandoned beaches at night to getting lost in the views outside train windows, and from art to drugs and back to art again. Because love is the purest of emotions and in order to keep loving, we need to rid ourselves from the need of all the ‘becauses’ which follow the ‘I love yous’.

I say we need reasons to live because life is a burden. And I say we don’t need a reason to love, because we may run out of them all, one day.

So even though the light in your mesmerizing eyes may slowly fade away in the bokeh of these neon signs and even though I may not pause to catch my breath ever again, our love will stay timeless, beyond the reaches of all reason.

Until then, I can be the caffeine in your tea and you can be my quarter ounce of cocaine so that we may keep needing each other equally to live.

(5/0)

You say I am cocky, and I agree. I say yes, I am cocky as fuck, because I think people are superficial. They make bucket lists and then never really fulfill them.

Because in the rush to put checkmarks, they fail to absorb the beauty of the moment. And when the craze dies down real soon, they believe they ‘grew up’ or ‘grew out’ of their passions. Don’t you agree, sitting here with me in perfect silence and serenity, away from civilization, under millions of stars? Now that we are here, and we don’t need to say a word because the sound of burning wood and soft Jazz in the atmosphere are too beautiful to be interrupted even by the creaking of our chairs? Now that your long hairs flow in slow-motion to the sound of the acoustic guitar in the background as you smile holding my sweaty hand? I always liked your hair long.

They say that we are attracted more towards life-threatening things & situations because it gives us an adrenaline rush which is more like a high. So even though we prefer daytime because it is safer and our senses are more active & effective, most of us prefer the night, when all the noise and hustle has died down, to let those more profound things take their toll – like making love through poetry. Because those of us who have that deeper sense of agility within us, reveal our hidden selves long after dusk, as if we have a primitive nocturnal instinct buried within ourselves which crawls out of the dark sides of our hearts only after the sun has fallen prey to the horizon.

You somehow managed to convince me one night that I am not ugly; that physical beauty is only a matter of time. And I believed you, because well, maybe it was the magic of the night. I am not saying that you were wrong, but had you said the same thing during daytime, it could have been a little hard for me to trust you on that. And now that you have convinced me of my beauty, I can be with you all the time, even when I am not physically present with you.

So look far away, let me be the millions of stars and galaxies in your glittering eyes.

Then close your eyes, let me be the soft music caressing your ears.

And if I am still not there, let me be the breeze making your hairs flow.

Our lives are too small to not spend them making love.

(4/0)